And the beat goes on. This weekend marks the 10th straight week with a UFC event taking place and we’ve still got 13 more (probably plus some) ahead of us. But with this weekend’s card falling apart at the seams (a common occurrence lately), we lost some questions to discuss. So instead, let’s touch on a smattering of upcoming topics and general questions, including, what the hell happened to UFC Vegas 10.
Well, that depends on when you’re starting the clock. As best I can figure, UFC Vegas 10 has already had seven fights on it canceled and there are still several hours to the event. Smart money would set the line at 7.5 I suppose and I’ll take the over on that. It seems like no fight is safe these days to make it to starting bell.
Unfortunately, even with seven fights cancelled, the UFC has done an admirable job of bringing in replacements. I say unfortunately because last weekend’s peach of a card with only eight fights, it really reinforced how great short events are. Twelve-fight cards are a COMMITMENT. That’s at minimum 6 hours of your day if you sit and watch the lot of them, whereas an eight-fight event is in the neighborhood of four hours, which is much more palatable. Alas, the UFC is not in the business of doing less so here we are. When you add in the two Bellator cards, a hardcore MMA fan is about to have a long weekend.
This is an easy one: they should fight each other.
I know that this fight is now dead for UFC 254 but that doesn’t mean we need to give up on it entirely. In fact, having the UFC pinch pennies on their way to shooting themselves in the foot by killing it could actually be a blessing in disguise. Poirier and Ferguson should fight and they should be fighting 25 minutes, not 15. Can you imagine how unsatisfying that would have been if they were one their way to the fight of the year and then it just ended after the third round? That fight is a main event bout and now, maybe, we can have it be that way.
But, let’s say we can’t. It’s not unreasonable to think the UFC will dig their heels in unnecessarily and deny fans one of the best possible fights just because they don’t want to pony up some extra cash or lose a negotiation. So in this world, who would be the best opponents for each man?
Well, it’s a hard sell given that he just lost but the fight that makes the most sense for Ferguson is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Even with the loss to Gaethje, the Khabib-Tony fight has been so built up over the years that I don’t think one person would have an issue if that fight got booked, regardless of the outcome of UFC 254. But even if I’m wrong, there’s really no wrong way to book Tony. Dan Hooker, Paul Felder, or Charles Oliviera would all be great scraps but the one I’ve long been partial to is Ferguson vs. Max Holloway in a battle of angel wings.
As for Poirier, I think the non-Ferguson fight that makes the most sense for him is a rematch with Conor McGregor. There first fight was a long time ago and Poirier has improved dramatically since then. It’s very possible he could avenge that loss and do so with the biggest platform possible. And if not, well then Conor has earned his rematch with Khabib. Win-win really.
He will cope exactly as well as all the others have, which is to say, poorly.
That’s not a knock on Gaethje’s grappling. Truthfully, I have no idea how good Gaethje’s ground skills are. No one really does. But he could be Demian Maia and it wouldn’t matter; if Khabib gets on top, you’re f*cked. That’s why a fight with Tony Ferguson was never as interesting to me as it was for others. Tony is not a great defensive wrestler, and trying to play off your back against Khabib, is like trying to swim the Atlantic. Sure, you can stay alive for a few minutes, but soon enough, you’re gonna drown.
That being said, I also don’t love Gaethje’s chances of keeping this fight on the feet. I like what he said about creating “a zone of death” in front of him. I think that’s a smart way to view the fight. But I also think that’s not gonna work out for him. Khabib has fought 28 opponents and every single one of them wanted to do the same thing as Gaethje. None have succeeded so far and Khabib has become exceedingly effective at stopping them from doing so.
To beat Khabib, I seriously think you need to take the wrestling to him. Think about the various fighters in the sport who accrued an aura of invincibility: Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Fedor Emelianenko. Each of those men was beaten not by avoiding their strengths, but attacking them where they were comfortable, with something they didn’t see coming.
Khabib knows you’re gonna try and sprawl on him. He knows you’re gonna fight grips and go for two-on-ones to fend him off. He knows all of that and he knows five different ways to counter all of it. Planning to “keep the fight standing” means conceding the first part of the action to Khabib – you will be playing defense while he plays offense. Instead, what if Gaethje came out and short a double leg? Khabib is actually good off his back, but is he KHABIB off his back? Probably not. And with that one simple act, Gaethje will create uncertainty in Khabib, which will then allow him to build his zone of death.
Offensively wrestle Khabib. That’s how you can beat him. But probably not even then. The dude is a Martian or something.
If Khabib does manage to get past Justin Gaethje, then yeah, Khabib vs. Georges St-Pierre is a massive, massive superfight. The backstory, the build up, the fact that they be arguably fighting for the title of greatest of all time, that’s all promotional gold. If the UFC can set that up, they’d give that the full-court press: world media tour, a 24/7 style program, months and months of marketing, the whole nine. Honestly, the only way they could make that fight any bigger would be to announce Conor McGregor as the special guest referee for the bout.
But aside from that fight, the honest answer is Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal. That’s basically just a refurbished McGregor-Diaz but it has a new feel to it since Masvidal has turned into Street Jesus and has yet to lose any real shine. The thing is, that fight probably never happens because Masvidal presents many more problems for McGregor than a trilogy with Diaz does and only marginal more benefit. Conor would be better served to run it back with Nate one more time and he knows it so I think that is what we will actually get, sometime early in 2021.
Also, special shout out to Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou. If Ngannou can win the heavyweight title – a big if – that superfight is also a massive bit of business for the UFC.
This fight is a weird one because, to me, it’s a sick perversion of a classic matchup I struggle with: picking between my head and my heart.
There are certain fighters that I love unabashedly. Jose Aldo for instance. I remain convinced Aldo is one of the five best fighters ever with a very strong case for the GOAT title. But because of that, it’s is very hard for me to pick against him even when all the logical aspects of my brain are telling me that Petr Yan is going to overwhelm him. The heart wants what it wants, after all.
But for this fight, that dynamic is has been flipped on its head. My brain says Adesanya is going to win, and my heart wishes it to be so, but I’m having a strong inkling in my gut that says Paulo Costa is going to knock him out. I mean, just think about it. Adesanya is a rising star, he’s the most skilled fighter in his areas, he’s a great dude, and beloved by nearly everyone. He’s basically everything you’d want your champion to be. Conversely, Paulo Costa is a Brazilian Colby Covington who overdosed on Super Soldier serum. He’s not unskilled but he’s also not that far removed from a trained rhinoceros. Wouldn’t it be the most MMA thing ever for Adesanya to “aim and fire” his strikes, only to watch them bounce harmlessly off Borrachinha’s head before he gets clattered by a Mortal-Kombat style uppercut thrown from the ankle? I hope not, but like I said, I’m starting to get the feeling that this is what’s in store.
I could spend 10,000 words giving an analysis here, but no one wants that actually, so instead I’ll give my choice for most dangerous threat in the division and a brief synopsis of why.
115: Rose Namajunas. Joanna Champion gave Weili Zhang a run for her money but ultimately couldn’t match up to the firepower. Namajunas has more power to match with and can play matador more effectively than Joanna can.
W125: Weili Zhang. I genuinely do not believe anyone in this division is a challenge for Valentina Shevchenko. Seriously, she could be the top-5 in one night if the UFC would let her try. Maybe Zhang could make it fun if she moved up, but realistically, Bullet is untouchable right now.
W135: Valentina Shevchenko. Similar to the above, no one is beating Nunes at 135 and the only person that has a shot is Shevchenko, who has already pushed Nunes to her limits twice.
W145: Dana White. Once Nunes finishes with Megan Anderson, this division is done. The UFC has never tried to build it and they’d have plenty of time. Dana is gonna close up shop soon.
125: Jussier Formiga. Formiga beat Figueiredo last year and his sneaky back-take game is always going to pose problems.
135: Aljamain Sterling. Funkmaster is the uncrowned champion of the division, in my opinion. He’s up next and Yan is going to struggle with the disparity in athleticism.
145: Brian Ortega. This one will come as a surprise to many because I have never been a big Brian Ortega supporter (his fighting doesn’t make sense!) but sometimes you’ve got to just know what you don’t know. I don’t know how Ortega wins as often as he does, but his brand of wacky finishing skills presents the biggest threat to the technical and tactical marvel that is Alexander Volkanovski.
155: Kevin Lee. The sneaky thing about Khabib is that the straw that stirs the drink with him is he’s one of the five best athletes in the UFC. There is just a massive gulf between him and the rest of the division as far as what he is physically capable of. Lee is the closest to him in that regard and thus, the one with the best chance (here meaning, still none) of stopping The Eagle.
170: Stephen Thompson. I was tempted to say Leon Edwards because he is so good everywhere but ultimately, I think that fight would look like Usman facing a slightly worse version of himself. Thompson at least presents an interesting challenge for Usman to navigate on the feet.
185: Paulo Costa. See above.
205: Dominick Reyes is going to take the title so I guess he’s the answer? But if you’re looking for who will beat Reyes, Thiago Santos presents the most interesting possibility. Aside from the fact that Reyes should’ve gotten the decision over Jon Jones, I feel like the fight between Santos and Glover Teixeira is actually far more deserving of being for the vacant belt but, eh. So it goes.
Heavyweight: Francis Ngannou, just because he’s next to fight Stipe but there are at least three heavyweights I would take to beat Stipe: Ngannou, Curtis Blaydes, and Jon Jones. I think all three dethrone the champ who is a little long in the tooth now and has been taking a ton of punishment in his recent outings.
Let the cries of “Stipe hater” begin.