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Marlon Moraes is set to face Brendan Loughnane on April 1.
Marlon Moraes is set to face Brendan Loughnane on April 1. | Photo by Matt Davies/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marlon Moraes shares some thoughts ahead of his bout against Brendan Loughnane on April 1.

Former UFC contender Marlon Moraes feels like he is home again. Once the World Series of Fighting bantamweight champion, the Brazilian has returned to the promotion that now goes by the name of Professional Fighters League last year for a chance to win its one million dollar prize money.

Having left the WSOF in 2016 to compete in the UFC, Marlon feels like his career has come full circle now that he is back. Though he did not win his debut, when he lost Sheymon Moraes, ‘Magic’ enjoys the relationship he has with the people at PFL, while claiming he did not feel satisfied anymore with the UFC.

“The people here are really cool. I have a great relationship with everyone in the promotion.” Moraes told Combate. “I feel like we started out with them, then they grew and now I see the PFL as one of the biggest promotions in the world,”

“I wasn’t pleased with the way my fights were going in the UFC,” Marlon said. “So that was the time to stop, think and make a decision. I felt like I still had a lot to give to the sport and I still have many fights left to give the people,”

Now competing at featherweight, Moraes will have his hand full in the first fight of the 2023 season. Paired up against 2022 tournament champion Brendan Loughnane, the Brazilian knows the task ahead is not easy. However, Marlon feels ready to surprise fans and shock the world.

“He’s a good guy. He’s fast, he’s a high volume fighter. He box, kick, take you down. He’s well-rounded. Nowadays, especially in the divisions bellow lightweight, everyone is well-rounded. You have to know everything in order to survive. It’s an MMA fight and I believe we’re going touch all areas and it’ll be a great fight. I’m ready to surprise everybody.”

Currently on a five-fight losing skid, Moraes (23-11-1) got knocked in all five outings, when he faced Cory Sandhagen, Rob Font, Merab Dvalishivili, Song Yadong and the aforementioned Moraes. The 34-year-old’s last win dates back December 2019, when he defeated Jose Aldo via split decision.

Now, Moraes is expected to take on Loughnane at PFL 1’s main event, on April 1, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The night’s co-main event is schedule to feature a bout for the season’s light heavyweight tournament, between fellow UFC veterans Thiago Santos and Rob Wilkinson.

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Adam Wardzinski wins IBJJF Pan Championships
Screengrab, YouTube/Adam Wardzinski

Breaking down Adam Wardzinski’s championship run at the 2023 IBJJF Pan Championships.

The classics never go out of style.

Whether it be the vintage rock t-shirts, Metallica blasting in his reels, or the exquisite butterfly system he has perfected, Adam Wardzinski is the epitome of old school. Perhaps that is why at an age where many of the game’s best grapplers ascend to the Master’s division, Wardzinski has experienced his greatest success.

The greatest Polish grappler to ever grace the mats, Wardzinski made his name as a color belt dominating the European circuit. Picking up championships at the European Open in gi and no-gi, Wardzinski was widely considered Europe’s best grappler, yet would come up short against the very best.

This however, did not stop Wardzinski from amassing a legion of fans that rivals the size of the sport’s most iconic grapplers. His name became synonymous with the butterfly guard, joining the legendary company of Leo Santos and the inimitable Marcelo Garcia.

It was only a short time ago that butterfly guard was considered to be somewhat dated, especially in the gi, mostly due to the modern passing metagame favoring standing passing. Yet, Wardzinski has consistently used it to baffle black belt after black belt.

Wardzinki’s use of old school jiu jitsu does not just stop with the butterfly. Wardzinski employs shin to shin, single leg X, and sometimes a combination of both if an opponent was too focused on stopping his butterfly.

While Wardzinski is primarily known for his guardplay, partially due to the legendary BJJ Scout guard study, his passing has been the catalyst for his most iconic victories. In the semi-finals of the 2019 edition of the Pan American Championships, Wardzinski faced off against Leandro Lo.

At this point in time Lo was the seven time World Champion with a mountain of other accolades whereas Wardzinski had come up just short time and time again with placed finishes at the AJP Grand Slam, AGP World Pro, and the IBJJF European Championships. An afterthought going into the match, Wardzinski managed to sweep one of the best passers of his generations, knee slice into mount, and take his back culminating in an epic upset.

With this victory, Wardzinski had announced himself as a serious contender at every major, yet despite making incremental progress, he would continue to fall agonizingly short. While Felipe Pena and Xande Ribeiro prevented Wardzinski from seeing great success in his early career, Kaynan Duarte was now the man preventing “Megatron” from ascending into immortality. Time after time, Duarte not only defeated the Polish sensation but often submitted him on the sport’s biggest stages, whether it be by armbar at the IBJJF World Championships or by a vicious kneebar at the AGP World Pro Finals in under two minutes.

With the pandemic in full effect at the tail end of what should have been Adam Wardzinski’s prime, many assumed that Wardzinski’s legacy was sealed, a bridesmaid but never a bride, a highly entertaining and instructive grappler that stood out but one who was never able to obtain that signature title.

Yet coming out of the pandemic, something changed. Wardzinski claimed victory at the 2021 Abu Dhabi World Pro, before finally capturing his elusive IBJJF European Open Title over Dominique Bell. However this tear did not continue stateside as he was quickly eliminated at the 2022 Pan American championship both in his division and absolute.

The Lo victory remained Wardzinski’s greatest moment, bittersweet in the fact that he was quickly dispatched in the finals of that tournament. The 2023 Pan American Championships looked to follow the same course as most of Wardzinski’s major runs over the past few years.

He started with an impressive run, submitting both Roberto Jimenez and Felipe Pimental before defeating Dimitrius Souza to move on to the finals.

Awaiting Wardzinski was the four time Pan American Champion in Felipe Andrew, who had dominantly defeated Wardzinski at the European Open this year.

The match started and it looked like the status quo would remain the same as Wardzinski quickly went down nine points and was mounted, defeat was inevitable.

Many a grappler would have given up in this scenario, yet Wardzinski persevered and went back to the move that had served him so well, the butterfly. Yet Andrew was aware of the threat and extended his base, forcing Wardzinski to switch to his secondary sweep, the John Wayne.

Ending in a knee cut position, Wardzinski still needed seven points in the final minute to get to a referee’s decision.

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Boise-Zingano vs Reneau
One step closer to another shot at glory. | Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t be fooled, this card’s got some serious fun potential.

Bellator’s heavyweight division continues to shift and expand, thanks to their efforts at developing talent and steady matchmaking to create a very nice stable of athletic and fun talents. And while this event may not seem like too much at first glance, there’s a lot of exciting prospects and consequential matchups that serve to sort out various divisions.

So to put this plainly: it’s an action-first card to move things along. In this case, that’s a great thing. There’s very little fat on this, and a lot to like.

So we’ll start at the top, with #5 ranked Marcelo Golm (10-3) taking on #7 Daniel James (14-6, 1 draw). Golm has four straight wins heading into this one, including a lovely submission over Davion Franklin and a stunning finish over Billy Swanson. Golm understands the assignment, he’s gonna go in there, put pressure early and work feints and long shots with thudding overhands and quick reflexes.

James is a different story. He’s got power, sure. But his boxing is also more polished and his patience pays off. He won his pro debut in Bellator, left for other ventures and had some ups and downs, but has hit a marvelous stride with some terrifying ground finishes. His true coming out party was his finish over home-grown Bellator talent Tyrell Fortune, in this brutal display.

The co-main is bound to be a wild one, as former UFC title challenger Cat Zingano (13-4) is back in action and on a three-fight winning streak. Now, you can point to opposition like Gabrielle Holloway and Olivia Parker as a bit uneven for someone of her experience level and standing, but she toughed them out and showed she’s not losing any steps. Her wrestling has improved and the submission opportunities she manages to create are still a concern for any opponent.

She faces rising contender Leah McCourt (7-2), whose only losses were in her pro debut, then against heavy-hitting Sinead Kavanaugh. She also holds a win over Manon Fiorot, in what was her second pro fight and Fiorot’s pro debut. McCourt mostly gets by with volume, heavy clinchwork and a ton of tenacity. Her ground game has some fundamentally sound defense and a fair bit of smart offense off her back. That’s going to come in handy, because she may spend a significant amount of the fight there. She’ll also have to contend with Zingano’s cardio, while Zingano will have to work extra hard standing to not get drowned out with volume.

Submission ace and underrated talent John Salter (18-6) is tough to look good against and always brings a challenge to his opponents. He’s only had one of his eight wins in Bellator has gone to a decision, and the only losses he’s suffered were to then-champion Gegard Mousasi, as well as eventual champions Rafael Lovato and Johnny Eblen. Those are excellent losses to have, but he’s steamrolled pretty much everyone else except for Costello Van Steenis. His boxing is basic but clean and effective, and his ground game is stellar.

He faces Canada’s Aaron Jeffery (13-3), and he’s been a menace for a while. He had a very notable win over the UFC’s Andre Petroski in LFA, stumbled on Contender Series against Caio Borralho, but has racked up three straight wins, two of them in Bellator. And those wins have been amazing, such as his putting away Fabio Aguiar, and stubbing out Austin Vanderford like a cigarette. It’s a banger of a fight, and might be the fight of the night. It’s also a lovely example of Bellator building a great collection of talent at middleweight as well.

But lightweight also has a pair of rising undefeated talents pit against each other. Archie Colgan (6-0) has hands and very dynamic grappling. He also hates buggy chokes. He meets Justin “Kid Marvelous” Montalvo (5-0), who gets by on his strikes and has some spry wrestling defense of his own. He’s also got some very smart ground striking to go with it.

Adam Piccolotti (13-5) remains a reliable hand for Bellator’s lightweight division, using his smart grappling and submission acumen to be a thorn in anyone’s side. He’s up against wily dynamo Mandel Nallo (9-3), who hopes to make it two in a row and make another addition to his highlight reel.

Former Invicta champ Pam Sorenson (9-5) welcomes Sara Collins (3-0) to the Bellator cage. Standout wrestler Joey Davis (8-0) returns from a three-year hiatus to face Jeff Creighton (6-2, 1 draw). Lance Gibson Jr. remains another bright prospect for Bellator’s lightweight division, and he is in for a ride against Vladimir Tokov (7-2), brother of Anatoly.

Rakim Cleveland (22-15, 1 draw) meets the less experienced yet dangerous Christian Edwards, and Mackenzie Stiller makes her pro debut against Maria Henderson (1-0), wife of the recently retired Benson Henderson.

You can check out the weigh-ins here:

Main card:

Marcelo Golm (257.6) vs. Daniel James (265.4) – Heavyweight

Cat Zingano (145.2) vs. Leah McCourt (145.4) – Featherweight

John Salter (185.8) vs. Aaron Jeffery (185.2) – Middleweight

Archie Colgan (155.4) vs. Justin Montalvo (154.4) – Lightweight

Sullivan Cauley (205.8) vs. Luke Trainer (205.2) – Lightweight


Christian Edwards (237.8) vs. Rakim Cleveland (240.4) – Heavyweight

Lance Gibson Jr. (156) vs. Vladimir Tokov (155.2) – Lightweight

Lucas Brennan (145.4) vs. Josh San Diego (146) – Featherweight

Joey Davis (169.2) vs. Jeff Creighton (169.8) – Welterweight

Pam Sorenson (145.2) vs. Sara Collins (145.8) – Featherweight

Adam Piccolotti (156) vs. Mandel Nallo (154.8) – Lightweight

Maria Henderson (115.4) vs. Mackenzie Stiller (115.4) – Strawweight

Bryce Meredith (135.6) vs. Brandon Carrillo (135.4) – Bantamweight

Randi Field (120) vs. Ashley Cummins (119.2) — 120-pound catchweight bout

Mike Hamel (155.6) vs. Nick Browne (155.6) – Lightweight

Bellator 293: Golm vs James takes place this Friday night, with the prelims starting at 7:00pm EST. Prelims will be streaming live and free on YouTube via Bellator’s YouTube channel. The main card starts at 10:00pm and airs exclusively on Showtime.

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No, the explosions don’t make sense to us, either.

How much weirdness can you handle? Jon Nutt wants to know, and push those boundaries even further.

One of the wildest, weirdest, and most remarkably ridiculous recent entries into the world of combat sports has been Full Metal Dojo’s Fight Circus events. Based out of Phuket, Thailand, it’s not Muay Thai, and it’s not MMA. FMD is putting together hybrid contests of strength, skill, and absolute clownery straight out of a sadistic teenager’s imagination.

How about the two combatants don’t know the rules of a fight until they spin a wheel right as they are about to step into the ring? How about a guy with a backpack full of cash has to stop his opponent from taking it from him? What if the backpack guy now has to defend his cash against two guys?

On paper, it hardly seems like the kind of thing that should work at all—at least not beyond the novelty of one or two events. But with the sixth Fight Circus event incoming this weekend, it feels like things are just warming up.

Fight Circus isn’t just looking to fill some kind of competitive ‘new sport’ void in the combat landscape, but rather to accelerate into the absurd, and away from all of the seriousness of martial arts. This isn’t about chivalry or honor, or determining who is better than who. It’s spectacle, pure and simple.

Massachusetts native and FMD CEO Jon Nutt was kind enough to give Bloody Elbow some of his time, to talk shop about the his own background in combat sports—as well as the unlikely creation of one of the strangest, most compelling shows in the business. And, of course, to answer the most important, pressing question: Just how weird is too weird?

Victor Rodriguez: You’ve got a bunch of bouts set up that are very not conventional exhibitions of martial arts…

Jon Nutt: Unique.

VR: What started your interest in martial arts? Where did that begin and how?

JN: Ah man, I guess I’m technically a lifelong martial artist, you know? My mom put me in Taekwondo when I was seven because my brother was—I have a brother who’s four years older than me—she put in with a guy named Brian Malik in Boston, and I started doing Taekwondo at a young age. Then in high school, I got into wrestling. I was in high school when the first UFC came along, so that got me into BJJ in college. Then I moved out to Los Angeles.

In LA, dude… I worked a bunch of weird security jobs. Not just bouncing, just weird security jobs. And some of the guys that I worked with were, like, I worked with Frank Trigg, I worked with Mac Danzig. I worked with a bunch of guys that were in the UFC back—pre the TUF days, pre the Zuffa days. So yeah, I’ve always been into combat sports. I love it.

And then obviously Muay Thai, coming (to) and living in Thailand, got huge into Muay Thai. Muay Thai is a passion.

VR: And what led to you uprooting your life and moving to Thailand?

JN: After 9/11, when there was loads of problems kind of like we have now in the States, I was traveling quite a bit. I was going to Amsterdam a lot to go out there to like Vos Gym, Mejiro Gym, gyms like Ernesto Hoost’s and that type of thing. We had a guy named John Marsh, he fought in PRIDE, he fought in the UFC. He was like, “You should go to Thailand and and start doing Muay Thai.” So I came over here in October of 2004.

Then I was here when the tsunami happened. I left Ko Phi Phi and I flew back home on Christmas Day. By the time I landed in LA, the tsunami had wiped out basically 60% of the island. If it wasn’t for the tsunami, I wouldn’t have come back to Thailand to live. And again, most expats, most Americans, if you’re out of the states for like six months, it’s tough to go back to the States. There’s a lot of personal freedoms here that I feel like I have. I love it here, man. I still go back and see my family very regularly, but Thailand’s home.

VR: Once you’d set up a new life there, where did you plant the seeds to start your own series of fight events? What led to them being so unconventional?

JN: That has to do with the whole industry. We were the first ones to do ‘real’ MMA. I wouldn’t say sanctioned, because it wasn’t sanctioned. But we were doing MMA events that were covered by, like, Sherdog, by Tapology, everybody like that in 2010. We were pre-ONE Championship, even. They were at our first show.

We did a series of shows for Full Metal Dojo—actually it was called Dare Fight Sports back then—from 2010 to 2013/2014. We started doing Full Metal Dojo shows in 2014, and more regular MMA events in the future. But for right now, man… there’s a lot of politics. You have to jump through a lot of hoops with organizations and all that type of stuff. And there’s a lot of organizations that are bigger than us and have a lot more money than us. I just kinda think I don’t feel good about us getting picked off.

Every time we pay a lot of money to market a fighter he goes someplace else. In 2010 to 2016, we were unique because it was like underground Muay Thai, and that was rated R and very cinematic. Very dramatic. And then we just became just, like, a regional. As the sport got bigger we just became a regional promotion, and I never wanted to be just a regional promotion. I wanted to be standing on my own two feet and doing my own thing. And when the pandemic happened that’s when we were very able to just—“Let’s do whatever we want, let’s have fun,” because people were getting weird, right?

And so we just decided to roll with it. Who knew it was gonna kick off and people were gonna like it so much?

The first two events did shockingly well, the third event did OK. And then the fourth event crushed it out of the park and then my fight went viral. A lot of people want more of that. And so that being said, when I was doing regular MMA shows, it was tough to sell it. Over here, everybody is into Muay Thai, so they don’t want to give you sponsorship, help you out with finances and all that other stuff for MMA. The moment that I changed into saying that I was not sport—that I was like the satire of the sport that I was comedy, that I was entertainment—people are asking to be on board right and left. That’s kind of how it happened.

I don’t just try to get sponsors on board just to get a spot on the canvas, you know? We make commercials for people, we do content for people. From about 2016 to 2020 we had a show on Fox Sports Asia called Eat, Play, Fight for them and I was a pundit for Fox Sports Asia for many years. On a COVID story… We signed a huge deal with a network to do this travel MMA show where we’d try to have me try to be like the Anthony Bourdain of fighting and go to all these different shows.

So January 9th we went back and covered Conor vs Cowboy for Eat, Play, Fight and it did very well—to the point where they wanted me to cover soccer. They wanted me to do Manchester United vs Leicester City (on) March 24th, but March 19th everything got locked down. So our contracts with Fox got furloughed. When that happened, man I started reaching out to everybody. We brought bare knuckle here. We did the first bare knuckle boxing shows here. We did Fight Circus.

And it just so happens that everybody’s an artist here. Everyone’s creative. Norbert’s a dork, Brandon’s a dork, and they all just wanted to do something that was a little more fun and a little bit more wacky. Controlled chaos is what we tried to do, especially with MMA symmetrical and doing tag team stuff, 3 vs 1 and that kind of thing. It’s just organized chaos and after all the years that we’ve been doing this we were able to make a safe environment—make sure nobody was getting too injured, if you will. Injuries still happen, of course.

I wanted to start giving another outlet [for fighters]. Bellator’s the other outlet, then there’s PFL—and the BKB and BKFC—but I feel like a lot of these fighters that are marketed very well by the UFC and they get done, and then where do they go? Do they get a job at a gym? Where do they go? And so I feel like Fight Circus is gonna allow these guys another outlet. Another outlet to make some cash, have a great trip to Thailand. A lot of these guys haven’t even travelled outside of the States. They get to come over to Thailand, we all have fun together and make a great product.

VR: With the red tape and ensuring that fighters have adequate care, what is that like in Thailand? How difficult is it to procure the proper permissions and then have everything set up properly?

JN: We have to really regulate ourselves. We really do have to regulate ourselves. It’s the wild, wild west in Asia, right? Most countries, from Singapore, to Japan, to China—I’ve done tons of shows in China—a lot of the sports authorities, MMA isn’t regulated by the sports authority in Thailand. Obviously there’s quite a bit of—honestly, if I’m being straight up, it’s a lot of corruption. So for us, we have to regulate it ourselves.

I’ve just been in so many situations where, you know, how many ambulances are needed at a show? When I did Full Metal Dojo 7, we had one ambulance, because we went to all these shows and everybody only had one ambulance. Well, we got a guy get knocked out and he gets put in that ambulance and driven off. And then the next fight, another guy got juiced [cut], right? We needed another ambulance.

Now we have three ambulances at every show. We make sure that we have the proper [measures]. I think I was one of the guys that was pioneering MMA and that taught a lot of the referees and the officials, and then those guys went off and worked with other organizations where they got more experience working with it. Now we have guys that work at the highest levels of the game, guys that work with ONE, guys that work with PFL, the UFC, IMMAF, that kind of stuff. And now they work with us. We don’t have the same rules, the same kind of legislation that the States do. So it really is kind of on the education and the background and the CV promoters have out here, right? With us, having over a decade of education in the game, we gotta work on ourselves.

And believe you me, I still work with all the top guys in Thailand. All the top refs, all the top officials. So they know who we are, they like us. For Thailand, they really like that I’m considering myself entertainment, not technically sport. That does really well for all the regulatory people in Thailand. You know what I mean?

VR: Do you think that also facilitated things? I remember not too long ago MMA was, to put it nicely, given the side-eye by lots of regulators. There was some apprehension of having MMA encroach on the space that was being occupied by Muay Thai.

JN: Yeah, that was me. Oh yeah oh yeah. It was 2013, 2014 that we technically got it ‘banned in Thailand.’ But by being ‘banned’ in Thailand—that was a guy in the Muay Thai authority who basically just called us banned. But there was no legislation. My lawyers were on top of it. They said it was banned. But by being banned that just hindered me from getting other sponsors and getting other broadcast deals. Do you know what I mean?

VR: To clarify: it never stopped you from being able to put on an event, so it was more de-legitimized, perhaps?

JN: Yup. And with that, they were really doing it to hurt our purse strings, right? Because there’s only so much money in the industry as a whole and then there’s only so much money in terms of sponsorships. So when they were saying we were banned that basically meant that beer companies weren’t gonna get on board with us. Right? Different food companies weren’t gonna work with us. Different people that normally might sponsor combat sports, they wouldn’t get on board with us. So we looked elsewhere and we were lucky to have enough of an international audience, which allowed me to get sponsors on board from outside of Thailand.

VR: You have your partnership with CamSoda. How did that come about? Did you consider an adult platform would only limit the expansion of your audience.

JN: When the pandemic hit, I started reaching out to everybody I knew. I knew that in the States you guys couldn’t do shows at the time. We went on lockdown from like March 19th to about June. And you guys were still on lockdown for a little while longer. The UFC obviously went to Yas Island out of the country. We were still allowed to do shows here. You still couldn’t have more than 200 people. Obviously, everybody had to be masked up and spraying gel everywhere and all that type of stuff. But I got in touch with a friend named Ben Stark, former UFC fighter, and he is in Florida. I think he’s the owner of American Top Team Palm Beach.

He knew Icey Mike and he did CamSoda, CamSoda Legends and those guys were looking to do stuff that was not regulated by the Florida Athletic Commission. He and I got to talking, and looking to do stuff that was not regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission or the Florida State Athletic Commission—got to talking, got some ideas flowing and started doing some wacky stuff. And I guess, like you said, being on that site. I guess some of the people that I have around me—because I didn’t mind it, I was fine with it. I didn’t hold any judgment or care, to tell you the truth. But I had some of my guys say, “Yo, if this thing is gonna blow up in America, we can’t really be associated with that.” Which kind of was a bummer to tell you the truth.

On that site they were allowing me to do whatever I want. Now, I have a little bit of limitations, if you will. People taking the artistic and molding it, if you will.

VR: You were doing things like 1 on 3, or David and Goliath. Obviously different variations on the combat experience. You’ve got the tandem boxing you’ll be participating in this event which we’ll get to. But when it comes to things like the leg wrestling, or the tug of war with the butt plugs (note: there is absolutely no way we’re linking to that)…

JN: Oh. Ugh.

VR: I mean, like…

JN: (Raises arms) That wasn’t me, by the way! That wasn’t me!

VR: I’m just wondering, like, “Well this clearly isn’t combat related exactly…” I’m just wondering if there are any ideas where you were like “Yeah, maybe that should have stayed in the drafts”?

JN: Oh, for sure! I think Indian leg wrestling is dumb. I make fun of the girls even when they’re in there. I feel bad, but I think it’s stupid. Funny thing is the audience really gets into it. They get into it like people doing the flip cup game. You ever see people doing the water bottle games? A guy flips a bottle and he’s got a crowd around and the crowd flips out? That’s what it’s like with Indian leg wrestling. They understand it’s a joke. People understand that it’s comedy.

And again, bro, we did that Siamese Twins thing as a complete joke. And it’s just a joke that went too far. And people started liking it. The Thais see Muay Thai—[asks person next to him] How many fights are on this week? No, how many fights are on? [turns back to camera]—eight or nine fights. Eight or nine events this week on the island of Phuket. They see Thai boxing all the time, and if they’re not gambling on it they’re really not into it. It’s made for the tourism industry.

Well, our stuff is just as good for the tourist industry. It’s a show. So I get to capitalize on not just the tourists that are here but the Thais that want to do something else. Because when the Thais saw two Muay Thai fighters attached by the shirt? You should see their faces bro. They love—oh my gosh, bro. They think it’s great. They’re laughing, they’re pointing. They don’t know what to make of it. That joke, that joke just went a little too far. Who knew that were were gonna do it nine times? Now they bring us to the stadiums, to like Patong Stadium, and they have us do freakshow fights for them as a goof.

VR: I’m sure you keep your eye on other weird stuff around the world as well. Any sort of stunt fights, just unconventional things, that you’ve seen that are like “Yeah, that’s something we’re definitely not gonna do”?

JN: Man. Well for one, I don’t want anyone flashing boobs at my event. You know what I mean? I feel like every Russian or Polish organization has, like, 2 vs 2 females. The girls have to either make out or show their breasts or something like that. I don’t wanna go down that route. I don’t want kids [fighting]. I’ve never wanted kids to be into fighting. I still think that the UFC is like, man’s man shit, right? And I don’t think the younger generation needs to be throwing ground and pound.

They need to be getting into Taekwondo, Karate, the older traditional martial arts that teach them confidence and might further them down the path. But this is rated R stuff to me. I got a six-year-old son, I’m not letting him watch Quentin Tarantino films, right? I think that fighting is man stuff and I don’t think that I’ll ever go the route of—dude, I got integrity and I’ve got morals, right? Loosely, but I do. And I don’t really plan on doing anything that ever makes me, personally, feel uncomfortable. Also, we do a very good job of matchmaking.

If I take a Goliath, if you will, I’m gonna make sure that he’s not as skilled as the David. The David’s always gonna be more skilled than the Goliath. The two against the one are always not gonna be as talented as the one. And that’s the way you make almost, a fair freakshow fight.

VR: I remember seeing Will Chope, he had a 2 on 1 fight, but I’m like… that’s Will Chope. He’s had over, what? 150, 170 fights? (Note: This includes MMA as well as bare knuckle and Muay Thai bouts.)

JN: Yup. Yup.

VR: That guy had been very experienced. The other two guys he fought…

JN: Bank and No Money.

VR: Very clearly, they didn’t even look like hobbyists.

JN: Correct. One of them’s a B-boy. One of them’s a breakdancer, he’s not a trained fighter.

VR: Which I hear is a great foundation for grappling.

JN: And by the way, to go back to it—so you know, after Will fought those guys we’ve told anyone fighting MMA symmetrical: No guillotines in the first round. Because it’s been well-proven that, if I were to fight Bank and No Money again, I’d get a hold of that neck and use that guy as a shield and finish it off. The neck cranks and the guillotine that Will had, that was scary. We stopped that very fast.

VR: It’s a pain in the ass to get guillotined by a guy with long lanky arms as it is. I can’t imagine someone like him going up against someone that’s untrained, it’s gotta be even more of a nightmare.

JN: Yes.

VR: Now, as far as your upcoming event: Rampage Jackson. Did it take much convincing to get him involved?

JN: Well, at first he—bro, when he came first to Thailand and we showed him the shirt for the video shoot, he said “I thought you guys were joking until the shirt came out. You know, I thought you guys were full of shit until the shirt came out.” He’s already here, but Rampage has been friends with Bob (Sapp) for two decades. Since the PRIDE days. So Bob gets it, right?

Bob is a very intelligent human being. He’s one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met. He is just—I love him. He’s a friend, I hope to be working with him for a very long time. He’s got some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. When Bob approached me, he said “Alright, what kind of fighters do you wanna get? Who do you want to do this with?” And he brought up Rampage and I was like, “I can’t think of anybody better than Rampage.” And obviously we were right away thinking of an homage to Rocky.

So they’re the perfect Apollo Creed to my Sloppy Balboa, if you will. Rampage gets it too. Rampage thinks it’s fun, he understands the comedy. We have a comedian doing commentary with our team, Ron Josol from Canada. They know each other. We’re gonna rotate comedians. I do plan on getting the Ari Shaffirs of the world, the Tom Greens of the world to come over here. If Bert Kreischer would come over here that would be a blessing.

VR: I don’t think his heart could handle it.

JN: I know, right?

VR: Well, number one, he’d be shirtless the whole time. Number two, he’d have a stroke.

JN: (Laughs) But he would love Thailand, man. The place where we’re doing the fights, Bangla Road, in Patong? This is like, again, it’s the wild, wild west. For Americans that have never experienced anything like Patong before? They get there and it’s just heaven or hell or uh, Peter Pan Never Never Land or Pinocchio, Fantasy Island kind of stuff. Patong is a crazy place.

VR: Not to look too far ahead of the upcoming event, but what other big ambition or what other big format of fight are you looking to do that you just haven’t been able to pull off yet?

JN: We wanna do a lot of game show fighting. I really want to bring a lot of game shows…

VR: Like a spin-the-wheel type of thing, or rolling a die?

JN: Yeah. We do Wheel of Violence. We have Wheel of Violence on this card. I’d like to make Wheel of Violence its own thing and do a whole card of Wheel of Violence. We’re doing Musical Chairs of Doom. All these things that can lead to fights are the direction that we’re gonna go. So if I can do like The Price is Right or Jeopardy! or Family Feud and have it actually turn into a feud and have them actually fight at the game, the competition? Then that’s the direction we’re gonna go.

I know that after this show, later in April—mid-April we have what’s referred to as Songkran, which is Thai New Year. It’s also the largest water gun fight on the planet. It’s seven days here and it’s crazy. During that time, we’ve rented out a paintball course already. I’m gonna do dueling for fights. So ten guys back to back take their ten steps, turn and shoot. The guys that get hit, they’re out, the last two get to fight.

VR: Elimination style until they have to fight?

JN: Elimination style until they have to fight. Correct. Like a lot of different games. Plus the homage to film. We wanna do a lot of scenario fights. John Wick being as big as it is, I would like to get fights in a bathroom. We definitely wanna put VIPs, not sit ringside, not sit cageside… sit in the ring. Right? Wanna know what the best seats are in the house? The two people sitting directly in the middle of the ring while the fights go on.

VR: Logistically I not sure how that—I’m not trying to pooh-pooh your thing, I’m just not sure. It seems, to put it mildly, a bit challenging.

JN: Domestic Pancrase, which we did on the fourth show, it’s hard to get couches. Like, I don’t wanna get anybody hurt on wood or metal frame of a couch, right? So all furniture was inflatable. All the furniture we had in there was inflatable, boxes, Styrofoam. I can picture us doing the same thing in the situation we were just talking about.

VR: Interesting. Well, any final message for viewers or readers?

JN: Again, I hope that you guys enjoy the show. This is made for the internet. It’s made for TikTok, it’s made for social media. I don’t care how many people watch it live, I don’t care what the gate is. The point is the business model doesn’t really work like that. I want the viewers to get it out there, I want them to make memes of the videos and put them out and have the stuff go viral. The thing that I just keep saying when we’re in these meetings is that we’re not the WWE and we’re not the UFC. We’re our own new genre of combat sports and we’re gonna go our own route, our own path. Carve our own niche, right? That’s what we’re doing.

Fight Circus: The Rise Or Fall Of Sloppy Balboa takes place this Saturday, April 1st, starting at 7:00pm EST for those of us Stateside. The event will be available for purchase via Fite.TV.

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Thiago Santos is set to face Rob Wilkinson on April 1.
Thiago Santos is set to face Rob Wilkinson on April 1. | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

UFC veteran Thiago Santos is set to make his PFL debut against Rob Wilkinson on April 1.

Just a couple of days ahead of his Professional Fighters League debut, former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos sounds excited to start a new chapter in his career. At 39-years-of-age, ‘Marreta’ is set to take on 2022 tournament champion Rob Wilkison for his promotional debut on Saturday.

In an interview with Combate, Santos explained what led him to try a new promotion so late in the game. Though Marreta is aware he does not have much more time left fighting at the highest level, he believes he can still make waves for a few more years before his performance starts to suffer. With PFL’s one million dollar prize within his grasp, the Brazilian believes the change of scenery and the prize are motivation enough to keep him focused.

“It’s a new promotion. New rules. You can’t use elbows and there’s a point system. You have a season schedule, you know you’re going to fight four times in a year with the exact dates. You can program everything better,” Santos enthused. “I won’t be a hypocrite. Of course winning a million dollars is good for anyone, but I also wanted to write something new in my story. I’ve spent almost 10 years in the UFC. Now I’m at an advanced age, I’m 39. I didn’t want to try something new when I was already going through a bad phase. The time is now. I believe I can fight at a high level for three more years, so I’d like to try it. I’m not wasting any more time.”

“That forces a fighter to go for the finish as soon as possible,” Santos added, speaking of PFL’s point structure. “I think it motivates you to do that. You know that if you can get a finish in the first round, you’ll get a good score. That helps, it makes you more at ease for the next fights. That’s something we have in mind, for sure.”

Paired up against last year’s champion, Santos knows he needs to be careful against Wilkinson. However, the Brazilian seems to think the booking should be a good one, and might even mean he’ll showcase some of his grappling skills to secure a victory.

“Wilkinson likes to strike. He has knockout wins, he walks forward. He’s dangerous and aggressive. However, we noticed that when he fights strikers, he tries to take them down. He knows what he’s dealing with. We don’t expect him to strike with me a lot. He’s going to want to use his wrestling, but we’re ready for that. I’m ready for wrestling, jiu-jitsu, wherever the fight goes. I’ve trained that, too. I like the matchup. I think that debuting against the last champion has a bigger impact. I like the fight and I’m super excited.”

Santos (22-11) left the UFC on a two-fight losing skid, with defeats at the hands of now-champion Jamahal Hill and top contender Magomed Ankalaev. The 39-year-old’s last victory took place in October 2021, when he defeated Johnny Walker via unanimous decision.

PFL 1 goes down at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card is scheduled to be headlined by a featherweight bout between 2022 champion Brendan Loughnane and UFC veteran Marlon Moraes.

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Wagner, the Russian paramilitary organization, is setting up recruitment centers in dozens of martial arts gyms and children’s sports clubs across Russia.

The Presnensky District contains some of the more affluent neighbourhoods in the Russian capital of Moscow. It is home to the Moscow Zoo, the city’s bustling financial district, and the Patriarshy Ponds, site of Mikhail Bulgakov’s legendary novel, The Master and Margarita.

Apart from its impressive sites, the district is also home to the Grusha Martial Arts Club—a popular combat sports training facility that moonlights as a recruitment center for the Wagner Group, a private Russian paramilitary unit made up of mercenaries actively participating in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Grusha Martial Arts Club, which offers classes to children as well as adults, was Wagner’s first attempt at recruiting mercenaries for the ongoing war from local MMA gyms.

However, Bloody Elbow has since uncovered recruitment centers in more than 50 gyms across Russia.

“To recruit new fighters in Wagner who will defend our homeland, we have already opened recruitment centers in a number of cities. These centers are located in sports clubs where you will come, you will be checked how physically strong you are, and then they will tell you how you will get to us,” read a statement on the Wagner Group’s official Telegram channel.

“We fully trust these centers. They are our supporters.”

Founded in 2014 by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin, the group first came to prominence in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea. Mercenaries associated with Wagner fought alongside pro-Russian separatist forces in occupied eastern Ukraine. Since then, its contracted soldiers have reportedly been involved in various Russian military operations around the world, including the civil wars in Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic. Most recently, the group has been involved in Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

The Wagner group was originally made up of experienced former soldiers from Russia’s elite regiments. However, the unit began recruiting troops drawn from prisons to feed Russia’s war machine in Ukraine. The group registered as a company in 2022 and inaugurated headquarters in St. Petersburg despite the fact that mercenary forces remain illegal in Russia.

Over the past few months, Wagner has been openly recruiting throughout Russian cities. It put up billboards and advertised with flyers in local businesses. Earlier this week, a giant recruitment advert appeared on the facade of a 17-storey building in Moscow. The ad featured a picture of a masked man along with slogans such as “Join the winning team!” and “Together we will win.”

The group even launched a youth club at their headquarters with the intention of preparing young Russians for military service.

To read the rest of this editorial, please subscribe to the Bloody Elbow Substack. Paid subscriptions there fund Bloody Elbow during its transition from being a Vox Media property to an independent publication (a change that happens on April 1, 2023). Your paid subscriptions are helping build our new site and keeping hope alive that our staff will remain in tact. If you haven’t already, please pledge with a paid subscription today.

About the author: Karim Zidan is an investigative reporter for Bloody Elbow focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. His is also a contributor to The New York Times and The Guardian. (full bio)

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We’re re-watching Palhares vs. Henderson

by Site Admin ~ March 30th, 2023

MMA Depressed-us, MMA Podcast, UFC Podcast, Strikeforce, Pride, Bellator MMA, PFL, BKFC, Zane Simon, Connor Ruebusch, Phil Mackenzie,

Zane Simon, Connor Ruebusch, and Phil Mackenzie are back for another UFC off-week, with the best of the worst from MMA history. Focusing on fights from PRIDE, the UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce.

Another non-UFC week in the books means another week with the MMA Depressed-us back in action. The advent of our sudden sub-stack plans may have killed my Patreon idea (it just didn’t feel right), but we did have a few more viewer requests to work with, and one especially struck a chord, watching the UFC career of Drew McFedries.

For those that don’t remember, McFedries was a Miletich Fighting Systems protegé from the team’s glory days in the early 2000s. He may never have risen to the heights of Lawler, Sylvia, Hughes, or Miletich himself, but his 3 year UFC career was a non-stop highlight reel of finishes, whether McFedries was winning or losing.

The MMA Depressed-us is a listener-supported broadcast. To receive new episodes and support our team’s work, consider becoming a paid subscriber at the Bloody Elbow Podcast Substack.

For this week’s show we’re watching six fights, in chronological order: McFedries vs. Alessio Sakara, McFedries vs. Martin Kampmann, McFedries vs. Mike Massenzio, McFedries vs. Thales Leites, McFedries vs. Thomasz Drawl, and McFedries vs. Gary Tapusoa (the rare 3-round McFedries fight…that he actually won!).

MMA Depressed-us Podcast, UFC Podcast, MMA Podcast, MMA, Mixed Martial Arts, Bloody Elbow Podcast Substack, UFC Archives, MMA Archives, Historic Fights, MMA Commentary, Zane Simon, Phil Mackenzie, Connor Ruebusch June M. Williams | Anton Tabuena
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As is usually the case with the Depressed-us, we’re watching all bouts on UFC Fight Pass. For those that wish to watch along with us, start each video at the beginning when Zane says “go.” If you’re watching these videos on another platform, Connor will try to announce the start of round 1 so you can sync from there.

If you enjoy our variety of shows, please give us a shout out in the comments here on Bloody Elbow, and give us a “like”, share & subscribe on your BE Presents Podcast platform of choice: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, OverCast, PocketCasts, Castro, Castbox, Player FM, imdb, ThisMMALife, Podcast Addict, Podvine, Podchaser, Podbay, Podtail, Owltail, Listennotes, Podcast Republic, MuckRack, Chartable,, & now on Substack! Coming soon to Simplecast, Pandora & Sirius XM!

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Cory Sandhagen gets his hand raised after a dominant showing over Marlon Vera.
Cory Sandhagen gets his hand raised after a dominant showing over Marlon Vera. | Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

At least one top UFC fighter wants to know why Cory Sandhagen barely made it out of San Antonio with the win on Saturday.

By the conclusion of the fifth round of the main event of UFC San Antonio last Saturday night, one thing was clear: Cory Sandhagen had defeated Marlon Vera. The Elevation Fight Team talent had out-struck, out-wrestled, and out-grappled his foe for the majority of five rounds on his way to what must surly be a unanimous decision victory.

Then the scorecards were read.

Sandhagen still got his hand raised in the end—the only thing that really matters—but local judge Joel Ojeda turned in a mind-bending 48-47 Marlon Vera card to make it a split decision in a fight where the vast majority of fans and media had the fight sitting at a clear 50-45 or 49-46 for the victor. MMA is no stranger to wild decisions. In a sport with only a few rounds and a somewhat antiquated 10-point must-system refitted from boxing, small discrepancies in judgement from round-to round can create major shifts in the end result. But, even by that standard, this felt like a wild aberration.

So much so that at least one longtime UFC veteran is calling for an investigation. Welterweight top contender Gilbert Burns sat down with TMZ in the days following the event. When asked about the controversial scoring, ‘Durinho’ had a strong solution: Call in the FBI.

“I think this judge needs to be investigated,” Burns said of Ojeda (transcript via MMA Mania). “We need the FBI on this judge. Because those judges may be working with the betting company, getting a third person to bet. I just think it’s not real, I think those guys are being dirty and maybe try to get money out of this. Chito’s my guy and I want him to win, but there’s no way he won that fight. It’s clear to anyone. What’s wrong with that judge? It’s not the first time. What bothers me is that it doesn’t stop. We have to do something or I dunno, nothing changes.”

While commissions will regularly debrief officials after events and sometimes go over controversial scorecards or officiating decisions, those kinds of conversations are rarely ever made public. Commissions have also generally proven disinterested in taking on disputes over things like adjudication—perhaps unsurprising considering the number of fighters every week who might feel hard done by any number of decisions.

However, that leaves athletes, coaches, and managers in the unfortunate place of feeling practically powerless when it comes to filing any kind of official complaint. Ojeda’s scorecard was definitely bad, and seems like it would be hard to defend, but it also seems very unlikely that he’ll ever have to do so in any kind of public forum—even if Burns does get the FBI on the horn.

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Photo by CHRISTIAN BRUNA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Beneil Dariush has added his name to the list of fighters who doubt Conor McGregor’s cleanliness as an athlete.

Lightweight contender Beneil Dariush has added to a growing chorus of voices throwing accusations of potential PED abuse at UFC superstar Conor McGregor. The Kings MMA talent is currently preparing for his fight with Charles Oliveira. Ahead of his bout, he sat down with ‘The Schmo’, when the topic got to McGregor and his re-entry to USADA, he had this to say:

“I think Conor’s cheating. Because in reality… for example, you want to fix your knee or you want to fix your leg and you need to get growth hormones or whatever he’s doing, he can get a therapeutic exemption.

“You can speak to USADA, get a therapeutic exemption, but you can’t add extra stuff. Whatever you’re putting in, you have to declare with them and get it figured out.”

McGregor has been drawing headlines for his seeming hesitancy to re-enter the USADA testing pool, a requirement for returning fighters who have exited the program, usually due to retirement or an extended hiatus from competition. According to the UFC’s anti-doping partner, the Irishman needs to be in the pool for at least six months and provide two clean tests before he gets a green light to compete again.

In McGregor’s mind, however, that’s all wrong.

“Usada is going in the bin,” McGregor wrote in a series of tweets that’s of course been deleted. “This is my issue. I’ve not lied once. Nor have I tested positive. Ever.

“I have over 70 clean tests under this program, yet they are consistently coming out after I speak in a manner that makes it seem I am lying. It’s ridiculous. F—k [USADA]. You are in The Bin.”

Regardless of McGregor’s stance, or the very true statement that he’s never failed a drug test, Dariush remains deeply skeptical. Unfortunately, he’s also come around to the idea that what McGregor’s doing may just be the new normal.

“This is BS, to be honest with you,” Dariush stated. “The fact that they say, ‘Oh, well he’s doing this, he’s not getting tested right now because of his leg.’ No, you can still get tested, you just have to declare and say, ‘Hey, this was a therapeutic exemption.’ But that’s not the case.

“He even put down retirement. He went into retirement, I guess. And USADA recently said ‘When you come out of retirement, you need six months and then two clean tests.’ This is garbage, but that’s the game.”

McGregor is slated to meet opposing TUF 31 coach Michael Chandler, potentially sometime later this year. But, given his uncertainty with USADA, that fight looks like anything but a done deal at the moment.

As for Dariush, he meets “Do Bronx” in the co-main event of UFC 288 on May 6th.

About the author: Milan Ordoñez has been covering combat sports since 2012 and has been part of the Bloody Elbow staff since 2016. He’s also competed in amateur mixed martial arts and submission grappling tournaments. (full bio)

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Antonio Carlos Junior defeated Bruce Souto in June 2022.
Antonio Carlos Junior defeated Bruce Souto in June 2022. | Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

PFL’s Antonio Carlos Junior hopes to resume his career before 2023 is over.

Antonio Carlos Junior hopes to resume his fighting career soon. Having been expelled from reality show Big Brother Brazil on sexual harassment accusations, the Brazilian now intends to get back in the cage before the year is over.

Though he is currently recovering from ACL surgery, which sidelined him from the Professional Fighters League 2022 heavyweight tournament, ‘Shoeface’ has high hopes. In an Instagram video, (shared by Ag Fight) Junior tried to be realistic with his expectations, but still believes a fight in the end of the year is possible.

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A post shared by Ag Fight (@ag.fight)

“I’m pretty sure I’ll fight this year, unless something goes wrong. My wish is to fight this year, probably in the end of the year. I haven’t got anything scheduled, of course, I’m still taking care of my knee, getting back to work. It’s been a sad return to training. But I still hope I can fight, I guess around halfway through the second semester.”

Currently on a four-fight winning streak, Junior (15-5-2 NC) defeated Bruce Souto, Delan Monte, Marthin Hamlet and Emiliano Sordi in his most recent outings. The 33-year-old hasn’t lost a fight ever since his UFC release, when he dropped a unanimous decision to Brad Tavares in January 2021.

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