Michael Bisping, Michael Chandler, Chael Sonnen, prominent MMA managers testifying for UFC in antitrust lawsuit

UFC Fight Night: Aspinall v Tybura Weigh-in
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The UFC antitrust lawsuit is nearing a trial date on April 15, and several prominent fighters and managers are set to testify on behalf of the promotion in the court case.

A brief filed on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada revealed several names the UFC put forward as witnesses ahead of the trial for a case that’s been slowly moving toward that date since first being filed all the way back in 2014. The list of witnesses includes two former UFC champions and three more past title challengers testifying for the UFC.

Bloody Elbow first released information on the brief.

The names included are ex-UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping, former women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate, as well as Michael Chandler, Donald Cerrone, and Chael Sonnen.

The managers expected to serve as witnesses for the UFC include Ali Abdelaziz, who runs Dominance MMA and represents fighters such as UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev; Jason House, the head of Iridium Sports Agency, which has ex-flyweight champion Brandon Moreno on its roster; Josh Jones, who works with fighters such as Cerrone and Tate; Dan Lambert, who owns and operates American Top Team in Florida, and also manages fighters; and finally Ed Soares, who previously managed fighters such as Anderson Silva and Glover Teixeira.

Additional testimony will also be provided by former Bellator president Scott Coker, Invicta FC founder Shannon Knapp, former IFL founder Kurt Otto, and boxing promoter Lou DiBella among others.

Current or former UFC employees who could be called to testify include UFC CEO Dana White, matchmakers Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby, and former head matchmaker Joe Silva, as well as Marc Ratner and UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein.

At the heart of the UFC antitrust lawsuit, fighters such as Cung Le, Nate Quarry, Jon Fitch, Brandon Vera, and others accuse the promotion of engaging “in a scheme to acquire and maintain monopsony power in the market for elite professional MMA fighter services,” and use three components to achieve this goal including acquisitions — like buying up former rivals such as Strikeforce and PRIDE FC — as well as exclusive contracts and coercion.

As for the UFC’s defense, the promotion claims that the lawsuit is misguided and this is “no antitrust case at all, but an attack on success.”

Because the case was eventually made a class action lawsuit, any fighter competing in the UFC between Dec. 16, 2010 to June 30, 2017 would be eligible for compensation if the plaintiffs win in trial or a settlement agreement is reached. None of the fighters eligible opted out of the lawsuit, which includes witnesses such as Bisping and Sonnen, who were competing in the UFC at the time.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages between $894 million and $1.6 billion.

Brandon Royval plans to keep ‘spoiling parties,’ take Alexandre Pantoja’s title at UFC 301

UFC 296 Ceremonial Weigh-in
Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval | Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Brandon Royval is excited about heading into enemy territory.

He could get his wish on May 4 if the matchmakers decide to give him another crack at Alexandre Pantoja, who successfully defended the flyweight title against Royval this past December at UFC 296. The Brazilian star is poised to headline UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro, but he needs a challenger, and Royval’s win over Brandon Moreno in the UFC Mexico City main event may have made Royval the front-runner for that spot.

Royval earned a narrow split decision over Mexico’s Moreno to avenge a November 2020 loss and if he has to head Pantoja’s home country for another chance to become UFC champion, he welcomes the challenge.

“I’m going to continue spoiling parties,” Royval said at the UFC Mexico City post-fight press conference. “UFC 301, I’m going to fight Pantoja and I’m going to take his belt in his hometown, in Rio de Janeiro, and we’ll keep spoiling parties after I win that belt, I’ll defend my belt in Denver, Colorado.”

Standing in the way of Royval’s title hopes are the fact that Pantoja defeated him just two months ago and he already holds two victories over Royval. A third fight could be a tough sell, but Royval just knocked off a two-time UFC champion who previously had bragging rights over him, and he’s confident that he’s proven he can make the proper adjustments to finally knock off Pantoja.

“You’ve seen it,” Royval said. “I made adjustments in six weeks. Five weeks, whatever it was, five weeks because I hurt my hand and I couldn’t get back into training. I had a five-week training camp. In five weeks, I made a bunch of adjustments.

“I didn’t get held down, Brandon Moreno tried to slow me down, slow down the pace, hold me down, keep me down. They ain’t going to hold me down no more.”

Royval is best known for his exciting finishes, but on Saturday he impressed in a 25-minute fight with Moreno, using relentless volume and pace to earn the decision on two of the judges’ cards. It was a far cry from the listless performance he had against Pantoja at UFC 296.

It is not yet known if Royval will get the call to headline in Rio. Should it happen, he only sees one possible outcome this time around.

“I’m going to be the champ,” Royval said. “That’s the future. The future is the ‘Raw Dawg’ Royval is going to be the champ and then I’ll fight anybody. I’ll fight No. 10, I don’t really care. But I’m going to be the new champion. I messed up, I dropped the ball. You guys have seen in five weeks me correct those mistakes and I’m only going to get better by UFC 301.”

Brian Ortega explains freak UFC Mexico City injury, calls out ‘disrespectful’ behavior toward Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez v Ortega
Brian Ortega | Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It had been close to two years since Brian Ortega last competed in the UFC, and before he even had a chance to throw a single punch, his co-main event with Yair Rodriguez nearly ended.

As Bruce Buffer introduced him to the crowd at UFC Mexico City, Ortega jumped in the air but then landed awkwardly on his ankle. He steadied himself without falling to the ground, but there was no doubt that Ortega was hurt, which was noted several times by the broadcast team.

Despite the bizarre injury and then a near-finish delivered by Rodriguez in the opening round, Ortega stormed back and secured a third-round submission win. But he admitted that his long-awaited comeback almost came to a sudden halt before it ever began.

“Talk about things stacked against me,” Ortega said at the UFC Mexico City post-fight press conference. “Bruce [Buffer] was introducing me and then I jumped up, and when I landed, I rolled my ankle. I was like, ‘Oh shoot.’ I looked at my coach and I was like, ‘This is bad.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t you effing worry about this.’ He was just telling me get in the zone, it doesn’t matter.

“When they were introducing him, I was trying to flex my ankle, like, ‘Come on, work, don’t you dare fail me right now. We’ve got five rounds, it’s not even a regular co-main event!’ I’d be lying if I said panic didn’t set in for a bit. Then, obviously I started just off. Right off the bat, I started, I got clipped, and then I paid the price for not being in the zone and focused on what I was supposed to do. I survived it.”

It was a harrowing opening round, but Ortega actually ended in the mount on Rodriguez before the final horn sounded. He then controlled the second round with a dominant grappling game that put Rodriguez on his heels for the first time.

The third round barely started before Ortega secured another takedown and put an end to the fight by wrapping up a nasty arm-triangle choke that forced Rodriguez to tap out.

Looking back now, Ortega knew the ankle injury distracted him in the first round and could have cost him the fight, but thankfully it didn’t.

“It was hurting, and obviously when you’re paying attention to it, it’s hard to really focus on the fight,” Ortega said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, this is what happened right now. What an idiot. You roll your ankle right now in front of 22,000 people and you have a war with this tough guy in Mexico and everyone’s going for him.’ Like, come on, bro. I had to fight some demons in there.”

In the end, Ortega got the job done, and the win over Rodriguez cemented him as a top contender again in the featherweight division just one week after a new champion was crowned.

Ilia Topuria took home the 145-pound title with a stunning knockout of Alexander Volkanovski in the UFC 298 main event, and now he awaits the chance to defend that belt. UFC CEO Dana White said after the event on Saturday that he hopes to give Topuria a homecoming, with the new champ’s next fight taking place in Spain sometime in 2024.

There’s no opponent yet, although Volkanovski called for an immediate rematch given his long reign as champion before the knockout loss.

Even Ortega agreed that Volkanovski deserved recognition after such an impressive run atop the featherweight division, but if he needs some time off, then “T-City” is more than willing to offer Topuria a new challenge.

“There’s some questions out there, but obviously Volk was a great champ,” Ortega said. “For people to kick him down right now, I find it kind of disrespectful for everything that he’s done.

“Some things have to play themselves out and we’ll see. But if he decides that he does not want to fight and chill, then I’m more than happy to go to Spain.”

As far as avoiding another war like the one he had with Rodriguez, Ortega obviously hopes that the freak injury to his ankle will never happen again, but even if everything goes perfectly, he knows it’s nearly impossible to walk away unscathed at this level of the sport.

He can’t say for certain how a fight would unfold with Topuria or anybody else for that matter, but Ortega knows he’s shown his heart and resilience over and over again throughout his UFC career. His latest win is just further proof of that.

“I mean, look at the situation where I’m at,” Ortega said. “There’s no easy fights, no easy wins here. Had I been [unranked] at ‘45 or something, then it would probably be different. But since 2017, it’s been nothing but main events, co-main events, five-round fights. I’ve not had an easy fight my entire career if you pay attention to it.

“They threw me to the best of the best. I fought Max [Holloway] when he was Max. I fought Volk when he was Volk. I fought you name it. That’s just who I am. They give me a name, I say yes. I don’t do the picking, can you give me another one? I say, ‘Who did they say?’ They said this person. I say, ‘Cool, let’s do it.’”

Michael Chandler hopes Alexander Volkanovski takes longer layoff after back-to-back knockout losses

UFC 298: Volkanovski v Topuria
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Did Alexander Volkanovski come back too soon?

It’s a question plenty of people have asked since Volkanovski’s almost five-year reign atop the UFC featherweight division ended with a brutal knockout loss to Ilia Topuria at UFC 298. The result was Volkanovski’s second straight knockout loss — “The Great” fell similarly to a first-round head kick against UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in a short-notice bout this past October — and his four-month turnaround between fights raised eyebrows considering UFC 294 marked the first knockout defeat of Volkanovski’s octagon tenure.

Three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler is a gigantic fan of Volkanovski, yet he can’t help but see the validity of some people’s concerns.

“Man, I never want to strengthen the narrative of someone maybe making a bad decision, but it would maybe lend itself to that, right?” Chandler said on The MMA Hour. “I mean, Volk coming out, taking that fight on short notice, and then fighting — what? — three and a half, four months after, which means you’re back into a training camp, back sparring, taking blows to the head again, just month and a half, two months later. It’s not the right recipe, so to speak. Almost pretty much the exact opposite of what I’ve done. And this is why you can look at that and you can say, ‘Man, Volk might have had a different outcome that night had he not gone right back into a training camp.’

“It is a real thing. Your brain can shut off, your body can shut off, and it is a there is a diminishing effect when it comes to being able to take punches. And yeah, I don’t want to say that was why it happened, but I want to see the best for Volk. I would like to see him sit down a little bit, enjoy some time with his family, still stay involved but don’t take any punches to the head, man, because we need him in the sport for a little while longer.”

Volkanovski, 35, is now just 1-3 over his past four bouts after starting his UFC career with a legendary 12-0 run that saw him capture the featherweight title and defend it five times.

Topuria, 27, on the other hand, appears to have all the makings of a superstar. The charismatic champion is a perfect 15-0 in his MMA career (7-0 UFC) and has already emerged as a breakout figure in his native Spain. After his win, Topuria called to fight Conor McGregor at a blockbuster stadium show in his home country.

Of course, Chandler has sat out close to a year of his own career waiting for the McGregor fight that has long been promised to him yet remains unbooked. But Chandler isn’t perturbed by Topuria’s request. He just wants the new champ to get in line.

“More power to him, man,” Chandler said. “He’s undefeated, he’s salty, he’s young but he’s not that young. He’s 27, I believe, right? So he’s getting into that realm of, hey, this guy’s firing on all cylinders. I was there that night [at UFC 298], I was cageside front row watching it. I was honestly pulling for Volk. If you don’t like Alexander Volkanovski, I don’t know if you can be an MMA fan. He’s one of the most beloved human beings in the sport of mixed martial arts. I love him, everybody loves him. So I was pulling for Volk. The way [Topuria] was able to go out there and get the KO, man, Ilia Topuria is legit. He’s not fighting Conor next in Spain, but say the guy’s name, maybe you’ll get it after I dispatch of him.”

After his UFC 298 loss, Volkanovski called for an immediate rematch with Topuria. The UFC has thus far been noncommittal about Topuria’s next step, but regardless of whether Volkanovski gets his rematch or not, Chandler simply hopes that the former champ learns from his mistakes and takes more time to rest and recover on the sidelines before jumping back into a fight against one of the most dangerous talents in the featherweight division.

“Definitely a little bit longer than after the Islam fight, right?” Chandler said of Volkanovski. “And it’s mainly because I freaking love to dude, man. I think he’s just a great athlete, he’s a great ambassador for the sport, he’s a great champion, and I can’t say enough great things about him. And there’s a lot of things that I admire about him and his game and how he fights and how he carries himself, so it’s guys like that, the good ones in the sport, that we need to protect. Protect Volk at all costs.”

Jon Jones expects Francis Ngannou to lose to Anthony Joshua: ‘Sorry, Francis’

2023 PFL 5
Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones | Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Jon Jones doesn’t have a vested interest in Francis Ngannou’s future any longer now that they compete in rival promotions.

That being said, the reigning UFC heavyweight champion still finds himself rooting for Ngannou in his upcoming boxing match, where he faces Anthony Joshua in a showdown in Saudi Arabia on March 8. Ngannou already shocked the world when he knocked down Tyson Fury in his professional boxing debut and nearly pulled off an upset in a razor-close decision loss.

Now Ngannou attempts to build on that performance when he faces Joshua in his second pro bout.

“I’m rooting for Francis to win only because of his story, how far he’s coming in life, him being a fellow mixed martial artist,” Jones said of Ngannou during the PFL vs. Bellator card on Saturday. “How could you not root for Francis? Francis is a wonderful, stand-up person. I’m rooting for Francis.”

As much as he’s rooting for Ngannou to win, Jones can’t pick the Cameroon native to get the job done, mostly because he has a lot of respect for the body of work Joshua has put together during his career.

Joshua holds a 27-3 record in his pro boxing career, including 24 knockouts. He also claimed the gold medal in boxing during the 2012 Olympic games.

“Anthony Joshua, he’s been doing this since he’s a young boy, and I’m the type of guy that just gives respect where it’s due,” Jones said. “If I had to personally put my money on it, not that I gamble, I would put it on Anthony Joshua, but I am rooting for Francis Ngannou. Sorry, Francis.”

Jones also addressed his future while still recovering from a torn pectoral muscle that kept him out of his previously scheduled matchup against Stipe Miocic this past November.

All signs are pointing toward the fight being booked again later this year, but Jones hasn’t been cleared to compete yet so no date is set.

Jones has plenty of options for his future if he continues fighting beyond his matchup with Miocic because interim UFC heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall is still out there, and he couldn’t appear on a PFL broadcast without Ngannou’s name being mentioned as well.

“I feel like there’s a lot of fights that the world wants right now,” Jones said. “The Tom Aspinall fight, that’s really massive. Francis Ngannou and I would be really massive, and Stipe [Miocic] to the hardcore fans, it’s still a respectable opponent. I don’t know how the cards are going to fall.

“My prediction is that I will beat Stipe Miocic. My prediction is I will beat Tom Aspinall and Francis Ngannou. The way that it unfolds is really not my business. My job is just to do what I’ve always done.”

Jones won the UFC heavyweight title with a lopsided win over Ciryl Gane, who also came up short in five-round decision when he clashed with Ngannou in the UFC.

Ngannou ultimately left the UFC as heavyweight champion before inking a lucrative deal to join the PFL, which also allowed him to pursue his dream to cross over into boxing. He hasn’t fought MMA in more than two years, but many still believe he’s the best heavyweight in the sport, regardless of promotion.

For his part, Jones has no interest in trying to sway anyone’s opinion on that topic.

“I don’t feel like I’m at a place in my life where I need to toot my own horn,” Jones said. “I think my body of work speaks for itself. I think my reception from the MMA enthusiasts speaks for itself. I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve never lost a fight. I’ll leave it at that.”