If the UFC is moving away from the trash-talk era, there may be a new trend starting in the promotion and it deals with champion and enemy territory. Take for instance UFC 237, when Rose Namajunas was praised before the fight for her willingness to go into Brazil and defend her strawweight title against Jessica Andrade who is from Brazil.
The night didn’t end well for Namajunas who lost her title by KO when Andrade landed a vicious slam in the second round. While she lost her title on that night, Namajunas accepting the fight and allowing the opportunity for the challenger to win the title in her backyard is something that should be recognized. After all the adversity Namajunas has gone through throughout her career, including being one of the victims from Conor McGregor’s bus attack at UFC 223 and fighting just two days later, it showed her true strength of character.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (C) vs Dustin Poirier (IC)
Following UFC 237, there are two more scheduled title fights in which there is enemy territory at stake and both fights are risky, to say the least. At UFC 242 current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his title against interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier, which is scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi. The fight for Nurmagomedov isn’t in enemy territory, rather it gives him a feel of home-field advantage due to location and because of the location it will be the first time his father is able to corner “The Eagle” since his UFC career began.
Never mind the fact that Dustin Poirier will be taking on one of the most dominant fighters in the sport, or the fact that Nurmagomedov is undefeated, but the risk of him coming into enemy territory for a chance to dethrone the champion and handing him his first loss, builds even more intrigue into the title fight.
Not only is the UFC’s lightweight division among the very best but it is home to one of the most dominant champions in recent history, and while Dustin Poirier took the hard road to achieve the interim title, he knows it’s only a piece of being champion, and he wants the real belt. Beating Khabib Nurmagomedov is one thing, doing it in Abu Dhabi where the locals will be fully behind the champion is a whole different level, but for Dustin Poirier, becoming champion is everything.
Jessica Andrade (C) vs Weili Zhang
The UFC lightweight title isn’t the only upcoming scheduled “enemy territory” title fight, as this week ESPN reported that newly-crowned champion Jessica Andrade will head to enemy territory herself. Andrade, who previously mentioned, won the title in her home country of Brazil over Namajunas, is headed to China to defend her new title against Weili Zhang in late August.
Zhang is 3-0 since entering the UFC and has risen through the strawweight division very quickly, and with top contender Tatiana Suarez needing some time to heal up a re-aggravated neck injury, Zhang was signed on to be the next title challenger over the likes of Michelle Waterson.
The first title defense for Andrade comes as a tough one, but it also comes as the first major test for Zhang who most recently defeated Tecia Torres at UFC 235. For Andrade, she’ll attempt to do what Rose Namajunas attempted to do, which is head into her opponent’s home country, and defend her title. For Zhang, she’ll not only look to defeat Andrade and become champion, but she could also become the first ever Chinese-born UFC champion, if she is victorious.
While not every title fight will see the champion heading into enemy territory to defend their belt, there seems to be a trend building in fighters deciding to take this route. It’s a high-risk, high-reward style of a fight for champions to pursue, but it also builds excitement and intrigue into each and every title fight.
We’ve seen one champion head into enemy territory and lose their fight, we’ll see one interim champion head into enemy territory looking to achieve the full championship dream, and we’ll see one champion look to successfully defend her title for the first time, in enemy territory.
It may be a trend, it may just happen by chance, but champions willing to head into enemy territory for the sake of defending their title, might just make for more fireworks rather than your usual trash-talk scenarios where fighters try to oversell the fight.
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The Scrap’s Mike Pendleton has worked for numerous MMA outlets and has a passion for telling stories within the combat sports industry. Follow him on Twitter (@MP2310) and listen to his On The Mic Podcast on iTunes.