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Hot Tweets: Discussing the Nate Diaz-USADA situation, plus Conor McGregor’s plan to return

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Nate Diaz had a kerfuffle with USADA, Conor said he’s coming back in January, and Jon Jones doesn’t want to fight any of the light heavyweight contenders. Let’s talk about all that plus Max Holloway, MMA Halloween nicknames, and Greg Hardy stepping up on short notice.

Nate Diaz, USADA, and the UFC

I think it’s possible to look at the Nate Diaz-USADA situation as something not particularly sinister or shady, but as an example of the idyllic version of USADA and how it should operate. I also think that doing so would be at best charitable, and at worst, profoundly naive.

First let me state unequivocally that I am not accusing Nate Diaz of PED usage or foul play. My best guess is that Nate is actually fairly innocent in all of this and was just doing what he does. But I also don’t believe it’s a coincidence that when the biggest star on the biggest card of the year, an event that is the 500th event in UFC history and one they are keen on promoting out the ass, was flagged for a banned substance, USADA was able to quickly exonerate him in time for him to still make his flight to NYC.

The fact is that as soon as Nate tested positive for something, either USADA or the UFC set the wheels in motion to get this taken care of, as evidenced by Nate’s claim that someone official told him to keep quiet and hide it. That in and of itself screams corruption. Now, if you’re feeling generous, you could interpret that as a misguided attempt to keep a storm from kicking up for something they knew could be handled behind the scenes, what with Diaz’s levels being so low they likely came via some tainted supplement. However, even if you want to give USADA/UFC that benefit of the doubt, it strains credulity to think they’d be so gung ho to exonerate say, a random prelim fighter in a similar situation.

Look, the UFC’s partnership with USADA has been riddled with complications and foul-ups. Some of that is just part and parcel of integrating any kind of bureaucratic agency in with the carnival of ridiculousness that is professional cage fighting. But, if you want to read something more nefarious into some of the things that have occurred with drug-testing and the UFC since the UFC started paying USADA millions of dollars a year, it doesn’t take all that much to start firing up conspiracy theories. As usual, I think the most likely outcome is in the middle, and that the Nate Diaz situation just revealed a universal truth of life: The more power you have - be that money, fame, political clout, what have you - the less the standard rules apply. Nate Diaz didn’t tip the maitre d’ to get a table. The restaurant rushed to get him one because of who he is.

Speaking of USADA

Paul, you’ve gotten to one of the single biggest issues with USADA: there is literally no way to know if USADA is successful or not. There are no metrics to look at and say, “wow, USADA has cleaned up the sport,” or “holy shit is this a waste of time.” Drug testing is like panning for gold – if you had to find all the gold in the stream, only you don’t know how much gold there is, and the gold is actively trying to not be found, and there’s pyrite mixed in there as well (shouts to Jared Cannonier), and oh by the way, semi-frequently someone is going slap the pan out of your hand, or throw a bucket of water in it or something. It’s an impossible task to navigate and sure, USADA seems to have some logical policies to work that sieve. But at the end of the day, is the Old Prospector even actually good at finding the flake? Who the hell knows! To know that, we would have to know how many fighters are actually using, and if we knew that, then we wouldn’t need USADA anyway.

Literally the only thing you can say conclusively about USADA is that it has stopped all the people it has caught, and even then you can only say it stopped them from having used PEDs for that particular fight. But you can’t even conclusively say that the presence of USADA serves as a deterrent for PED usage. I think it’s likely that USADA’s presence has deterred some usage, but there’s a reasonable argument against it. Studies show that the level of punishment associated with a banned action is not really a strong deterrent for parties, but the likelihood of being caught is. Since we don’t actually have any idea how likely it is that USADA catches someone, you’re left with conjecture on the likelihood of getting caught and retributive actions as the primary factors for would-be PED users to consider. Human beings (especially fighters) tend to vastly overestimate their ability to do something, and also tend to overestimate the likelihood of good fortune breaking their way, so I’m skeptical that many fighters who would be inclined to use PEDs saw USADA and thought “Damn, guess I can’t do that.” I would reason those fighters would instead think, “Okay, I can get around that, just gotta figure out how.” And we’ve already said that retribution is a poor motivator, especially when for first-time offenders that retribution is a one-year suspension - which they can likely barter down to six months if they find the right supplement. So given all that, there’s a reasonable argument that if PEDs were legal, the same people would be using them and the same people who aren’t wouldn’t be.

Ultimately, there is no real way to determine if USADA is even objectively good at their jobs, so you’re left with a subjective stance on if you like it or not. I tend to ascribe to the Diaz Hypothesis which states, “All you motherf*ckers are on steroids” because human beings tend to be short-term rational actors and the nature of the sport grossly incentivizes competitive success. Given that, and the low number of people who do get caught, I would argue that USADA has been a colossal failure. I’ve also been very vocal about thinking that drug testing is at best a misguided waste of resources, and at worst, a punitive shitshow based on an archaic value system. For me, USADA in the UFC has been an unmitigated disaster. Every fighter who gets suspended and every major fight that gets cancelled is another tally mark in the column showing USADA to be horrendous. We’re losing fun fights and fighters are losing valuable time in their already short sporting (and money-making) years all so we can feel more honorable about cage fighting. Seriously, search your feelings, and think about why you dislike PEDs, but like, ACL surgery is okay. It’s never made sense to me, and it never will.

Conor’s timeline

The whole thing felt like a PR move to keep his name in the headlines for anything other than the truly terrible reports and allegations that are now going around. He talked about the things he wanted to talk about, said a lot of things that certainly aren’t facts at this point, and somehow intimated that the dude who chased him for a year to fight, whipped the absolute tar out of him when they finally did fight, and then launched himself out of the cage to single-handedly take on Conor’s entire team, was scared to fight him.

It’s honestly kind of fascinating, because Conor is probably the best loser in the sport on fight night. Like Chael Sonnen, he is introspective and intelligent and he drops the exhausting MCGREGOR EIRE! persona. But he’s also among the absolute worst losers in the sport in that his maniacally competitive and with some separation, he sees his mistakes and then cannot move on. It’s why he got to hold up the featherweight division, so he could satisfy an ego trip with Nate Diaz. Now, it seems he’s finally coming to terms with the fact that he won’t get that chance with Khabib, and it appears to be bothering the hell out of him.

So yeah, maybe Conor does decide to fight in January, but I remain highly skeptical that will happen. There have been plenty of opportunities to fight that he hasn’t taken, whether that was for negotiation purposes or otherwise, and at this point I’m not willing to believe a Conor fight will happen until there’s a fight poster. If he does fight, my money would be on the winner of the BMF title, so then he could parade around as the first triple champion in UFC history and leverage that for a rematch with Khabib. Otherwise, a fight with Cowboy probably doesn’t get him a title shot, and a fight with Gaethje probably ends with him unconscious, so I’m not sure who else he would actually fight.

Greg Hardy vs. Alexander Volkov

Though I’m loath to give Greg Hardy props, you’ve got to respect his willingness to step in on a few weeks’ notice against a guy vastly more experienced than he is and much, much better. It’s going to work out horrendously for him, but that’s going to make a lot of fans pretty happy.

UFC Africa

Honestly, I could see them pull the trigger on it next year, especially if Kamaru Usman gets through Colby Covington. I mean, it would just make sense. Hold the event in Lagos, two title fights, and then Ngannou as the third big fight since he’s gonna be shelved for quite a while waiting for Miocic and DC to settle their business. If the UFC doesn’t do that early-mid next year, my best guess is they won’t run a PPV in Africa anytime soon, though I bet they’ll start holding events there, possibly in South Africa.

Halloween MMA

Bruce Lee, I salute you. Way to come with the topical questions. Sadly, you answered your own question. The Ax Murderer is unquestionably the best Halloween-ish nickname in MMA, alongside being just the best nickname in MMA. Korean Zombie is also an excellent one, and I’d throw in Giva “The Arm Collector” Santana and Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit as good choices.

Tony vs. Jon

I’ve covered this before, but the answer is two. Fighting a single person at a time is incredibly difficult. Fighting two people at once is practically impossible. You basically have to take one out immediately, and the odds of doing so are unlikely. Especially multiple tony Fergusons. They’d probably both just Imanari roll into a leg each and then Jon is screwed.

Speaking of Jon Jones

Here’s a thing MMA fans need to stop doing: Declaring divisions cleared because the champion is good and it seems unlikely anyone would beat him/her. Do you know how many of the current top-15 light heavyweights Jon Jones has beaten? Take a guess. It’s six. And that’s including Alexander Gustafsson, who is kind of retired, and Daniel Cormier, who is fully retired from 205. Jon Jones is great, but there is a whole host of dudes he hasn’t fought yet. Light heavyweight isn’t close to cleaned out. We are all just presuming Jon would beat everyone, so it seems like it is. Aside from Reyes, the winner of Johnny Walker and Corey Anderson is a legitimate challenger, as is the winner of Jan Blachowicz vs. Jacare. Would I pick any of those guys to beat Jones? No. But no one thought Thiago Santos was going to do it either, and he damn near took the belt with zero knees joints to his name.

The number of fighters who have legitimately cleaned out a division is very, very small. Demetrious Johnson, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Matt Hughes, and Jon his first time around. And with Anderson and Hughes you’ll note that they eventually lost because divisions are constantly filling up with new faces who want to take the belt. That’s why being a long-reigning champion is so damn difficult – you have to be better than generations of fighters. That Jon isn’t excited about facing Dominick Reyes is one of the quintessential challenges of being an all-time great, and that he wants to sit around and not D up the belt is possibly the most frustrating thing about him at this moment.

If Jon wants to go to heavyweight, by all means do so. There is tons of interest there. But this picking fights with middleweight and then hinting that maybe one day possibly he’ll consider moving up to heavyweight while also being open about not being interested in any 205er is hogwash, both sportingly and promotionally. (It also flies in the face of his “Good Guy Jo” routine, which was that he wanted to defend his belt as many times as possible FOR THE FANS now that he’s no longer suspended. Glad to see that lasted about eight months). Also, considering the dreadful performance in his last bout, it’s shocking that Jones has little interest in beating up someone at 205, even if only to remind the world he’s still the best fighter alive.

My best guess is eventually they make the Reyes fight, and then Jon has done his best to sewer the interest in that before the promos even start. Then he’ll win in highlight reel fashion, and everyone will forget that probably the best fighter of all time is also the most mercurial, frustrating fighter in the world.

Max’s future

As per my answer above, there is plenty left for Max at featherweight. If Max beats Volkanovski (a huge if by the way, don’t sleep on Alex or City Kickboxing) he will have wins over only five of the top-15 guys. Like Jones, Max has beaten a lot of tope 145ers that are no longer top 145ers. The winner of Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Calvin Kattar is a fine challenger, as Chan Sung Jun, should he beat Brian Ortega. Not to mention Yair Rodriguez is coming off a big win.

Look, Max moving to lightweight would be more fun for the fans because 155 is by far the best division in the sport and fights between Max and Gaethje, Max and Tony, Max and Cerrone, etc. . . would all be awesome but if Max wants to build a legacy, he should just stay at featherweight and rack up wins. I say this all the time but I think it’s already proving true: in 20 years we will look back on Demetrious Johnson’s title reign as vastly more impressive than being one of a dozen champ-champs. Winning a second belt is a short-term marketing tool. Becoming an all-time great in your weight class is forever.

Ngannou’s future

Ngannou doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines. Too often we as fans forget that the primary purpose of prizefighting is to fight for prizes. MMA is Ngannou’s job and if he doesn’t fight, he doesn’t get paid. Sitting on the sidelines for another year - aside from wasting a year of his sporting prime - also means a full year without his primary source of income. Not to mention, what if he sits out that whole time and then gets injured? Suddenly, he’s gone two years without a paycheck. Fighters fight for money and, in my opinion, should almost always be taking fights when they are healthy, even at the risk of losing a title shot. I suspect we see Ngannou take on the winner of Volkov-Hardy (*cough cough* Volkov) early next year.

Top-5 non-UFC fighters

Easy game:

  1. Demetrious Johnson. He’s one of the 5 best fighters in the world.
  2. Ryan Bader. I legitimately think Bader would beat Stipe. Loses to Jon and DC and a couple other HWs though.
  3. Patricio Freire. Can no longer doubt this man after the Chandler KO.
  4. Douglas Lima. He is a top 5 welterweight in the world.
  5. Kyoji Horiguchi. Also willing to accept Kai Asakura but Kyoji gets bonus points for still being a flyweight.

I would also accept Cris Cyborg anywhere in there, though she’s a bit of a special circumstance as she is definitively not as good as the UFC champion, and the rest of the weight class doesn’t exactly exist at the moment.

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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