Moraes on UFC’s pandemic response; Bella Mir turns pro

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The UFC hasn’t had fans at an event since March, yet president Dana White told Yahoo Sports last week that the company has a chance to make 2020 its best year ever.

If that occurs, it would be quite the feat, and beyond anyone’s imagination when the coronavirus shut the world down in the spring.

When the UFC in May became the first major sport to resume competition, it had the audience all to itself and, judging by its television ratings and pay-per-view numbers, took advantage of the pandemic to attract new fans.

Bantamweight contender Marlon Moraes was a fan throughout the summer, watching in awe as fighters pushed the sport’s level increasingly higher.

“What you realize by what is going on here is that the sport is really and truly evolving, and the level [of competition] is getting better all the time,” Moraes told Yahoo Sports via telephone before his fight Saturday in Abu Dhabi against Cory Sandhagen. “There is a lot of new blood coming in, and they’re desperate to make their mark and you see those guys laying it all on the line. 

“And what I’ve seen is that the veterans have responded to that. They’ve worked so hard to get to where they are, and they see these news guys coming in and taking advantage of an opportunity and it pushes them. The fans obviously love it. I’m a fan, too, and I love to watch a good fight. And I will give everyone a good one [on Saturday].”

The Moraes-Sandhagen fight is about as significant as can get in the division. Newly crowned champion Petr Yan is expected to defend first against Aljamain Sterling, and while no one has called this a No. 1 contender’s fight, if Moraes wins, it would be hard to not give him the Yan-Sterling winner.

Sandhagen has five inches of height and four inches of reach on Moraes, who shook that off as no big deal.

“In this sport, when you’re fighting the guys in the Top 10 or Top 5, everyone is good and they all have something special about them that makes them what they are,” he said. “I have to use my speed. He’s a very good fighter, a lanky and long guy. My speed will be important for me to get in and get out.

“I am ready for anything in this fight, and I feel like no matter what situation is presented to me, I’m going to be ready for it and able to deal with it.”

Moraes said, “He’s living the dream,” and wasn’t even a little upset that Jose Aldo, whom he defeated at UFC 245 in a tight bout, got the title shot against Yan. It is, Moraes said, living in the past and that’s not what he wants to do.

He praised the work done by the UFC employees and said he wanted to honor their sacrifices by putting on a big-time fight.

“So many people have done so much and have worked so hard to give us this opportunity to do what we love and to make a living during this [pandemic],” Moraes said. “I see what they do and the effort they put in and I am so grateful to them.”

Perry comes up with new money-making gimmick

Mike Perry, the controversial UFC welterweight, has apparently come up with a way to make a bit of extra money for his fights. He tweeted that he will allow whoever bids the most money to work his corner for his fight in November at UFC 255 against Robbie Lawler.

Perry, who was suspended indefinitely by the UFC after his win over Mickey Gall for punching a customer at a restaurant and creating havoc, used only girlfriend Latory Gonzalez against Gall.

But now, he wants to open it up to whoever wants to pay him the most. Of course, UFC middleweight Darren Till said he’d bid $5,000 and then opened a GoFundMe page to raise the money for it. 

Mike Perry celebrates after his victory over Mickey Gall in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 27, 2020, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

It’s highly unlikely that it will ever happen, though, even though Perry manager Malki Kawa said some of his NFL players approached him about doing it.

First, a corner person is licensed by the state athletic commission, and getting that approval could be tricky. Second, either UFC or ESPN could nix it, believing it is making a mockery of the sport.

In 1977, former Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner took over the Braves as manager for one day in a game against the Pirates. But the next day, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn and National League president Chub Feeney ended the experiment.

It would be a surprise if the Perry cornerman bid process got that far.

Usman-Burns delayed

The UFC welterweight title fight between Kamaru Usman and top contender Gilbert Burns won’t happen as planned on Dec. 12 in Las Vegas because Usman needs more time.

The hope is that the fight will be held in either January or February.

The UFC hasn’t announced a main event for UFC 256 yet. It has offered a fight to Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, which would certainly more than fill the bill as a main event. And Aljamain Sterling shouted out Petr Yan on Twitter hoping to make their bantamweight title fight for that date.

Ex-UFC champ Mir’s daughter turning pro

Following one of his wins in Las Vegas, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir grabbed the microphone and spoke to his young daughter, Bella, at cageside.

Now, Bella Mir is 17 and she’s following in her father’s footsteps. She’s a top-flight wrestler and has been training with her father, so one would suspect her ground game is complete.

She will make her pro debut in Mexico as a bantamweight against Danielle Wynn.

She’s been pointing toward this day for a long time, and if genes mean anything, we could be hearing a lot about Bella Mir before too long.

Big signing for Bellator

Excuse those among you who may have glanced at the news and thought Bellator was somehow putting on a mega-fight between Kamaru Usman and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The UFC champions haven’t switched allegiances, but Bellator signed Nurmagomedov’s cousin, lightweight Usman Nurmagomedov, to a promotional deal. 

He is 11-0 with 10 finishes and trains with Khabib at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, under Javier Mendez.

“With today’s signing of Usman Nurmagomedov, we are making it clear that Bellator is home to the best fighters on the planet and an organization where the sport’s future stars are coming to compete,” Bellator president Scott Coker said. “I am thrilled to have Usman join the promotion, and he will be placed in an immediate position to showcase his skills and contend at 155 pounds. We hope to have him in action inside the Bellator cage by December or January.”

She said it

“I said before this fight to my coaches, either I’ll get this guillotine — because if you give me your neck, I’m going to put you to sleep — or I’m going to knock her out. I felt really sloppy. I didn’t feel loosened up, but she gave me her neck and I put her to sleep. That’s how it goes. When my arms sank in, I told the referee she was out. I felt her go out. I surprised myself. It was a bit sloppy, but it’s all part of the deal.” — Former UFC champion Germaine de Randamie after getting the first submission of her career on Saturday when she put Julianna Peña to sleep

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