Back in April – yes, it seems years ago and not months – UFC President Dana White made clear his determination to stage MMA cards pandemic or no pandemic.
From the start, Albuquerque’s Ray Borg made it clear the UFC could count on him.
It’s likely no coincidence that Borg can also count on the UFC.
Saturday, Borg (13-5, 7-5 UFC) is matched against UFC newcomer Nathan Maness (11-1) in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be Borg’s third appearance in 2020 and his second since the UFC resumed competition in May after the COVID-19 shutdown.
“My manager (Ali Abdelaziz) has definitely made (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby aware that as long as I have no injuries we’re ready to go whenever,” Borg said this week in a phone interview.
That number three would be four, perhaps five, if Borg had had his way. White, with most of the sports world shut down, announced plans for a UFC show on April 14 at Tachi Palace Casino in California. Borg accepted a fight on that card against Chito Vera.
The card fell through, however, shot down by ESPN and the state of California.
But Florida was all in, and so was Borg. On May 13, on the UFC’s second pandemic-era card in Jacksonville, he lost by split decision to Ricky Simon.
Exactly a month later, Borg was booked against Merab Dvalishvili on a card at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. But Borg, reacting to concerns for his 2-year-old son Anthony’s health – Anthony suffers from hydrocephalus – withdrew and came home. Anthony, it turned out, was OK.
Clearly, Borg’s withdrawal was not held against him. He’s back, matched against Maness, whose impressive record has been compiled on regional promotions against lesser competition than that which Borg has faced in the UFC.
“(Maness) brings some decent hands and some length,” Borg said. “He’s a good fighter. Nonetheless, I’ve fought very tough opponents in my career, beaten tough opponents in my career. It’s a whole different ballgame when you step into that UFC Octagon.
“A lot of people will tell you coming up (a level) in other sports, it’s a different league, like when you go from a college to the NFL or college to the NBA. And it’s a different level when you go from that regional circuit to the UFC.”
MMA lightweight Lando Vannata (11-4-1), Borg’s teammate at Jackson’s Acoma in Albuquerque, is also on Saturday’s card. Vannata is scheduled to face Bobby Green (25-10-1), whom he fought to a bloody draw in October 2017.
HOLM UPDATE: Albuquerque’s Holly Holm’s path to another UFC title shot has become either simpler or more complicated, depending on one’s interpretation.
According to multiple online sources, UFC bantamweights Germaine de Randamie and Julianna Peña are scheduled to face each other on Oct. 3 – the same night Holm’s postponed fight against Irene Aldana, originally scheduled for Saturday – is expected to take place.
Clearly, both can be viewed as title-elimination fights. De Randamie is the UFC’s No. 1 challenger to the bantamweight title held by Amanda Nunes. Holm is No. 2, Peña No. 4, Aldana No. 6.
Aspen Ladd (No. 3) and Raquel Pennington (tied with Peña at No. 4) can be considered out of the picture for now – Ladd because of a serious knee injury, Pennington because she lost to Holm (for the second time) in January.
The question, then, is this: Do the Oct. 3 winners then face each other for the opportunity to challenge Nunes, or does the more impressive winner go straight to the title shot?
Lenny Fresquez, Holm’s longtime Albuquerque promoter and now her agent, is confident it’s the latter.
“I think whoever looks the best (on Oct. 3) is going to get (the title shot),” he said in a phone interview.
If for no any other reason, it seems unlikely the UFC would opt to keep Nunes out of the Octagon until the spring of 2021 at the earliest, after the Oct. 3 winners go at it.
But then, there’s the prospect of Nunes retiring – something the Brazilian star has pondered.
Fresquez doesn’t believe it. “She ain’t retiring,” he said.
Regardless, Fresquez said, Holm will fight anyone in the division, provided it leads directly to a shot at the title she held from November 2015-March 2016.
UFC Fight Night, UFC Apex, Las Vegas, Nev.: Derek Brunson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green, Ray Borg vs. Nathan Maness, other fights, ESPN+ streaming, 4 p.m.