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Fightweets: Just how bad was Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The dust has all but settled on an eventful UFC 226. But not quite. So before we get back onto the conveyer belt of MMA events, let’s take a look at a few lingering items from last week, as well as a bit of a look forward.

How bad was Lewis vs. Ngannou?

@TannerRuss2: Is Derrick Lewis vs. Francis Ngannou the Melvin Guillard-Jeremy Stephens of heavyweight fights?

That’s one way to look at things. When Joe Rogan proclaimed toward the conclusion of the now-infamous Derrick Lewis vs. Francis Ngannou fight at UFC 226 last weekend that the bout was the worst heavyweight fight he’d ever seen, nothing jumped to my brain immediately to refute it.

But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, a fight which I had plainly pushed into the dustiest, most cobwebby portions of my brain was considerably worse: Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski at UFC 61.

Let me set this up a bit. My first time covering UFC cageside was for UFC 58 in Las Vegas. That was a great, all-action card headlined by Rich Franklin’s win over David Loiseau, but the evening is best remembered for Georges St-Pierre’s split decision victory over B.J. Penn in a fantastic scrap. Then I was cageside for UFC 59 in Anaheim, the first UFC card in California after MMA was legalized, and the crowd was superheated for the first Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin bout, won by Ortiz on a split decision. Then came UFC 60 at Staples Center, not as hot a show but historically important for Matt Hughes’ win over Royce Gracie, which without exaggeration brought back hundreds of thousands of people who had tuned out the UFC after the early days and turned a substantial portion of them back on to the product.

So by the time I got to Vegas for UFC 61, I had been conditioned to believe every live show was going to be great. And, well, this one wasn’t. Frank Mir had a decision win over Dan Christison that also belongs in the “worst heavyweight fights” conversation. Then Ortiz fought Ken Shamrock coming off The Ultimate Fighter 3, and when the crowd perceived the fight was stopped too soon (it wasn’t), the masses got into a bad mood and stayed that way the rest of the night.

Then came Sylvia-Arlovski 3. Each guy had finished the other in the opening round in their first two fights. Sylvia KO’d Arlovski at UFC 59 to take the heavyweight belt. Believe it or not, based on the first two fights, the trilogy bout was considered nearly as “can’t miss” for fireworks as Ngannou-Lewis.

And then ... they engaged in a staring contest. For five rounds. Imagine how terrible Ngannou-Lewis was. Now imagine an additional 10 minutes of more of the same.

It least in the case of Ngannou-Lewis, you can give Lewis a measure of credit for pushing through a bad back, and being cognizant enough to at least get just enough done to get the nod. But you can’t say that for Sylvia-Arlovski. Just 25 minutes of the fiercest blinking competition you’ll ever see.

I’ve done my best to forget that fight ever happened. It took Ngannou-Lewis, 12 years later to the weekend, to jar it out of my memory banks. Lewis-Ngannou isn’t the worst, but it forced me to remember Sylvia-Arlovski, and that’s really all you need to know.

Side note: All due respect to Ngannou for coming out after the fight and owning his performance. It takes courage to basically say to the world “I sucked, I know I sucked, and I’m going to make it right.” They say the media loves to tear people down, but really, the thing we love most is redemption stories.

What next for the HW division?

@NJDevilRyGro: What do HW’s like Blaydes, Lewis, Volkov, etc., do now that DC has stopped pretty much all movement at the top of the division?

Fight each other in the meantime.

Okay, that probably sounded more flippant than I meant, but, let’s take it at face value, for the purposes of discussion here, that idea newly crowned heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will in fact retire next March when he turns 40, as he’s vowed.

If DC’s next fight is at heavyweight, it’s likely going to be against Brock Lesnar. I can completely understand why the fighters in line at heavyweight would be upset by this notion. Anyone who has grinded away at a job for years and seen less deserving people get opportunities ahead of them can sympathize with their plight.

But were any of the names you mention really clear-cut contenders for the next title shot? Sure, Curtis Blaydes has been on a nice run. He finished it off with a win over a fighter in Alistair Overeem who appears to finally be hitting the downside of a productive career.

The segment of the crowd that wants to find a UFC conspiracy in absolutely everything seems to think Blaydes is getting screwed out of a title shot. But we just got done throwing Ngannou to the wolves, and you saw the results of that both in his fight with Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 and then last weekend against Lewis. Do we want to risk doing the same with Blaydes?

So I say, let things keep playing out. Let’s see how Blagoy Ivanov fares against Junior dos Santos in Boise. Let’s get Blaydes another fight. Let’s see if we can get Lewis healthy. Let’s maybe match one of these guys up with Alexander Volkov.

If DC does retire next March, then the heavyweights are essentially being put on pause for one step in line. Let the best of them take a fight with another of the best of them, and let the winner be put in a stronger position for a few months further down the road.

DC vs. Romero?

@Thatguy1459: Romero vs DC, what are the odds of it happening (possibly UFC 229?)

Look, Malki Kawa is really, really good at floating ideas in the media. Some of those ideas are really good. Some less so.

I don’t blame Yoel Romero’s team for trying to get their guy into a title shot mix. That’s what a good manager or agent should do.

But when you’re coming off two losses in title fights in a year, no, you don’t get a third one in a new division next. And anyway, DC isn’t going to fast track a Romero fight when he has more lucrative options out there. So let Romero go to light heavyweight, where he really should be fighting going forward, let him earn a victory over one of the top names in the division first, and then we can talk.

Next for Pettis?

@aaronsalaiz: What’s next for Anthony Pettis? Does the UFC keep riding off of his name and give him a big fight or does he need to get another W before he gets a top 5 guy?

After a victory like Pettis had over a competitor like Michael Chiesa at UFC 226, I think you need to give him an honest chance to make another run at the top.

It’s not just that Pettis won his fight with Chiesa — even in the middle of his bad run, Pettis still gutted out a couple wins — but it’s the way he looked in doing so. He had the wherewithal to ride out Chiesa’s early surge. He showed flashes of his old “Showtime” brilliance when he threw a head kick at Chiesa from a sitting position late in the first round. And then he subbed a submission artist from the bottom.

That tells me Pettis, who is No. 8 in the current UFC rankings, should get another fight with someone near him on the list next time, and that if he wins again, he should get another crack at the big boys. Maybe he’ll succeed, maybe he won’t, but he’s earned the chance to succeed or fail on his own merits.

How many trolls are out there?

@MacPherson9999: I go through my day IRL and everybody’s basically cool, but then I take a peek at MMA Twitter and its nothing but morons calling people “soy boys” for taking exception to even the most egregious sexism or casual homophobia. End of the day, are MMA fans really just dipsh*ts?

I don’t think we should go that far. Yes, there’s obviously a loud, ugly, sad part of the fan base who seem to have nothing better to do than make themselves look like the small and petty people they are.

But I’m also starting to believe their percentages are getting blown out of proportion. It feels like every time I go on Twitter, someone is making a big deal out of something obnoxious said by a Twitter egg, accompanied by “omg MMA fans are the WORST.”

By blowing up otherwise anonymous trolls into something far bigger than they otherwise would have been, they’re only serving to give these people the attention and validation they so desperately crave.

And I say this as someone who has been on the receiving end of some of the worst of MMA online trolldom as an out, gay male. Guess what? The block button and the mute button both work, they make Twitter a hell of a lot more pleasant a site to visit, and after you block just a handful of them, and the volume of garbage directed your way drops dramatically, you realize that the number of these trolls has been overstated.

For sure, the worst abuses should be called out and dealt with, and when a public figure starts behaving like a troll, they need to be held to account. But amplifying every obnoxious thing said by a troll only encourages more trolling, and also makes it sound like they represent a bigger part of the fan base than they really do. Let’s try to stop giving the dipsh*ts the time of day.

@emilvalhalla: What fight do you look forward to in #UFCHAMBURG, except the return of Valhalla vs. the butcher?

I mean, why would we skip over your fight, Emil? Bartosz quietly won his first two UFC fights and has eight career knockouts, and you’re looking to bounce back from your first UFC loss and have proven you can bring exciting fights. So I say that’s one fight to look forward to. But other than that? Yeah, I like the main event of Shogun Rua vs. Anthony Smith. Shogun has continued to stay relevant long after logic would indicate he should be on his way down, and could even get a title shot with a win. Smith has been knocking on the door forever, finally has a main event, and beating Rashad Evans and Shogun back to back should finally get him the recognition he deserves. All in all, should be a fun night of fights.