Canadian light-heavyweight Misha Cirkunov looks to keep rising up the UFC ranks

NEIL DAVIDSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS 05.26.2017

Canadian light-heavyweight Misha Cirkunov looks to keep rising up the UFC ranks
Light Heavyweight Misha Cirkunov slams a kick to the side of Alex Nicholson during their UFC Fight Night 82 match at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. A winner of eight straight fights, Canadian light-heavyweight Misha Cirkunov can now also lay claim to surviving a run-in with UFC boss Dana White. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

A winner of eight straight fights, Canadian light-heavyweight Misha Cirkunov can now also lay claim to surviving a run-in with UFC boss Dana White.

Cirkunov found himself on the outs with the volatile UFC president after contract talks went sour.

"You'll see him somewhere," White was quoted in February. "It just won't be here."

Cooler heads prevailed and the seventh-ranked Cirkunov, equipped with a new six-fight deal, takes on No. 5 Volkan Oezdemir of Switzerland in the co-main event of a televised UFC card Sunday in Stockholm.

The marquee bout at the Ericsson Globe Arena pits Sweden's Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson, ranked No. 1 among light-heavyweight contenders, against No. 2 Glover Teixeira, an American-based Brazilian.

With Daniel (DC) Cormier slated to defend his light-heavyweight title against former champion Jon (Bones) Jones in July at UFC 214, Gustafsson and Teixeira are jockeying for position for another championship shot.

Cirkunov (13-2-0) and Oezdemir (13-1-0) are also looking to move up the 205-pound ranks.

The 30-year-old Cirkunov is coming off a first-round submission win over Nikita (The Miner) Krylov last December at UFC 206 before hometown fans at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.

After crumpling the Ukrainian with a left to the head, Cirkunov forced him to tap via guillotine choke. Then the Latvian-born Canadian jumped astride the top of the cage and screamed: "I love this city."

"I'm still surprised I didn't cry," recalled Cirkunov, a six-foot-three slab of muscle who sans smile exudes more than a little menace. "It was like a mind-blowing experience, just feeling the energy and genuine happiness from the sold out crowd. And all for me ... You know the buzz you get when you have a couple of drinks and you feel good? That times a billion, that's what I experienced."

White summoned him afterward to congratulate him. But business got in the way later given the Krylov fight marked the end of Cirkunov's contract.

"I thought I deserved something more, this and that, and we're kind of going back and forth, said Cirkunov, who serves as his own manager. "It was a little bit frustrating but I completely understand where they come from as well.

"And I absolutely love Dana White and (UFC matchmaker) Mick Maynard and everyone at the UFC. And we came up with an agreement. It took just under four weeks ... I'm just happy everything worked out."

A dinner with White in Las Vegas apparently helped seal the deal.

"I got myself a great deal and I'm happy that I don't have to give a single dollar, a single percentage to anybody," said Cirkunov.

"I'm just excited that finally, my dream is coming true," he added. "I'm truly truly blessed with that. I know that it's all about hard work and I keep that ball rolling. I keep hard work on the table all the time."

The 27-year-old Oezdemir (pronounced oh-zehr-meer) rocketed into the rankings after upsetting former title challenger Ovince Saint Preux on short notice in February via split decision.

"He's a very tough guy," Cirkunov said of the first Swiss-born fighter in the UFC. "He's a heavy slugger, he hits hard. He's a little bit awkward but that awkwardness gives him that unique approach. It's hard to gauge what he's going to do."

Cirkunov, who continues to teach and train at Xtreme Couture, looks forward to visiting Latvia after the fight. He hasn't been back in some 15 years.

Swedish fans will be cheering on the 30-year-old Gustafsson (17-4-0), who added another shark's tooth tattoo to his arm to mark his win by decision over Jan Blachowicz last September. Prior to that, he lost a split decision to Cormier at UFC 192 in October 2015.

The 37-year-old Teixeira (26-5-0) won a decision over Jared Cannonier last time out in February.

Both men have lost title shots to Jones, with Gustafsson mounting an impressive challenge while falling short via decision at UFC 165 in Toronto in September 2013.

Cirkunov dismisses talk that the light-heavyweight division has seen better days. He says the 205-pound class, while short on headline-making trash-talkers, is still filled with "elite-of-the-elite monsters."

"Sometimes I compare the 205-pounders to Great Danes," he said. "They don't bark a lot but when it comes to, if they need to, they have a big bite."

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