Malott, Lainesse square off in all-Canadian matchup on UFC Fight Night card
With only 14 Canadian-born fighters on an active roster that numbers more than 600, an all-Canadian UFC matchup is rare these days.
But Canadian welterweights (Proper) Mike Malott and Yohan (White Lion) Lainesse will face off Saturday on the main card of a UFC Fight Night show in Las Vegas.
The main event at the UFC's Apex production facility sees Ukraine light-heavyweight Nikita (The Miner) Krylov, ranked sixth among 205-pound contenders, take on No. 8 American Ryan (Superman) Spann.
Flyweight Jasmine Jasudavicius, a third Canadian on the card, meets Brazil's Gabriella Fernandes on the undercard at the UFC's Apex production facility.
Malott and Jasudavicius both train at Niagara Top Team in St. Catharines, Ont.
Malott (8-1-1) and Lainesse (9-1-0) are also no strangers. They sparred once briefly ahead of their UFC debuts last April and were supposed to meet in a Cage Fury Fighting Championships before the UFC.
"He's a nice guy but it's business. So we're fighting," said Malott, who makes his home in Burlington, Ont.
The fight could end quickly. All eight of Malott's wins came in the first round while five of Lainesse's victories never made the second round.
Only one of Malott's 10 fights have gone beyond the first round — he fought France's Thomas Diagne to a majority draw in Bellator action in September 2015. Malott's other nine fights have lasted a combined 15 minutes seven seconds.
The 31-year-old Malott earned his UFC contract with a 39-second submission of Israel's Shimon (Assassin) Smotritsky on "Dana White's Contender Series" in October 2021.
He also wasted little time taking care of business in his UFC debut at UFC 273, dropping Mickey Gall with a left hook to the jaw for a TKO win at 3:41 of the first round.
Lainesse also won his way into the UFC with a 97-second knockout of England's Justin Burlinson on the Contender Series in November 2021. The 30-year-old from Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Que., bounced back from a TKO loss in his UFC debut to (Gifted) Gabriel Green in April by earning a split decision over Darian Weeks in September at UFC 279.
Malott believes he goes into the fight with an edge over Lainesse.
"I think I have a lot of ways to win," he said. "He's definitely a dangerous guy. He's got good power. He's confident in there. He's big and strong. He's physically tough. But I think as far as who has more ways to win, hands down I have a lot more tools that he does … I'm expecting to win this one by stoppage."
All-Canadian matchups were more common on undercards of Canadian UFC shows. But the UFC has not held a show in Canada since September 2019 in Vancouver.
In addition to the 14 Canadian-born athletes, there are also two fighters — Diana (Warrior Princess) Belbita and Lupita (Loopy) Godinez — who live and train in Canada but were born elsewhere. Belbita is from Romania originally while Godinez is from Mexico.
Malott, who is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, isn't the only athlete in his family.
Younger brother Jeff has 17 goals and 10 assists in 49 games with the AHL Manitoba Moose this season. The six-foot-four 204 pounder made his NHL regular-season debut in March 2022 in a 6-4 win at Chicago.
Malott, who is 6-1 and normally walks around at 185 pounds, found a local taekwondo gym in Waterdown where he grew up, then transitioned to a Muay Thai gym in Stoney Creek before moving east to attend Dalhousie University, training at Titans MMA in Halifax.
He made his pro debut in April 2011 while at Dalhousie.
While Malott has a long relationship with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, he stayed at home for this camp. That means he has seen a lot of Jasudavicius in the gym.
"Jasmine's awesome … It's wild to see the amount of growth she's had in the last six or seven years," he said. "But not surprising when I see her work ethic. She's an absolute workhorse. You have to kind of kick her out of the gym to get her to stop training."
"She's tough as hell," he added. "She pushes the pace. She doesn't slow down. She's not scared to get into a scrappy fight if she has to. She brings a lot to the table."
Malott also trains at House of Champions in Stoney Creek, Ouroboros Jiu-Jitsu in Hamilton and the Burlington Training Center.
"Mike is such a great guy," said Jasudavicius. "He's so talented, he's so technical. He's a hard worker … Any time I have questions or anything, I know he'll have good answer for me.
"And I'm super excited for his fight. It sucks that he's going against another Canadian but at least he gets to fight."
Jasudavicius divided her training camp between her home gym and American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla.
"it's awesome going against all those girls there," she said of ATT. "I only have a couple of girl training partners at home."
The 33-year-old from St. Catharines was originally due to face Cortney (Cast Iron) Casey but the American dropped out in late January due to an undisclosed medical reason.
Jasudavicius is 1-1-0 in the UFC, losing a decision to Brazil's Natalia Silva last time out in June after winning a unanimous decision over American Kay Hansen in January 2022 at UFC 270.
The faster Silva held a 96-31 edge in significant strikes and took Jasudavicius down twice in extending her win streak to seven fights. The Canadian showed the damage, her face lumpy and an ugly welt on the back of her left thigh from Silva's kicks.
"It was very hard for me because I really truly believed I did everything right that camp," she said. "I didn't cheat on anything."
Jasudavicius came late to MMA but has moved quickly since.
She started MMA at 26 through boyfriend Chris Prickett, who co-founded Niagara Top Team in 2019 with Matt DiMarcantonio.
She made her pro debut at 30, choking out Brigid (Khan) Chase in July 2019 on a World Fighting Championship card in Pittsburgh.
Jasudavicius won her first four pro fights before losing a split decision to American Elise Reed in August 2020. One win later, she was on the Contender Series in September 2021 when she won her UFC contract with a unanimous 29-27 decision over Brazil's Julia Polastri.
Prior to turning to MMA, Jasudavicius worked at a homeless shelter for youth aged 16 to 24.
"I loved that job," she said. "I look forward to somehow mixing martial arts with social service work in the future."
She also served as a volunteer firefighter — her father is a retired Toronto firefighter — but had to give it up because the physical nature of the job conflicted with her MMA training.
The 29-year-old Fernandes (8-1-0) has won seven straight ahead her UFC debut. She earned the interim Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) flyweight title in September, submitting Karoline Martins via second-round guillotine choke at LFA 143 in Recife, Brazil.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press