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UFC Notebook - Vick-Gaethje
Vick-Gaethje is new UFC Lincoln headliner

The moment James Vick has been waiting for has belatedly arrived. Finally!

Vick (13-1 MMA) owns a 9-1 record in 10 Octagon appearances, including five finishes and four consecutive victories. Nevertheless, he’s never been on the main card of a pay-per-view event or been given a main or co-main event slot on a card of any sort.

Why? Great question.

Even though he’s 6’3” and competes in the lightweight division, ‘The Texecutioner’ has never missed weight. After getting his hand raised the last several times, he’s given excellent post-fight interviews in the Octagon, calling out Top-10 fighters for constantly turning down fights against him.

Jason Floyd of the MMA Report and RadioInfluence.com told VegasInsider.com, “Part of the reason it’s taken so long for Vick to get a spotlight fight like this is the way he lost to Beniel Dariush (by first-round KO). He’s had to work his way back up and has done so in his last four fights.”

Vick has pleaded to the promotion to give him a little more push, but not while being a complete chafe about it. In other words, he hasn’t been disrespectful to UFC President Dana White, certainly not to the extent that others have in the past.

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Speaking of The Boss Man, he doesn’t take too kindly to call outs. And perhaps that’s why Vick is replacing ‘Ragin’ Al Iaquinta to face Justin Gaethje in the UFC Lincoln headliner on Aug. 25.

Iaquinta, who has feuded with White and the UFC for several years, recently was critical of White for changing the weigh-ins back to the (late) afternoon rather than in the morning. The morning weigh-ins have given fighters more time to replenish their bodies and, according to many of them, allowed them to perform at a higher level.

Iaquinta accused White of making this decision on his own despite claims from the UFC President that most fighters are in favor of the move back to the afternoon. Iaquinta said that former owner Lorenzo Fertitta “kept [White] in check,” and there’s nobody to do that anymore under the new ownership group.

Iaquinta, who was booked to take on Gaethje in the UFC Fight Night 135 headliner, mysteriously pulled out of the bout earlier this week. The Long Island native hasn’t disclosed his reasoning for withdrawing.

With Iaquinta out, Vick was chosen to take on ‘The Highlight.’ Gaethje signed with the UFC after winning his first 17 career fights and successfully defending his World Series of Fighting lightweight title five times.

In his Octagon debut, the former wrestler at the University of Northern Colorado took on Michael Johnson. The back-and-forth affair ended with Gaethje winning by KO late in the second round in what was named the 2017 Fight of the Year. Since then, Gaethje has lost back-to-back slugfests by KO to Eddie Alvarez (R3) and Dustin Poirier (R4). Both bloodbaths garnered Fight of the Night honors and the scrap with Poirier is the early favorite for 2018 Fight of the Year (just ahead of Robert Whittaker’s split-decision triumph over Yoel Romero at UFC 225).

Vick, who is currently ranked 10th in the 155-pound loop, was scheduled to face 14th-ranked Paul Felder at UFC Boise. When Vick was pulled off that card and slotted vs. Gaethje, Felder was screwed out of a fight for the second time this year. The Philadelphia native was scheduled to fight Iaquinta at UFC 223 before Conor McGregor’s actions messed up the entire card and led to Iaquinta facing Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event.

Vick and Gaethje haven’t wasted time getting the smack talk going on social media. In fact, Vick’s response to a tweet from Ariel Helwani might’ve been the catalyst leading to this matchup.

When Helwani tweeted that Kevin Lee turned down the chance to meet Gaethje (because he wanted an entire training camp for his next bout), Vick replied, “That punching bag don’t want these problems!!”

Next thing you know, Vick vs. Gaethje was a done deal. Check out this back and forth on Twitter below.

Regarding this headlining bout in the promotion’s debut in Lincoln, Floyd said, “Vick’s reach could be an advantage, but I doubt Gaethje will play into that game with his come-forward style.”

Another MMA guru I like to talk fights with – Lou of GambLou.com who can be followed on Twitter @GambLou – was asked by VI what sort of odds he thought we’d see for Vick-Gaethje. Lou said, “I figure Gaethje will probably be favored at around -175.” (There were no odds out yet as we filed this column on Friday.)

Things have ended up working out for Felder, who will now jump on next week’s UFC 226 card in Las Vegas to meet Mike ‘Platinum’ Perry. Felder will be making his welterweight debut on nine days of notice vs. Perry, who had been slated to face Yancy Medeiros. However, Medeiros withdrew from the contest on Thursday due to a broken rib sustained in training.

Felder told Helwani yesterday that his weight was currently in the “low 180s.” When he saw the news of Medeiros pulling out, Felder tweeted at Perry, “love ur style bro, Shall we get paid next week?” Perry responded, “let’s do it mother f***.”

BetOnline.ag opened Perry as a -270 favorite, but that number didn’t last long. In fact, 24 minutes after opening, the odds had been reduced to -140. Felder is the +120 underdog (risk $100 to win $120).

Before those numbers came out, GambLou had told me he thought Perry would be “-150ish.” According to the current adjusted odds, GambLou nailed it.

The 34-year-old Felder has won three consecutive fights by KO and is 5-1 in his last six outings. He’s 15-3 overall and 7-3 in the UFC. Meanwhile, Perry is 11-3 overall and 4-3 in the UFC. The native of Flint, MI., has lost back-to-back bouts by decision.

**B.E.’s Octagon Nuggets**

-- ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans announced his retirement earlier this week on Ariel Helwani’s new show on ESPN. Evans won Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter against heavyweights. The former Michigan State wrestler rose to stardom with his second-round knockout of UFC Hall of Famer Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell at UFC 88 in Atlanta. I was on press row attending my first UFC event when Evans shocked the world. If you ever see the replay in its entirety, you’ll hear what I’ll never forget as long as I live. The sold-out crowd at Philips Arena went silent when Evans put the fan favorite out to sleep (for longer than a minute; I thought Liddell was dead). All you could hear from that moment until Bruce Buffer announced the result was Evans’s ex-wife screaming with joy at the top of her lungs (woman has some vocal chords!). Evans earned a title shot after dusting Liddell, and he took full advantage. Evans won the light-heavyweight strap by scoring a third-round KO over Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 in Las Vegas.

However, in his first title defense, Evans lost for the first time in his career when Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida won the belt by second-round KO. Evans ripped off a four-fight winning streak but during this span, he famously parted ways with Jackson-Wink Academy after his team basically chose rising star Jon Jones over him. This created drama galore in the promotion of Jones’s title defense against his former mentor, Evans. Jones won by unanimous-decision at UFC 145 in Atlanta.

The rest of Evans’s career was marred by injuries and bad losses. He was 17-2-1 after losing to Jones, but he dropped a narrow decision to ‘Little Nog’ his next time out. ‘Suga’ bounced back with a split-decision win over Dan Henderson and a first-round KO of Chael Sonnen at UFC 167. He never got his hand raised again. After nearly two years off due to injuries, Evans lost a UD to Ryan Bader. Then in April of 2016, he lost by first-round KO to Glover Teixeira. That’s when he should’ve retired, but you know how fighters are. Evans dropped down to middleweight and dropped back-to-back split decision defeats against Daniel Kelly and Sam Alvey. Then at UFC 225, the former LHW champ was buried on the UFC FightPass portion of the UFC 225 card. He was KO’d by Anthony Smith in 53 seconds earlier this month in Chicago, prompting the retirement decision. Props to Evans on an outstanding career!

-- Another former champ, welterweight Johny ‘Big Rigg’ Hendricks, announced his retirement earlier this week on MMAJunkie Radio. Hendricks (18-8 MMA, 13-8 UFC) was robbed of a win over Georges St. Pierre by three judges at UFC 167, but he sent GSP into retirement (or at least a four-year hiatus) nonetheless. The Texas native won the belt his next time out in a five-round war with Robbie Lawler at UFC 171. In the rematch at UFC 181, Lawler won another barnburner by split decision. After spending 50 minutes in a cage with Lawler, Hendricks was never the same again. Although he never tested dirty, many of Hendricks’ former opponents pointed to USADA’s entry into the UFC for the fighter’s rapid demise over the last few years. Since the loss to Lawler, Hendricks has lost five of seven fights and missed weight three times.

-- Josh Koscheck, who unsuccessfully challenged GSP for the UFC’s welterweight title twice, also retired this week.

-- Machida signed with Bellator earlier this week. The UFC had the right to match Bellator’s offer and they did, but Machida opted to ink the four-fight contract with Bellator nonetheless. Critics of Machida have accused Machida of doing so in order to dodge USADA’s drug tests.

-- Former UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett also recently left the UFC. He wasn’t shy about it, though. He clearly stated that USADA was his main reason for leaving the promotion, indicating that the drug-testing group is more interested in busting fighters than being fair.

-- Former welterweight champ Matt Serra, who pulled perhaps the biggest upset in UFC history (Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey is the only competition) when he knocked out Georges St. Pierre, will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame along with Rousey next weekend.

-- According to a tweet from Helwani yesterday, the UFC has informed fighters on next week’s cards (TUF Finale and UFC 226) that the weigh-ins will remain in the morning. As previously noted, however, that’s expected to change very soon.

-- Two other fights of note that were booked this week: Michael Johnson vs. Andre Fili at UFC Lincoln and C.B. Dollaway vs. Omari Akhmedov at UFC Moscow (promotion’s debut in Russia on Sept. 15).

-- After opening as a -180 favorite, 5Dimes.eu has Gegard Mousasi listed as a -250 ‘chalk’ vs. Rory MacDonald in a monster Bellator scrap between a pair of UFC veterans that’s scheduled for Sept. 29.

-- 5Dimes has Tyron Woodley installed as a -195 favorite vs. Colby Covington (+160) in a to-be-determined showdown for Woodley’s 170-pound strap.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

  
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