What’s going on with the UFC lightweight title, both the interim and the real one? Who’s the biggest what-if in MMA history? Who needs a win the most at UFC 218? And if you get dropped by a punch in one fight, should you be allowed to try it again three weeks later?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
Recent comments from UFC President Dana White suggest that the UFC is no hurry to take any drastic action regarding Conor McGregor and his lightweight title. He’s off living out the before-the-fall part of the fame life cycle, blowing off court dates and reportedly feuding with organized crime figures like some sort of Irish 2Pac, while the other fighters in his division can only guess at a return date.
Tony Ferguson is losing his patience, and you can understand why. This is his shot. But for some reason White doesn’t think the interim champ is entitled to know when or even if he might get a chance to unify the belt. Then you’ve got guys like Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, who are probably going to put on a fireworks display at UFC 218 with no clear idea as to where a win would get them.
It’d be a crappy situation in any division, but it’s especially crappy at lightweight, where there are a ton of good fighters and a belt that’s essentially being held hostage for the next monster payday.
You get the sense that, in any other weight class, with any other champion, the UFC would have done something about it by now. But not McGregor. Not now.
It’s got to beJose Aldo. He’s in one of the most talent-rich divisions in the UFC, fighting for a belt that used to be practically glued to him, and he’s fighting the last person to put him away. The only reason he even got the shot again so soon is because someone else got hurt. Luckily he was already in camp, but no one’s going to care about the short notice if he shows up and loses to Max Holloway again. He’ll have to murder the entire division to get another crack at that belt, at least as long as Holloway is holding it down.
Alistair Overeem? He could lose his next three in a row and probably not get cut, if only because the UFC isn’t about to help Bellator out like that.
And Henry Cejudo? If he hits a roadblock on his path back to a bantamweight title fight, it’s not the end of the world. He can just beat a few more potential challengers and wait to see if the UFC has come up with any better ideas for Demetrious Johnson.
It’s Aldo who’s fallen from the greatest height. And it’s Aldo who has the toughest path back to the top.
Seriously, it’s not a bad main event. Holm represents Cyborg’s biggest test in years, and Cyborg remains the most dominant female fighter on the planet. So, yeah, you bet your lasagna I want to see that fight. But what you seem to be asking is, is it enough?
It’s a fair question, especially since this is the year-end event, which the UFC usually tries to make a pretty big deal out of. When you’re closing out the “biggest year ever,” you want to do it with a bang. But Cyborg vs. Holm (with Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza as a co-main event) doesn’t quite rise to the level of year-end blowout madness. It’s just another solid overall card, but positioned in a spot on the calendar where we typically expect more.
You leave Dan Henderson out of this. You hear me?! That man is retired, and you’re going to let him be retired. Now let us hear no more of this idea.
Bellator. You just described Bellator. Or at least the parts of it that draw the most viewers.
That’s one of the tricky things about using current UFC fighters as on-air commenters. They have their allegiances, and at times their own aims to consider, and that can’t help but color their outlook.
I wouldn’t say Daniel Cormier is necessarily required to play it straight at all times just because he also gets paid for talking into a microphone, but you would hope that he’d understand the mechanics at play in this instance.
If you’re Ferguson, you’ve got to be thinking of that interim belt as a ticket to a huge payday against McGregor. Why would you even consider trading that ticket in for (legitimately dope, but nowhere near as lucrative) fight with Nurmagomedov?
Cormier’s been around this game long enough to do that math for himself. There’s trying to help out a teammate, and then there’s being willfully obtuse.
First of all, I see what you’re doing with the intercontinental/interim champ thing and I am into it. Like, so into it I may just straight up steal it. Consider yourself warned, Josh.
Second of all, you make a valid point, even if it comes with a couple asterisks. For instance, Georges St-Pierre took the title off Michael Bisping, but a) Bisping was the least fearsome middleweight champ in forever, and b) you’ll notice GSP is in no hurry to fight the other guy.
Then there’s the other guy in question, Robert Whittaker. True, he was a welterweight once. When he was in his early twenties. He won the TUF tournament as a welterweight just before he turned 22, so it’s very possible that he’s grown into a middleweight as he’s gotten older.
I don’t mean to pour cold water all over your theory, because I’d love a compelling argument for fighters to stop cutting extreme amounts of weight and fight closer to their natural body weights. I’m just not sure this is the smoking gun we’re looking for.
You’re not wrong. It’s just that I can’t get myself to take a side in a fight like this, which is to say a fight that seems like it’s meant as an offering to the very idea of violence itself. All I ask of Gaethje and Alvarez is that they both go out there and be who it is in them to be. Beyond that, let the blood spill where it may.
A fighter can get dropped without being concussed, but concussions aren’t necessarily a prerequisite for brain trauma. A lot of the research suggests that the repeated sub-concussive blows are a big part of the problem, such as what a fighter might endure when sparring and then fighting and then sparring and fighting again without a significant rest period.
As for how long that rest period needs to be, no one can give you a definitive answer. At least, not yet. I’ve spoken to neurologists and researchers who study this kind of thing, and they seem to agree that there’s no test that can tell you for sure when it’s safe to go get hit in the head again.
That’s what really makes you wonder about the Bisping situation. His initial suspension from the New York State Athletic Commission was 30 days, which isn’t much in a sport where fighters usually go at least two or three months between bouts.
Then Bisping wanted to step up three weeks later – and the UFC clearly wanted him to – and the next thing you know his suspension has been reduced to seven days, which is utterly meaningless, since what you’re saying there is that it would be safe for him to fight again eight days after going three hard rounds in a losing effort against GSP.
Was it safe? I mean, it’s never totally safe. Is there any way he could have conclusively, medically proven his fitness to fight again so soon? Not really, no. All he could really have proven is that it wasn’t unreasonably dangerous. Seems like the desire for everybody to stay friends and keep making money carried things the rest of the way.
Like who? One of the stated goals of this tournament is to crown a Bellator heavyweight champion, which is something the organization hasn’t had since the spring of 2016 when it stripped Vitaly Minakov of the belt that he had no interest in defending.
(Side note: He was only the third heavyweight champ in Bellator’s history. The first, Cole Konrad, gave up the belt when he quit MMA altogether to become a commodities trader. That’s how prized a possession this belt has been – at least one champ decided he would rather get a job.)
It’s not just a Bellator problem. There aren’t a ton of quality heavyweights anywhere in MMA. If there were, the UFC wouldn’t have had to go get Anthony Hamilton out of his short-lived retirement just so he could lose his fourth in a row earlier this month.
Plus, we all know the real goal of this tournament, and it’s to create a spectacle worthy of our attention. For that, you need familiar names, and while Bellator has a few of those at heavyweight (thanks to some recent signings), it doesn’t have enough. So you convince a few other guys to hit the buffet and the next thing you know you have a tournament. The start of one, anyway.
That’s a tough one, but I’ve got to go with Ben Askren. At least Fedor Emelianenko ended up in Affliction, where he beat two recent UFC heavyweight champs, and then Strikeforce, where he lost to one future one before his career really hit the skids. He may have never fought under the UFC banner, but he fought enough UFC fighters that we at least got a sense of where he stood, albeit somewhat later in his career.
But Askren, who’s the most accomplished fighter he faced? Probably Douglas Lima. Maybe Andrey Koreshkov as an honorable mention. Then you’ve got an aging Shinya Aoki fighting out of his weight class and Jay Hieron in his post-IFL and Strikeforce era.
There’s not too much there that you can use to gauge how he would have done against the best in his division, which is a real bummer. But maybe that’s the way it’ll have to stay.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.
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Source: MMA Junkie