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Aaron Pico | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Top-ranked Bellator featherweights Aaron Pico and Pedro Carvalho will collide at the upcoming Dublin show on Sept. 23, promotion officials confirmed to MMA Fighting. The event will take place at the 3Arena in Ireland.

Pico (11-4) won a decision over short-notice replacement James Gonzalez in his most recent appearance in April, rebounding from a defeat to Jeremy Kennedy in 2022, when he suffered a shoulder injury in the first round. Pico won six in a row going into that match.

Carvalho (13-7) will attempt to get back to the willing column after dropping a decision to Kennedy this past February in Dublin. In fact, three of Carvalho’s past four fights took place in the neighborhood of his MMA team SBG, with the Portuguese fighter winning the other two against Mads Burnell and Daniel Weichel.

The card will feature Birmingham’s own Fabian Edwards challenging Johnny Eblen for the middleweight title in the main event. Check the updated lineup below.

Johnny Eblen vs. Fabian Edwards
Brian Moore vs. Otto Rodrigues
Aaron Pico vs. Pedro Carvalho
Mads Burnell vs. Daniel Weichel
Sinead Kavanagh vs. Sara Collins
Luke Trainer vs. Laurynas Urbonavicius
Mark Ewen vs. Noah Gugnon
Kenny Mokhonoana vs. Josh O’Connor
Chiara Penco vs. Mackenzie Stiller
Nicolo Solli vs. Romain Debienne

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Conor McGregor court case
Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images

Conor McGregor has lofty expectations for the next stage of his career.

The former two-division UFC champion is expected to make his return to action in late 2023 against Michael Chandler following the duo’s coaching run on The Ultimate Fighter 31, which already wrapped filming and begins airing Tuesday night. McGregor has not competed since July 2021, when he suffered a devastating leg injury in his trilogy bout against Dustin Poirier, however he likes what he sees in the Chandler matchup.

“Not only just a return — the greatest return in combat sports,” McGregor said in a UFC-produced interview. “This is going to be [that]. I’m going to kick this guy in the head. He’s just tailor-made for being kicked all over the place, and that’s what I’m aiming for. I am aiming to wrap this steel bar around the opponent. And you’re going to see a visual of the leg hanging off [at UFC 264] and then you’re going to see a visual off a head hanging off. So I’m excited for that and motivated for that, and steady making my way towards it.”

While there remains no definitive timeline for McGregor’s return, UFC president Dana White recently revealed that the promotion is targeting late November or December. McGregor left the UFC’s anti-doping program with USADA during the recovery of his leg injury and is required to return to the pool for six months before he is eligible to compete again.

Chandler carries just a 2-3 record over five UFC appearances since joining the promotion in 2021 after a lengthy run as one of the faces of Bellator, but has quickly established himself as one of the most exciting fighters in the promotion’s lightweight division. His battle with Justin Gaethje even captured MMA Fighting’s 2021 Fight of the Year award.

“He’s put on some exciting fights. He’s eager. He’s willing to fight. He’s a gamer, you’d call him. And he’s not a bad fighter either, so I’m happy with the opponent,” McGregor said.

“I don’t actually care. I accepted this show, it was me and Chandler, so again it doesn’t bother me. What do I hope for in this world? I hope for 100 more fights. I hope for consistency. I hope for a run. I’ve had this on, off, on, off for the last while and I just want to get this nice consistency going. And I’m now, when I come back, this is where it’s at.”

Consistency is something McGregor has long coveted.

The Irishman has fought just four times since becoming a two-division champion in 2016 with his victory over Eddie Alvarez. McGregor holds a paltry 1-3 record over that time, with his lone win stemming from a 2020 contest against Donald Cerrone. McGregor has taken several lengthy breaks since the Alvarez fight, but by the time he returns to face Chandler, it will have been the longest break of his UFC career. And he’s tired of that inconsistency.

“One [fight per year] is not [enough]. I need [more]. I want four — three or four,” McGregor said. “If I can get where I need to get to, three or four a year is perfect. One is madness. And it’s been one, one, one on, one year off, one on, one year off, and then obviously with the leg thing it’s been a bit longer.”

McGregor, 34, reiterated his interest in fighting at both lightweight and welterweight, but also mentioned a matchup against UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski “could be a nice one at some stage.” He and Volkanovski even traded barbs over Twitter on Tuesday regarding a potential matchup.

First up, though, is TUF 31 and Chandler — as well as a late 2023 return that McGregor hopes marks the beginning of a more active chapter for his MMA career.

“We’re not done yet,” McGregor said. “We’re not done yet, so by the time it’s done, I feel I’ll have a full circle and I’ll be where I want to be.”

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UFC 257: Poirier v McGregor
Michael Chandler | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Michael Chandler gets along well with Conor McGregor, though he’s clearly relishing the opportunity to throw down with the former two-division UFC champion.

Fans will soon have plenty of opportunities to see Chandler and McGregor trade verbal shots (and maybe even some physical ones) with The Ultimate Fighter 31 premiering Tuesday night. The UFC stars serve as opposing coaches on the show and are expected to meet in a welterweight contest on a date still to be determined.

In a pre-show YouTube video, Chandler elaborated on how the dynamic between he and McGregor developed during filming.

“It’s been all over the internet, obviously you guys saw the push, the shove, the face shove heard around the world, saw around the world, and the ‘You’ll do what you’re told’ line that Conor has already put out. … Conor McGregor and I, I think have a pretty good relationship,” Chandler said. “As good of a relationship as you can for a guy whose face you want to rip off. He is a tough competitor. He is a guy who is confident and believes in himself more than anybody that you may see out there. That’s how he carries himself, that is his brand, that is ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor, that is his full-on persona.

“So ultimately, he looks at me as a threat because we’re going to fight each other. He looks at me as a threat on this show, he doesn’t want to lose, he wants Team McGregor to win. He’s got his guys that he has built bonds with. Maybe I beat one of his guys, what does that well up inside of him? What kind of anger does that well up inside of him? Maybe his guy beats my guy. What kind of pride and braggadocious confidence and really throw salt in the wound does that well up inside Conor, because Conor’s good at all of that stuff?”

Chandler has hit the ground running since joining the UFC in 2021, earning two Fight of the Night awards and two Performance of the Night bonuses in just five appearances for the promotion. The three-time Bellator lightweight champion has had mixed results, going just 2-3 in those fights, but the wars he’s engaged in against elite competition have continued to endear him to fans and the front office.

He’s also known for being one of the more comfortable fighters on the mic, a skill that helped him to deal with McGregor on TUF 31.

“Conor likes to talk, he likes to get in your head,” Chandler said. “Conor likes to be the guy who establishes dominance both physically, the way that he stands the way that he walks, but also linguistically. The things that he says, the verbal jiu-jitsu, if you will. So Conor and I had our moments, both up and down, a lot of respect. I think I respect the heck out of him as competitor, I think he respects me as a competitor. He said some complimentary things about me, I say complimentary things about him as well.

“We’ve also said where we are very bold in our prediction. He believes that he’s going to slice right through me. He believes that he’s a little bit too spicy, a little bit too dicey. I said I’m going to bludgeon him with my hands. I think my Mystic Mike prediction is that I knock him out in the second round. I go out there, I get in his face, I put the foot on the gas early as I always do. I believe I wear him down in the first and he wilts and I knock him out in the second.”

When their fight is eventually made official, don’t expect Chandler to ramp up the trash talk too much as it appears that his shared experience McGregor was overall positive.

“Ultimately, it all boils down to there’s a lot of respect between Conor and I, but that doesn’t mean that we have to like each other at every turn,” Chandler said. “We could have a really great day and then the next day it’s like, ‘Hey man, it’s fight day. Don’t talk to me.’ ‘Hey man, I’m dealing with this with my guy, don’t talk to me.’

“So it was a season that had so many different scenarios that made you act differently than you might have thought you would and that was kind of my big thing going into it. I don’t know how I’m going to react, respond, and what you saw in some of these teasers was us responding or us reacting in a certain way and it’s all water under the bridge and we had a good time.”

The TUF 31 season premiere airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+.

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Conor McGregor won his second UFC title at UFC 205 on Saturday night.
Conor McGregor won his second UFC title at UFC 205 on Saturday night. | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Conor McGregor remains the biggest star in combat sports, but he has a lot to prove when he returns to the UFC.

It’s been nearly seven years since McGregor became the first-ever simultaneous two-division UFC champion. Over three years have passed since his most recent victory, a win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone back in 2020. Since then, the 34-year-old Irishman has suffered back-to-back losses to Dustin Poirier, dropping his overall record to 1-3 in his past four fights.

As McGregor prepares for his eventual return against Michael Chandler — most likely later this year — UFC welterweight Matt Brown counts himself among doubters who believe “The Notorious” won’t ever get back to championship form again.

“In his prime, I would pick him to beat Michael Chandler,” Brown said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I’m not sure Conor is actually in his prime anymore. I think he’s going to want to be out there. He wants his name in the news. He’s addicted to that, people loving him and the ego, and I think he likes getting in there and fighting. But whether he wins or loses, I don’t see him in the top-five ever again, personally.

“They might rank him top-five if he beats Michael Chandler, but he’s not a true top-five guy. I don’t think he beats Beneil [Dariush], I don’t think he beats any of the top-five guys, [Dustin] Poirier, [Justin] Gaethje, I just don’t think he’s a top-five guy anymore.”

Brown admits he questioned McGregor’s greatness during the Irish star’s run at featherweight, which culminated with a blistering 13-second knockout over Jose Aldo in 2015. That win, along with subsequent title grab at lightweight, cemented McGregor’s status among the all-time greats. But all of those accomplishments happened several years ago.

Now, coming off two consecutive losses to Poirier, coupled with the long rehabilitation from a broken leg, Brown doesn’t expect McGregor to ever reach his peak again.

“He was great fighter,” Brown said. “I give him credit. He was a great f****** fighter. I think he could have done enormous things had he kept his head on right and kept his eyes on the prize. I think he lost track, particularly after the Khabib [Nurmagomedov] loss. I think he just completely lost track, maybe after he fought Floyd [Mayweather], but at some point he completely lost track, and I don’t see him coming back to that.

“I think Chandler’s the wrong guy to be fighting in that position. I’m going to pick Chandler to win, but Conor should, with his skillset, be able to win. With that said, he will never be a top-five guy regardless — he’ll never beat a top five guy, in my opinion.”

While another loss would certainly harm McGregor’s reputation as a legitimate title contender, he still remains a massive draw at the box office, which puts him in a separate category than almost any other fighter with a 1-4 record over five fights.

Brown, who tied the record for the most knockouts in UFC history with his most recent win, acknowledges McGregor will still be a massive draw. That’s not likely to change.

“If Conor loses this fight, I think he’ll certainly never get back to title contention,” Brown explained. “I think that’s going to be way too uphill of a battle, but he will still be a draw.

“It will be more of the circus fights like maybe it’s Nate Diaz, if they ever figure out a way to promote it — Nate’s a free agent now — but I think Conor, the way his ego works, he’s going to want to be in the spotlight still. He’s going to want to do something to keep his name out there. But will he ever be competitive in the top-10 again? I don’t think he will, period.”

Listen to new episodes of The Fighter vs. The Writer every Tuesday with audio only versions of the podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Stitcher

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UFC Fight Night: Strickland v Imavov
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Sean Strickland has his eyes on the UFC middleweight champion.

Nearly one full year ago at UFC 276 in Las Vegas, Strickland was one fight away from securing his first career title shot against the reigning 185-pound kingpin Israel Adesanya. Unfortunately for “Tarzan,” he ran face-first into the thumping left hand of the future champion Alex Pereira.

The first-round knockout loss to Pereira snapped Strickland’s resurgent six-fight undefeated streak. Since then, the New Bern, Calif. native has stayed as active as possible, fighting twice with a third coming against Abusupiyan Magomedov on July 1 at UFC Vegas 76. A win for Strickland will get him back on a winning streak after defeating Nassourdine Imavov in a short-notice light heavyweight bout to kick off UFC’s 2023 calendar in January.

“If this fight [with Magomedov] goes my way, it 100 percent should be in the cards,” Strickland told My MMA News’ John Eric Poli of a title fight. “I f****** had a close decision with f******, what the f*** was that guy’s name? Jared Cannonier, you knocked some brain cells out of me. Solid guy. Thought I won on the scorecards but it is what it is.

“I truly believe I should be the one fighting ‘Izzy,’ but I lost fair and square. I’ll pay my tenants. I’ll get some W’s but yeah. That one needs to happen.”

Adesanya and the middleweight title picture are currently in between a rock and a hard place after some curious booking decisions for the summer slate of events. UFC President Dana White shared along with his announcement of Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus Du Plessis at UFC 290 on July 8 that the winner will challenge for “The Last Stylebender’s” title. While no date has been confirmed on when that fight would happen, rumblings have indicated the September Australia return for UFC 293 is what the promotion is hoping for.

Several recently made matchups like Strickland vs. the unranked Magomedov have been met with confused reactions. Arguments have been made for Du Plessis to get the next title shot without getting through Whittaker as well as Strickland more logically needing to be paired with Paulo Costa. The latter is also next set to face an unranked prospect in Ikram Aliskerov for his next time out at UFC 291 on July 29.

Despite Strickland agreeing with the sentiment that the matchmaking is wrong, he’s not going to complain and will do his job as requested.

“It should have been me and Costa, for sure, hands down,” Strickland said. “I had no fights. They asked a couple Top 10 guys, I’m not gonna say any names but they all said no. So, the UFC gave me a choice: you sit on the bench for like six months until somebody opens up or you f****** fight and I said I want to fight, let’s make some money.”


Roundtable. With BMF title returning, what other gimmick belts should the UFC create?

Prediction. Dustin Poirier explains why he’s picking Jake Paul to beat Nate Diaz

Holiday. MMA fighters honor fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

Comparison. Alan Jouban explains why Sean O’Malley is ‘much less of a threat’ to Aljamain Sterling than Henry Cejudo

Future. Junior dos Santos has high hopes for surging Jailton Almeida, ‘100 percent the favorite‘ against Tai Tuivasa

Aftermath. Johnny Walker reacts to Dana White’s criticisms, has mixed feelings about Anthony Smith win

Role. Belal Muhammad embracing bad guy role with some fans: ‘If I have to go heel, I’ll go heel’


UFC Vegas 74 promo.

Free fight.

TUF 31 snippet.

Post-knee injury stretches.


On To the Next One. MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck and Alex K. Lee discuss if Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3 will happen in the UFC.



Poor sportsmanship.

Can’t escape.

It’s just never going to happen, is it?

So close.

Prep time.



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Movsar is probably bigger.

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Always the mullet.

Raise your hand!

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Khabib time.

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Good question.

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Watch along.


Muhammad Naimov (8-2) vs. Jamie Mullarkey (16-5); UFC Vegas 74, June 3


I was all on board for Strickland taking on Adesanya before the Pereira fight. Now all that matchup will be good for is the build-up and banter… which would have still probably been the case anyway. The allure has just been lost.

Thanks for reading!


If you find something you’d like to see in the Morning Report, hit up @DrakeRiggs_ on Twitter and let him know about it. Also, follow MMAFighting on Instagram and like us on Facebook.

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Longtime rivals Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira just can’t seem to find away to avoid one another.

On Monday, both fighters released videos on their respective social media pages as they were both at the same airport. Pereira’s video showed Adesanya trying to avoid the camera in a humorous way while traveling with fellow UFC champion Alexander Volkanovski. Adesnaya’s video showed him walking forward with his multi-time opponent a few spots behind him.

Check out the videos from both fighters below.

After two kickboxing matches, Adesanya and Pereira ended up meeting inside the octagon for the UFC middleweight title in the main event of UFC 281 this past November at Madison Square Garden in New York. Pereira would end up stopping Adesanya in the fifth round for a come-from-behind championship victory.

The pairing would meet again five months later, where this time Adesnaya was able to exact some revenge with a brutal knockout of Pereira in the second round to regain his title.

Pereira is making the move to the light heavyweight division to face former champ Jan Blachowicz at July’s UFC 291 event, while Adesanya is expected to defend his middleweight title in the main event of UFC 293 in September, which will serve as the promotion’s return to Sydney, Australia.

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UFC 288: Sterling v Cejudo
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Aljamain Sterling has constantly battled for respect ever since becoming the UFC’s bantamweight champion.

Sterling’s UFC 288 win over Henry Cejudo, a former two-division champ and legend of the sport, undeniably deserved praise. But a win over Sean O’Malley at UFC 292 could cement him as an all-time great at 135 pounds, UFC analyst Alan Jouban said on The Fighter vs. The Writer.

“I think that this fight, beating Cejudo in a five-round fight, I think this is going to start getting people more on board,” Jouban said about Sterling’s UFC 288 performance. “I think they’re going to say, ‘This guy has earned it.’ The two fights with Petr Yan, they were tough, the way it started with the second fight. Honestly being live at the second fight with Petr Yan, I had it very close, but I was leaning to Petr Yan in that fight, and then the T.J. [Dillashaw] fight, [him] being injured, they never quite gave him his flowers.

“But beating Cejudo, you have to give the man his respect. He was able to take Cejudo down. He was able to reverse some of these positions. He hit a switch on him, took his back at one point in the fight. The great thing is this next possible matchup, I think is the perfect matchup for [Aljamain] to get all the respect.”

Since joining the UFC roster, O’Malley has quickly become one of the most talked about fighters in the sport and a serious box office draw. He became the No. 1 bantamweight contender with a hard-fought win over ex-champ Yan.

While O’Malley may have earned this opportunity, Jouban believes “Suga” is going to face an uphill battle in a fight against Sterling, who will match him in size and likely pose a much more difficult challenge than Yan.

“As good as O’Malley is, the stylistic matchup allows for that — it allows for a finish,” Jouban explained. “A tall, lanky striker who if [Aljamain] gets him on the ground, he’s going to be able to get that body lock on very easily against a small, skinny waist in O’Malley. O’Malley’s not going to be able to escape that, especially if O’Malley gets taken down in the first one to two minutes of a round, he’s going to be stuck in that back position for three or four minutes, having to escape and evade and defend. It’s inevitable. You’re going to get choked out.

“If Aljo can get the takedown early on O’Malley, if he can get a finish, a dominant finish, a choke out over O’Malley in say the first or second round, I think that will forcefully bring the fanbase on board to say this guy is one of the greatest we’ve ever seen in this weight division. It allows that opportunity coming up so I think everything moving forward is going to start looking very, very well for Aljo.”

At 5-foot-11 with a 72-inch reach, O’Malley has knockout power in his hands and could definitely pose problems for Sterling. But Jouban doubts he’ll find nearly as much success in that fight as he did against Yan this past November.

“As fluid and smooth as a striker as O’Malley is, he likes a stationary target,” Jouban said. “If he finds you stationary, he will put you out. Aljo is not a stationary target. He’s constantly moving laterally from a long distance away, and he’s just throwing long kicks, faking the shots. It’s going to be very tough for O’Malley to land that clean shot against Sterling.

“The clean shots, the sniper bullet that O’Malley has perfected, it’s not going to be as high percentage of a shot, because Aljo’s going to be moving all over the cage and the distance is going to be much greater in the fight. O’Malley’s going to have to cover a much greater distance. The matchup very much favors Aljamain Sterling.”

On the financial front, the fight benefits both. O’Malley brings the kind of star power that attracts a bigger audience, which in turn likely pads their bank accounts.

All told, Jouban sees O’Malley as the perfect fight for Sterling to fully establish his legacy as perhaps the greatest UFC bantamweight champion in history while facing far less risk than he just did against Cejudo.

“[Sean O’Malley is] much less of a threat and probably bigger sales than a lot of these fights,” Jouban said. “O’Malley’s a draw, and now you have the big draw coming in here, O’Malley’s good at selling the fight. The UFC was on board with selling it. [UFC President] Dana White regrets having O’Malley go into the cage, but they got that. They’ve got that footage of them in each other’s face, that’s going to help promote the fight. They’re both going to be jawing back and forth.

“100 percent, this is one of the few times where we’re finally going to see Aljo as the champion, as a heavy favorite in a matchup, and it’s warranted in this matchup.”

Listen to new episodes of The Fighter vs. The Writer every Tuesday with audio only versions of the podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Stitcher

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Memorial Day marks a time to honor and mourn fallen service members in the U.S. For some MMA vets who’ve served or have family members who’ve served, the holiday is very personal. Others simply honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, ex-heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic and bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling were among those who paid tribute to fallen service members. You can see his message to fans as well as other MMA vets who gave thanks to soldiers on Memorial Day.

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MMA: MAY 13 UFC Fight Night - Rozenstruik vs Almeida
Jailton Almeida | Photo by Matt Davies/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Junior dos Santos took the UFC heavyweight championship to Salvador, Brazil in 2011, and now sees potential in Salvador native Jailton Almeida to replicate that in the near future.

“Malhadinho”, born in Salvador in 1991, is on a roll with five one-sided victories since joining the UFC, steamrolling Jairzinho Rozenstruik in his most recent appearance in Charlotte. “Cigano” said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca that Almeida has what it takes to reign in the division.

“I think he has a lot of potential and this is just the beginning,” dos Santos said. “He’s fast as hell and works really well with his body. The thing about heavyweights is that they usually are slow. They hit hard, they are strong and dangerous, but they are slow, so you can anticipate some of the movements of the heavier ones. I see great potential in him. He has everything it takes to get there, and we’ll be cheering for him.”

Almeida moved to No. 6 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings following his dominating victory in Charllote, sitting behind Francis Ngannou, Jon Jones, Sergei Pavlovich, Ciryl Gane and Curtis Blaydes.

Ngannou recently joined the PFL but is only expected to compete in MMA in 2024, and Jones currently holds the UFC title. “Bones” is expected to defend it next against Stipe Miocic, who isn’t ranked at the moment since he hasn’t fought in more than 18 months.

“New stars will rise, prospects, like Jailton ‘Malhadinho,’” dos Santos said. “‘Malhadinho’ is on a roll, he’s doing great. UFC president Dana White himself said he has his hopes high for him. I remember it was similar back in my days and I felt a huge incentive, I’ve felt the prestige, I felt pushed. People see how hard you work and the results come. The future of the heavyweight division is being made now. Some are stopping, others are rising.”

Jones hinted at a possible retirement if he beats Miocic in his first title defense later in 2023, and “Cigano”, who went 1-1 in the UFC against Miocic, said it would be a shame.

“We don’t want to see guys we admire stopping, like Jon Jones, but it’s something personal,” dos Santos said. “Jon Jones is still young, so if he really retires soon, I think it’s a waste, even. But he should do what’s best for him.”

Almeida called for a fight with Tai Tuivasa next after his main event victory live on ABC, a man that has has lost to “Cigano” in the past but later rebounded with knockouts over Stefan Struve, Harry Hunsucker, Greg Hardy, Augusto Sakai and Derrick Lewis before dropping two in a row to Gane and Pavlovich.

Dos Santos is impressed by how Almeida outclasses his opponents on the ground and the fact he’s not scared to simply do his thing regardless of how the opponent fights. If he does face Tuivasa next, “Cigano” has his prediction ready.

“He’s 100 percent the favorite against Tuivasa,” dos Santos said. “Not taking anything away from Tuivasa, he’s super tough, but…”

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MMA: MAY 13 UFC Fight Night - Rozenstruik vs Almeida
Johnny Walker vs. Anthony Smith | Photo by Matt Davies/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Johnny Walker tied his longest winning streak under the UFC banner earlier this month with his decision over Anthony Smith at UFC Charlotte, adding to prior first-round victories over Paul Craig and Ion Cutelaba. Yet, he still has mixed feelings about his latest win.

Smith was the highest-ranked opponent Walker has ever beaten and catapulted Walker to the top 5 of the UFC’s official rankings, but the Brazilian is not entirely happy.

“If that was the toughest guy [I’ve ever fought], that shows I’m evolving, because he didn’t put me in any risk during the fight,” Walker told MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast. “I saw his hand was kind of soft in the third round, he was slower. I almost finished him in the third. If I had 10 more seconds, I think I would had ended him — and that shows my level is very high now, the fact that I walked through the No. 5 guy. And I know I can evolve more and more. I know of my potential, I know I can get a lot better.

“I’m not 100 percent happy [with the fight] because I’m sure I could have knocked him out if I had pushed the pace a bit more, but I’m happy because I saw that my level is much higher when compared to his.”

UFC president Dana White didn’t seem too impressed by Walker at the event’s post-fight press conference, stating that the Brazilian “was put in the co-main event to kind of shine tonight” but “didn’t really wow anybody tonight.”

“He knows I could have ended the fight, but he didn’t know I was feeling that experience,” Walker said of White’s comments. “I could have ended it, yeah, but I guess I didn’t want to end it. I was enjoying it, I wanted to see what [Smith] could offer me. He didn’t have anything left to offer me, so I should have finished him in the third, but I only had seconds left. I should have woken up, like, ‘I guess it’s enough,’ but time was up and I couldn’t finish him.”

In the end, Walker said he expected Smith to present a bigger challenge. The matchup was the original main event before Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Jailton Almeida landed in the headlining spot, and Walker felt Smith would not have lasted 25 minutes against him.

“I was having fun, I was testing myself,” Walker said. “I was seeing what he could offer with his hands, blocking his attacks. I can’t test myself when I’m fighting for the belt, you know? I have to test myself now and show I can get hit, I can block punches. I’m happy I didn’t finish him and used those three rounds to absorb strikes and see where I’m at. I know I could’ve finished him, but I’m also happy I didn’t because I had the experience. Fifteen minutes of fighting with the fifth-ranked fighter is great experience.”

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