Before the bell: January edition

What’s upcoming in the early months of 2023


Anatoly Malykhin celebrates a decisive finish over Reinier de Ridder and achieving the status of double-champion at One on Prime Video 5 (via ONE Championship)

The new year is here and after a quiet holiday, some of the biggest promotions are back to get things heated back up. Fans are hoping that by the end of January, there will be a clear-cut champion in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division after last month’s surprising events. ONE Championship is back yet again to showcase a variety of combat sports during the monthly Amazon Prime Video offering and the PFL hopes to find new talent for their roster with the upcoming challenger series.

The new year already looks to be exciting for combat sports but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s review some of the thrilling events and shocking results that December offered up.

December results (Main event/co-main)

  • Bellator 289: Raufeon “Supa” Stots and Danny “The Italian Gangster” Sabatello finally clashed during the main event of Bellator 289. Stots landed more significant strikes, defended multiple takedowns and fought his way out of tough positions in order to win via split decision. Stots retained his Interim Bantamweight Championship and will move on to face Patrick “Patchy” Mix in the finals of the Bantamweight Grand Prix. During the co-main Liz Carmouche silenced all the doubt as she submitted Juliana Vasquez in the second round to keep her Flyweight Championship.

  • UFC 282: The judges’ scorecards read a majority draw after the main event for the UFC’s Vacant Light Heavyweight Championship. Jan Blachowicz started the fight strong against Magomed Ankalaev by damaging the legs with kicks to the point where Ankalaev had a hard time standing. Ankalaev battled back in the later rounds and used his wrestling to control Blachowicz while delivering powerful ground and pound. The main uproar of the month was during the co-main event when Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett was declared the victor by unanimous decision over Jared “Flash” Gordon. It was apparent post-fight that a majority of fans and MMA media thought Gordon had done enough to secure the win.
  • Cannonier vs. Strickland: Jared “Tha Killa Gorilla” Cannonier squared off against Sean Strickland during the final UFC Main Event of the year at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The fight was very close throughout with Strickland managing to stay on the outside for most of the fight and constantly touch Cannonier with strikes. It came down to power and damage inflicted that got Cannonier’s hand raised in the split decision victory. Arman Tsarukyan put on a smothering performance against fellow prospect Damir Ismagulov. Tsarukyan’s intense pace kept Ismagulov on his heels throughout the fight and the combination of 7 takedowns got the Lightweight contender Tsarukyan the unanimous decision.
  • Bellator MMA vs. Rizin: The special cross-promotion between Bellator MMA and Rizin on New Year’s Eve delivered an epic night of entertainment with high-level battles, monumental walkouts and an electric atmosphere in the legendary Saitama Super Arena. A.J. McKee put on a fast-paced performance after an incredible walkout dressed in full samurai regalia. McKee defeated Rizin’s Roberto de Souza via unanimous decision to make a statement as Bellator swept Rizin 5-0 in the event overall. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire also secured the unanimous decision win for Bellator in a shutdown performance, during the co-main event against fellow Brazilian Kleber Koike.

January events and combat sports news

ONE Fight Night 6: Superbon vs. Allazov

ONE Championship will host their first card of the year on Jan. 13, showcasing some of their elite talents in their monthly events targeted at the U.S. audience.

Stacked talent is ready to make their appearance during the first ONE Championship card of the year (via ONE Championship)

It’s all adding up to an equal and frightening display of striking prowess when Superbon Singha Mawynn will defend his Featherweight Kickboxing World Championship against the surging Chingiz Allazov. Superbon is regarded as one of the best kickboxers in the world and looks to prove the pound-for-pound status when he faces the Featherweight Grand Prix Champion Allazov for the title.

Two additional titles will be on the line during the featured co-main events. Superlek Kiatmoo9 will have an epic showdown against Daniel Puertas for the vacant Flyweight Kickboxing World Championship. Before the kickboxing fights Mikey “Darth Rigatoni” Musumeci will return to show his grappling skills to the world when he attempts to defend his Flyweight Submission Grappling World Title against Gantumur Bayanduuren.

ONE has loaded this first event up to start the year with a bang as it features popular international fighters throughout the main card such as Rodtang Jitmuangnon, Aung La Nsang and even Stamp Fairtex, who will face off against Anissa Meksen in a mixed rules superfight. This event will be free on Amazon Prime Video at 5 p.m. and live from Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.

UFC Fight Night: Imavov vs. Strickland

The UFC returns to the Apex on Jan. 14 for the first event of the new year with a card full of rising prospective talents and a replacement main event that might seem a little familiar if you tuned in to last month’s fight night.

Sean Strickland is competing again in a back-to-back main event, when he steps in on late notice to fight Nassourdine Imavov. Imavov was originally set to face Kelvin Gastelum who had to drop the fight due to a mouth injury during training. Strickland hopes the quick turnaround can get him back on track after the close decision loss last month, meanwhile Imavov wants to make a statement to move up in the Middleweight ranking. Due to the last-minute replacement, the fight will be fought at 205 pounds.

During the co-main event, Featherweight’s Dan Ige and Damon Jackson will battle it out to see who deserves to make their way toward the top 10 in their division. Ige has been on a three-fight losing streak against tough competitors in the division, and looks to turn it around against Jackson who is surging on a three-fight winning streak.

This fast-paced action will be live from the Apex in Las Vegas and the main card will broadcast on ESPN+ at 4 p.m.

UFC 283: Teixeira vs. Hill on Jan. 21, at 3:00 p.m.

Two championships will be at stake when the UFC returns to Brazil in order to host its first Pay Per View (PPV) event of the year on Jan. 21.

During the main event Glover Texeira will get a chance to regain the title in his home country when he squares off against Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill. Texeira is returning after delivering one of the best fights of 2022 when he lost by submission during the last minute of the Light Heavyweight Championship. Hill is coming off a three-fight finish streak, has tremendous power in his hands and hopes to walk into enemy territory only to leave with the belt in his hand.

An unprecedented fourth fight will happen between Deiveson “Deus Da Guerra” Figueiredo and Brandon “The Assassin Baby” Moreno during the co-main event and the Flyweight Championship will be unified. Figueiredo will be appearing in his first fight since the pair’s trilogy fight from last January where he won via unanimous decision. On the other hand, Moreno has been active more recently and returns from a TKO win in July that earned him the Interim Championship.

The crowd is sure to be electric at the UFC’s first Brazilian event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed live events throughout combat sports. All the drama unfolds on ESPN+ PPV at 7 p.m. live from Jeunesse Arena in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

The 2023 PFL Challenger Series kicks off in January

The PFL will kick off eight continual weeks of their Challenger Series on Jan. 27, with the Welterweight division. The Challenger Series gives fighters the chance to be selected to compete in the PFL’s upcoming 2023 regular season which provides athletes with the chance of winning a World Championship and $1 million.

Live judging from athletes and celebrities will determine who earns the contract each week. With so much at stake for these rising fighters the competition is always something fierce. Tune in each week live and on Fubo Sports Network, free of charge, to see each individual division’s prospects battle it out.

MMA Judging at the center of controversy

The judging during the weekend of Bellator 289 and UFC 282 stirred up controversy that had a lot of fighters and media speaking up. Judge Doug Crosby was put in the spotlight for questionable scorecards when he first judged the main event of Bellator 289 in Connecticut for Danny Sabatello with a 50-45 scorecard. This lone scorecard did not reflect any of the other judges from the evening and had some fans questioning what criteria were actually used to judge the fight. The following evening Crosby also judged at UFC 282 in Las Vegas and again delivered a scorecard during the co-main event that would cause an uproar among fans. Although this time he was not alone in his judgment. The full information on the situation and response from the MMA can be read in a detailed article from MMAFighting.

Jake Paul signs a deal with the PFL

A statement was made on Jan. 5, as the PFL announced their new partnership with Youtuber turned professional boxer Jake Paul. He will be stepping in as a partner to help launch the PFL’s new PPV Super Fight Division. Along with becoming a partner with the organization, Paul announced he will become the head of fighter advocacy and be taking part in his very first MMA fight with the organization and has already started calling out Nate Diaz to face him in the promotion. The announcement has already amassed millions of views online and has fans wondering about the possibilities to come with this new revelation bringing many new eyes to the sport.

Khabib announces his retirement from coaching

After a tremendous year, including being named coach of the year by numerous media outlets, Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from the sport after many hints on Instagram. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, long-time coach Javier Mendez said, “He just doesn’t want to miss being a father.” Khabib makes this decision to focus on family after recently coaching Islam Makhachev to win a championship, along with leading many other Dagestani athletes in the last few years since his legendary father’s passing.

Condolences to the friends, family and fans of UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar

It was confirmed on Dec. 22, that UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar passed away at the age of 45 years old. Bonnar had been a part of a Hall of Fame fight during the first season finale of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which is highly regarded as one of the most important fights in the promotion’s history. The MMA world, countless fans and athletes were greatly saddened by the loss and reflected on the importance of Bonnar’s impact on the sport.

With heavy hearts the MMA world mourns the loss of ONE Championship prodigy Victoria Lee

Another shocking loss to the MMA world on Jan. 7, when MMA fighter Angela Lee revealed that her sister, 18-year-old combat sports prodigy Victoria Lee, had passed away. In Angela’s Instagram announcement, she said that her little sister passed away on Dec. 26 without disclosing the cause of death. Victoria made her professional debut in Feb. 2021 and had won three fights in a row since. The loss of Victoria has left an unprecedented impact on her family, loved ones and the world of combat sports.

Let’s show respect and honor to both of these warriors who sacrificed their bodies for the sport which they loved so much.

Remember that the world of combat sports can be unpredictable, so all fight cards are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances.

The first month of the year is on track to bring plenty of unbelievable battles which will equal hours of high-quality entertainment. Catch us next month for all the combat sports events and news with before the bell, and don’t forget to protect yourself at all times.