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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    The Wrestling Fan's Guide to the MMA Weekend (7/28/23)

    The UFC hosts a big pay-per-view event this weekend, and the main event features a former Northern Colorado wrestler. Across the world in Japan, Bellator and Rizin are working together on a joint show that features some former collegiate talent as well as a Greco Olympic medalist. The following is a preview of all those MMA fights featuring wrestlers. 


    UFC 291

    Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier

    As a junior at Northern Colorado in 2010, Justin Gaethje finished seventh at 157 pounds at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American. In the process, he also became the first All-American for the Bears since 1970. After building an undefeated 16-0 professional MMA record, Gaethje signed with the UFC 2017. After losing two of his first three fights with the promotion, it looked like Gaethje might end up being better known for his entertaining fights than his accomplishments. However, he has now worked his way into being a perennial contender in the lightweight division.

    Poirier presents a very tough test for Gaethje. He is a former interim lightweight champion, and they have a history. The two faced off back in 2018, and Poirier won via fourth-round stoppage. Gaethje has improved defensively and will need that to reverse the previous result .


    Tony Ferguson vs. Bobby Green

    During his high school days, Ferguson was a three-time all-state selection in Michigan. He continued to wrestle on the collegiate level and spent time at Central Michigan, Muskegon Community College, and Grand Valley State. While at GVSU, he won the 2006 NCWA title at 165 pounds. Ferguson made his professional MMA debut in 2008 and won the 13th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2011. From 2016 to 2019, Ferguson was considered one of the top lightweights in the world. However, he is now riding a five-fight losing streak and is desperate for a win.

    That win might be hard to find here against a fellow veteran and wrestler. Green wrestled extensively on the high school level and was a two-time placer in the massive California state tournament for A.B. Miller High School. He has been fighting professionally since 2008 and holds a 29-14-1 record. 

    Both of these fights will be part of the ESPN+ pay-per-view main card, which is set to begin at 10:00pm ET.


    Bellator MMA vs. Rizin 2

    Danny Sabatello vs. Magomed Magomedov

    Sabatello was a three-time NCAA qualifier for Purdue where he wrestled at both 133 and 141 pounds. In the MMA cages, he has really let his brash personality come out and has built up a bit of a following. Sabatello signed with Bellator in 2021 after going 10-1 on smaller shows. He has since gone 4-1 with the promotion. In his last fight back in April, he bounced back from his first Bellator loss and scored a second-round submission victory over Marcos Breno.

    Magomedov is one of the top bantamweights in Bellator. He lost in the semifinals of the promotion’s championship tournament to eventual champion Patchy Mix. The defeat dropped his professional record to 19-3. This will be his first fight since that loss. 

    The card situation here gets a bit tricky. Bellator and Rizin, two different promotions, are basically sharing a show. Sabatello vs. Magomedov will be part of the Bellator portion of the event, which will air live on Showtime from Japan at 11:00pm ET. 


    Super Rizin 2

    Juan Archuleta vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo

    Archuleta was a two-time CCCA champion for Sacramento City College before transferring to Purdue. As a junior for the Boilermakers, he finished fourth in the Big Ten and qualified for the NCAA tournament. He has been fighting exclusively for Bellator and Rizin since 2018. After dropping back-to-back fights, he recently got back on track with three-straight victories.

    Ougikubo is one of the top fighters to come out of Japan in recent memory. He competed on the 24th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He defeated current UFC flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja and made the finals before ultimately losing to Tim Elliott. After the show, he returned to Japan in 2018 and has stayed ever since. In his last fight, he dropped a decision to rival Kyoji Horiguchi on New Year’s Eve. 


    Shinobu Ota vs. Kenta Takizawa

    Ota made the transition to MMA on New Year’s Eve 2020 after an extensive Greco-Roman career. He was an Olympic silver medalist for Japan in 2016 and won a world championship in 2019 at 63kg. Ota lost his MMA debut against veteran Hideo Tokro but has since won three of his last four. This past April, he scored a 27-second knockout over fellow former Greco wrestler Kazuma Kuramoto. 

    The former wrestler should be a big favorite here as Takizawa has been fighting exclusively for Rizin since 2020 but has gone only 3-4 in his seven fights. He is coming off a loss against Naoki Inoue by second-round submission. 

    These fights will be part of the Rizin portion of the show, which will begin at 3:00am ET and stream live via Internet pay-per-view on Fite.tv. 

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