Over in the United States, it was Thanksgiving this week but the MMA world sleeps for no holiday and two major fights were made official: Khabib Nurmagomedov will be defending his lightweight title against former interim champion Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 and Conor McGregor returns to the cage against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246. Let’s talk about those two fights, what they mean for the combatants, and a bonus Thanksgiving-themed question!
Why this fight?
Are the UFC giving Conor the Cowboy fight cause he's a bigger name than Gaethje and they can make some good money? Or because they think Gaethje is a bigger threat? Or both?— Mauro Santos (@MauroLuisSantos) November 29, 2019
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Conor is probably going to style on Cowboy. Look, Cowboy is a future Hall of Famer and when his career is over, I believe he will have the most impressive resume in MMA history as far as who he’s fought, but the odds opened with Conor as a nearly 3-1 favorite for good reason. So by that measure, of course the UFC preferred this matchup to one with Justin Gaethje. Though I think Conor could certainly beat Gaethjesus, he also could certainly lose to him, and though that fight is, for my money, the most exciting on paper fight in MMA history, the risk of tarnishing McGregor’s brand is much, much higher than against an aging Cowboy.
But the other part is true as well. Gaethje may be a darling of the hardcore fans, but he’s still not a household name and as such there’s really no reason Conor should fight Gaethje. Think about the promotion as if it were a TV show or film franchise. The first season of a show can be great, but the second season (or movie) is usually when shows find their stride because the characters are already known and they can focus purely on the action (it’s part of why trilogies are so important to MMA. They provide a narrative structure that’s easy to follow). With Gaethje, some part of the promotional effort would be expended explaining who he is to the millions of Conor fans who don’t care too much about the rest of the sport. With Cowboy, that’s not the case. The two of them can just be set free to start talking and build the fight.
So combining those two factors, this really is the perfect fight for McGregor and it has been the perfect fight since he lost to Khabib. It would’ve been better to do it when Cowboy was coming off the Al Iaquinta win instead of back-to-back losses but again, most people won’t remember that and so an impressive win for Conor puts him right back with a shot at the Khabib-Tony winner, or possibly the welterweight title holder if he’s feeling so inclined.
Can Cowboy win?
Is there a case to make that Cerrone is actually a bad match up for Conor? Fighting at WW, extremely active in the past 12 months and will have a massive reach advantage; something that Conor has struggled with before.— Connor Winks (@ConnorWinks) November 29, 2019
While I certainly think you can make the case that Cowboy can win (this is MMA after all and Cowboy is a world-class fighter) I don’t think there’s any reasonable case to be made that Cowboy is a bad matchup for Conor.
Cowboy prefers to strike at range and the two most surefire ways to disrupt him on the feet are pressure and body shots, two things Conor excels at. Conor is also faster and a bigger puncher than Cowboy and certainly at this stage of their careers, Conor has the better chin.
That being said, the fight being at welterweight does add an interesting wrinkle to it. The point about the reach is actually dead wrong: Conor has a 74-inch reach, Cerrone 73 inches, but the weight class could give Cowboy more of a fighting chance than if it were at 155, which is Conor’s best weight class. I don’t believe the height will factor in much as Conor can close the distance well and Cerrone, despite his many years as an elite fighter, still has mediocre footwork. Cerrone is certainly more acclimated to competing at 170 than McGregor is and the lack of a weight cut for Cerrone will likely improve his ability to eat a clean left hand.
Still though, I said it when Conor was about to fight Eddie and I’ll say it now: I think Conor is going to have one of the best performances of his career. And poor Justin Gaethje might find himself skipped over for a title shot as a result.
What if Cowboy does win?
If Cowboy wins, does he get next title shot?— Henry Verniz (@eichverniz) November 29, 2019
He might get the next BMF title shot but no chance he gets a shot at a real belt.
Tony Ferguson is getting the next lightweight title shot and after that, Justin Gaethje is ostensibly waiting in the wings. At welterweight, Jorge Masvidal is all but guaranteed the first crack at the winner of Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington so that leaves Cerrone out in the cold. It’s possible they could match him up with Masvidal if some weird chicanery goes down at UFC 245 but otherwise, I don’t see how Cowboy parlays a win here into a title shot.
Should Cowboy win, the most likely outcome is an immediate rematch with Conor. It would make the most financial sense for both parties and, given the lay of the land elsewhere it would also make the most promotional sense for both. There are so few non-title fights that make any sense for Conor and, with a win, the same would be true for Cerrone. So if Cowboy pulls off the upset, expect to see the rematch at like, Cowboy Stadium next summer.
On to Khabib vs. Tony
Does a do more in terms of legacy for Tony or Khabib?— Jake (@Jake39309332) November 27, 2019
The actual answer here is either Khabib or “Both” and I’m not sure which one is true but I think it’s ultimately Khabib. Let me explain.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson is the best fight in MMA history, on paper. I know the rankings don’t reveal it but these are the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and I don’t think that should be controversial to say. On top of that, it is a true title fight, where the undisputed two top dogs in the division will finally fight to see who is the champ (even though I would actually argue Poirier is, at this moment, better than Ferguson but that’s neither here nor there). This is the type of fight that comes around once in a generation if we’re lucky and the winner will essentially go down as the greatest lightweight in the history of the sport. So considering the stakes here, this does the same for the legacy of both men - it elevates the winner to the most hallowed halls of MMA history.
That being said, the big elephant in the room for this fight is Tony Ferguson’s age. People call me an El Cucuy hater because I point this out often but by the time the two of them fight, Tony Ferguson will be 36 years old, in a division where fighters have historically not aged gracefully. Granted, in the scheme of things, 36 is not ancient but Tony already has somewhat of an injury history and he’s well-known for his “different” style of training, so even if Tony does win, I doubt we’re in for a sustained title run. So by that measure, this fight means more to Ferguson as it’s probably his only chance to hold an undisputed UFC title, whereas even with a loss, Khabib could easily reclaim the lightweight title in a year or two.
But, even given all that, theoretically this fight means more for Khabib. By my reckoning, Khabib is already the best lightweight in MMA history and on the shortlist for greatest fighter of all time. Now a win at UFC 249 leapfrogs Tony into the top lightweight spot but I think it will only start to put him in the conversation for best fighter ever, whereas if Khabib wins I think he has a VERY strong argument to being the actual all-time MMA GOAT. Maybe another win or two to really lock it in but a win over Tony should unequivocally put Khabib in any all-time top-5, and I do not believe the same is true for Tony. He would need a few more wins to get that kind of shine and, as a mentioned before, I just don’t see a sustained title run in his future. In fact, I think Poirier would probably take the belt from him in short order.
So, given all that I think Khabib has more to lose (certainly) and slightly more to gain than Tony with this fight but it’s close. This fight is arguably the best thing the UFC has ever put together. Too bad something will inevitably happen to call it off and instead Max Holloway will jump in on short notice or something.
Speaking of Khabib
How do you see Khabib matching up with Colby/Usman and Adesanya? I think he beats all three— Nuttsack (@_Buttonzz) November 29, 2019
I honestly have no idea. I lean towards him losing to Usman or Covington and maybe having a slight advantage over Adesanya.
A sneaky thing people don’t talk about with Khabib is just how great of a freaking athlete he is. He’s not Yoel Romero or Tyron Woodley, but he’s not far off those two either. And like many great athletes, he relies on that athleticism to stitch together disparate parts of his game that otherwise are lacking. Take for instance his vaunted wrestling. Khabib is the best MMA wrestler in history, I firmly believe that. The amount of traps, continuations, re-shots, and pull-counters he has at his disposal is ridiculous. However, his entries into those engagements are often just him shooting from a mile outside and being so fast and strong that the sheer nature of him being connected to someone means they can’t stop what’s coming next - a full drive into an actual clinched position. Could he do the same to Usman or Covington? Perhaps. But I think they’d be the first opponents who could actually match him athletically and their size advantage could help mitigate Khabib’s strengths. Not to mention both are absolute machines of output which is a good way to take advantage of Khabib’s suspect cardio.
As for Adesanya, I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. It’s hard to say Khabib would win because it’s just kind of weird to think of a lightweight hustling a middleweight but then again, Jorge Masvidal would’ve dusted Michael Bisping so it’s not impossible. And Adesanya, though a good defensive wrestler, is not on caliber with Usman from what we’ve seen. If Khabib can get him down, he can win the fight and I lean towards thinking Khabib can in fact do that, especially since Adesanya is not a big middleweight by any measure. Adensaya’s knees though would be something to watch out for and Khabib’s reliance on his jab on the feet could get him in trouble if he decides to stand for any amount of time.
Still, slight edge to Khabib.
Speaking of Tony
If you invited Tony Ferguson to your Thanksgiving potluck, what would he bring?— Sconesy Cider (@SWOLE_D_LOX) November 27, 2019
Tiramisu, obviously. He loves that stuff.
Did Jon Jones choose Reyes over Anderson based on who the opponents manager was? FRM has big beef with Ali who reps Anderson— Mask On (@LongBeachOGKush) November 26, 2019
I doubt that was a major factor in this instance, but in a general sense, yes the role management companies have in MMA is one worthy of deeper contemplation, especially as it pertains to reigning champions.
In other sports, there are a bunch of rules around collusion and tampering to ensure (or give the appearance of) some level of fairness. For instance, in the NBA tampering by coaches, GMs, and players to get other players to join their team outside of specified time restrictions used to be strictly prohibited. It still happened all the time anyway and the league recently increased the fines they can levee against teams as a way to dissuade such action. MMA doesn’t have such rules because it’s not a team sport and so something like throwing a fight is illegal, but a champion opting only to fight stablemates is not. Heretofore it hasn’t happened but one day, a team of fighters is going to realize that instead of making less money to not fight each other, they can all just do what they do in training every week, fight each other for the title, make more money, and keep the belt in their gym.
But with Dominick Reyes, I don’t think that was a consideration at all. Corey Anderson is a good fighter on a good win streak but he’s lost to a number of contenders before and, after turning in the best performance of his life followed by his most interesting mic work ever, he almost immediately recanted it all and went right back to being his normal, boring self. Look, if the one time you get fired up about getting a fight you feel you deserve, you then ruin by almost immediately apologizing and walking back everything you said, then why the hell should I care about you getting that fight either? It was just like changing his nickname for “Beastin’ 25/8” to “Overtime.” He went from weird and interesting to boring and trite in a completely perplexing backwards move.
Dominick Reyes has a better record, better wins, and is an all-around more interesting and deserving challenger than Corey Anderson. Had Anderson kept that same energy he had after knocking out Johnny Walker, maybe this would be different but he didn’t and now we’re here.
Are we supposed to care about MVP fights? Outside of Lima and Paul Daley he’s fought blown up lightweights. He’s 32, how much more does bellator need to treat him like a prospect?— Dennisaurus (@_Dennisaurus) November 26, 2019
Not until he fights another real opponent. Bellator should’ve taken off the kid gloves three years ago. Until they do, there really is no reason to care about his fights again.
Considering his last fight and the coaching change, do you think Kevin Lee will go on a winning streak now and make a run for the title? If not, where does your opinion stand on his future?— Dustin Choate (@TheGreenTuna) November 27, 2019
Entirely possible but at this point with Kevin Lee it’s best to take a “wait and see” approach. The man has all the talent in the world to be a champion but it’s always been between the ears with him. That’s how he found a way to claim defeat from the jaws of victory against Al Iaquinta and so it’s best to be shown concrete proof he’s not going to implode again. The win over Gillespie was a hell of a start though.
Do you think we will ever see stomps, soccer kicks, or knees to a grounded opponent in the top promotions or is that too savage for mainstream US MMA?— Vinh Luu (@ninjalimits) November 27, 2019
Knees to the head of a grounded opponent is just a matter of time. The current rules are so inane and complex, eventually they’ll let that one go, and then wrestling will be a much more dangerous prospect. Conversely I’d be stunned if stomps ever became legal because everything about them is off-putting for most non-MMA folk. Soccer kicks are somewhere in the middle ground because really, they’re not too different than a head kick. I could see a world where eventually they allow those back in.
Who's the best active MMA fighter who you see to be successful in bare knuckle boxing.— Henry Verniz (@eichverniz) November 26, 2019
I mean, any good MMA boxer would do well, especially considering bare-knuckle has basically become the pasture old UFC fighters get put out to. I’d say Stipe or JDS because they’re both heavyweights who are proficient boxers and not purely KO artists.
If the UFC never signed the USADA deal, who would be the current champions in each division?— Chris Poole (@MapleBacon88) November 26, 2019
They’d all be the same. I don’t believe PEDs play that big role in MMA performance in general (in part because I ascribe to the Nick Diaz Theorem - All you motherf*ckers are on steroids) and if USADA weren’t a thing, it would be the same across the board and thus, everyone would be on it so it’d all even out.
What are the most important fights in the history of MMA?— Paul Garcia (@hpaulg) November 26, 2019
5. Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson - the first time MMA was aired in primetime on major American network television.
3. Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez - the first champ-champ, irrevocably changed so many things about the business of MMA and how fighters thought about fighting, and launched Conor and the UFC into a new level of stardom.
1. Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock - the fight that started it all. Royce choking a yoked-out dude made everyone realize, as Jim Brown put it, “fighting is not what we thought it was.” Gerard Gordeau was just the icing on the cake.
Really it’s only the top two. Anything else beyond those two fights is far, far in the rear view.
Thanksgiving food fight
If you had to fight to the death using only Thanksgiving food, which would you use?— Thomas Christopher (@ThomasCP518) November 27, 2019
Since I’m only getting to choose food, turkey feels like the safe answer but let’s think this through. Turkey is as a whole is probably too unwieldy to use like a club but it does have bones which can be used as stabbing utensils. Nothing else is going to bring that kind of tactile functionality to the game.
Unless of course I’m allowed to use gravy fresh from the stove. Then obviously taking that and throwing near-scalding gravy onto my assailant is going to give me a huge advantage as he’s going to be screaming his head off. On top of that, gravy gives you an opportunity to blind the opponent, should it get in the eye. However, the one downside to gravy is it’s hard to throw accurately as it’s a liquid and should it not lead to an immediate win, the gravy might make submissions tricker as the fight progresses.
Brussels sprouts/green beans are obviously out unless my attacker is allergic to them, at which point they immediately skyrocket to the top of the list.
Pies, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes are in a similar vein in that they could be used as a blinding agent—potentially more effectively than gravy as they’re solid and easier to throw—but outside of that they lack utility. Bonus points for pecan pie though as nut allergies are fairly common so that has the highest potential for winning the fight outright.
Stuffing/dressing is practically useless in a fight which is the exact opposite of its usefulness in a meal.
Rolls feel like they’re only useful as a suffocation tool. Seems too “coffin corner” to want to rely on that.
Corn is back to something interesting but ultimately feels like a worse version of a turkey leg.
So given all that I’m going with the wild card answer: oysters.
Now I know what you’re all thinking, ‘WTF?’ But oysters were a traditional part of most coastal thanksgiving feasts back in the day—more so than turkey actually—and they provide both the highest floor and highest ceiling for a holiday-themed death match. Shellfish is right behind nuts as far as a common food allergen (high ceiling) and the oyster shell is by far the best combat tool of any of the food as it’s basically just a jagged rock (high floor). It’s sharp and hard and good for stabbing but unlike the turkey bones you don’t have to put in any work to get a usable piece, you just grab the shell and it’s go time.
Oysters is the correct answer.
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.