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Hot Tweets: Cain Velasquez’s move to the WWE and where he ranks among all-time heavyweights

Cain Velasquez
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Yesterday, Cain Velasquez retired from MMA, withdrew from the USADA testing pool, and has signed with the WWE full time. Let’s talk about that plus where he ranks all-time among heavyweights as well as a smattering of other random questions, including my psychoanalysis of Jon Jones.

Cain Velasquez’s retirement

Wow, tremendous question. Glad someone so smart and handsome decided to ask it because we should definitely talk about Cain stepping away from the sport.

First off, on the most basic level, I’m happy for Cain. The man was clearly a great fighter but he was the heavyweight Dominick Cruz and spent as much time battling injury as he did battling actual opponents. He seems to really love pro-wrestling and—I’m not a wrestling guy—but he appears to have a flair for it so good for him to find new life after his first career was floundering.

Secondly, I know MMA and pro wrestling have always had a “kissing cousins” relationship but it feels like as both are getting more and more mainstream, that relationship is only deepening. Ronda Rousey and Cain are already in the WWE, as are Matt Riddle and Shayna Baszler. Conor McGregor and the UFC have been openly courting each other for years and it’s only a matter of time before they eventually seal the deal in some capacity. And Cris Cyborg has all but begged the WWE to get involved. Right now it seems like the WWE is becoming a retirement home for aging UFC stars. Well, the super fancy retirement home for the biggest stars. Bellator is still the retirement home for the famous but not massive stars, and bare-knuckle is the home for everyone else.

Wow. Another phenomenal question. You guys are getting good at this.

As for where Cain ranks among all-time heavyweights, that’s a tougher proposition. At the peak of his powers, Cain was the best heavyweight we’ve ever seen. Yes, he was a prone to the inexplicable loss from time to time but his skill set was just better than everyone else’s, and over a full timeline I suspect he’d have lost the belt a few times, but would always have gotten it back with a vengeance, a la the JDS trilogy.

Had Cain not been so injury prone, I have little doubt he’d be considered the GOAT heavyweight right now. But then if I had wheels, I’d be a wagon. Cain’s career was only half what you would hope for and, looking back on his record, it doesn’t hold as well as it once appeared. There’s a three-year period where he fought five times but only fought JDS and “Bigfoot” Silva. He doesn’t have the variety or quality of wins you’d expect from a GOAT candidate. Just based on what he accomplished, I’m not even sure he’s in the top-5, which is stunning to think about. For me I have the list as Fedor, Stipe, Nog, Werdum, and then I guess Cain but if you wanted to argue any number of other heavyweights with longer and more robust resumes, I won’t fault you. I even think there’s a pretty good case for JDS to be ahead of him if he fights a few more years.

Man, MMA is wild.

The mythical 165-pound division

I think it’s two-fold. Primarily at this point, I think it’s just stubbornness. He said he’d never do it and now he’s digging his heels in. One of the major perks of being Dana White is that he can basically do whatever the hell he wants with regards to the UFC and while other people with similar power might use it to make absurd and hilarious decrees (*ahem* me *ahem*), White prefers to just lord over his fiefdom. I can’t blame him for that.

The other reason is, I believe, why he opposed the idea initially. Making a 165-pound division and keeping the 170-pound division would be completely insane and an actually terrible idea. But the UFC cannot fathom cutting the 170-pound division (or moving it) because it is the most storied division in the history of the company. It’s the weight class the greatest fighter of all time fought at and was also host to two more of the top-15 fighters in UFC history (Hughes and Lawler), not to mention some of the most iconic fights in the sport. Moreso than any other division, 170 is steeped in history and the idea of doing away with that is untenable for them. And that, I can at least understand, even if I don’t fully agree with it.

Is this actually DC’s retirement?

I think he definitely retires. DC is no fool and though he was beating up Miocic for much of their rematch, he also looked like Father Time was starting to catch up with him. He’s basically admitted as much, saying that training is now harder for him. I can’t imagine he’d be so hubristic to think that things would go much differently for him against Jones in a third fight. A win over Stipe re-sets DC’s career as a top-10 all time. Putting that aside for a third fight against Jones would be insane and I don’t think there’s a number that the UFC might reasonably offer that gets it done.

Jon Jones and his beef with Israel Adesanya

Honestly, the whole thing is weird because it started out nicely enough. Jon praised Izzy and said he thought they’d eventually fight. Izzy said he liked the idea and playfully warned Jon that he’d already defeated one GOAT and could do it to another and then Jon got all aggro and was like “I’ll make you call me daddy” and then from there is just went full-blown beef.

As for why Jon escalated things, I think he’s just mad that people like Izzy. I’m about to get way too deep into some armchair psychology but I believe Jon Jones still doesn’t really know who he is. He knows that he’s the baddest dude on the planet but I don’t think he knows who that is. That’s why we see him vacillate between respectful, Christian Jon Jones and “Hey p*ssy, are you there?” Jon Jones. Sometimes he wants to be the standup guy but other times he can’t help but tell everyone “I’m that dude and you are not and you’re an idiot for thinking you could be.” And the good (boring as sin) Jones is not just a PR act because the fans clearly respond to Jon the Ass and so if the nice guy bit was all an act, he’d just drop it.

There is a part of Jon that wants desperately to be the hero but he’s just not and I think that bothers the hell out of him. So when another fighter like Adesanya is praised and loved for being completely himself—and in so doing genuinely believes he can beat Jon—I think that touches a nerve.

It was the same way with Daniel Cormier. Cormier was an unapologetic Dad. But he was a Dad who believed he could beat Jon. Izzy is unapologetically a nerd who is nonetheless more comfortable in his own skin than Jon is despite Jon being the best fighter in the history of ever and he can’t square that. So instead Jon wants to do the thing he does best: beat the hell out of someone so he can feel comfortable in knowing his place atop the heap.

Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya

Oh god, Jon absolutely mauls Izzy.

The one thing Adesanya has going for him is that Jon has never, and likely will never be a great striker. He’s a good one and a dangerous one but he strikes in a way that basically minimizes his potential potency, it just so happens he’s the most naturally gifted fighter in history so handcuffing himself doesn’t matter too much. If they were only allowed to kickbox, Izzy would mostly style on him.

But in a real fight, Jon is no idiot. He’d get into clinch range—his most dangerous range and the place he should basically exclusively fight because no one in the world can hang with him there—and mangle Izzy or just put Adesanya on his ass and elbow his face off. A fight between the two, now or in the future, would not be competitive and I say this as an unapologetic Izzy stan.

Khabib vs. Tony

Don’t you put that evil on us, Justin.

But like seriously, 50/50 at best.

Your first “wow” moment as an MMA fan

I sure do, and it’s the moment that really made me an MMA fan.

In 2004 for I had a vague notion what the UFC was but I was by no means a fan. I did however have a few friends who kinda liked it and were extremely online teenagers. I had maybe seen one or two fights on eBaum’s World or the like but nothing that jumped out at me. But one day in Comp Sci, a kid named Marty was showing a bunch of kids this fight between this jacked African American dude with gold hair and this squatty bald dude. The fat dude got suplexed to the moon and everyone sitting around the computer damn near jumped out of their seats. Then the fat dude—who somehow wasn’t dead—rolled the other guy over and grabbed his arm and the fight was over. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen and suddenly I had to know more.

So yeah, the Randleplex got me into MMA and remains one of the dopest highlights of all time. Sound off in the comments with your first MMA jaw-dropping moment.

Rumble’s return

Francis Ngannou or Jon Jones. Those are the only acceptable answers.

Max Holloway’s lightweight return

I suspect he’ll stay at featherweight for awhile (though beating Volkanovski is by no way guaranteed). The 155-pound division is still so log-jammed right now that moving up is kind of a mug’s game. Even if Khabib and Tony do finally fight next year, Gaethje is waiting in the wings and now Dan Hooker and Paul Felder are closing in too. I think Max will just stay, defend a couple more times, and then move up when the line is a little shorter.

A serious question

My best guess is not. For one, I’m not entirely sure Dana White worries about anything anymore because why should he? The company seemingly actively courts bad PR—think about the Greg Hardy signing, how unnecessary it was and Dana’s steadfast insistence on doing it and doing it now—and it never really comes back to bite them. Why should it now?

Think about it, how many fighters are going to come out and say something about the situation? A handful at most and since fighters are independent contractors *cough cough* the UFC doesn’t really need to make any kind of statement about that or reprimand them in order to kowtow to the Chinese government. They can just, not bring that fighter to any of the UFC China shows.

And let’s also be honest about the media here. I’ve worked for this site for four years. I have personal relationships with MMA media people everywhere and consider many of them friends who I respect a great deal. No one is going to ask any MMA fighter their thoughts on the Hong Kong situation, especially not at an event in China, and they certainly won’t be asking Zhang Weili about it. It’s not a knock on anyone it’s just a fact.

So no, I don’t think the UFC is worried at all because it’s likely a moot point for them. Even if someone started taking a hard stance, no one is going to care because fighting is still a niche sport, despite being on ESPN. And if, somehow, it got to a point where it actually affected their bottom line, the UFC would just cut ties with that person. It’s not like the fanbase is going to raise hell about it.

Thanks for reading this week and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tacitly related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.

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