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Fightweets: What is this weekend’s best fight?

Francis Ngannou Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Bellator and Invicta were in action last night. Bellator returns tonight, then the UFC takes center stage on Sunday night. Things are plenty busy, so let’s not waste any more time, yeah? On to another edition of Fightweets ...

If you could only pick one ...

@TheFakeMattHoke: Let’s just say UFC Phoenix and Bellator 216 are both on Saturday (i’m aware they are not) Both the Daley/MVP and Ngannou/Velasquez fight start at the exact same time, but you can ONLY WATCH ONE OF THEM ... Which fight you watching and Why?

Aww, man. There are very few fights I’d put ahead of Paul Daley vs. Michael “Venom” Page at Bellator 216 in Connecticut. It’s an interesting stylistic matchup pitting two guys who legit don’t like each other don’t like each other in a consequential matchup as part of the welterweight tournament. And yet, if you asked me to pick Daley vs. MVP out of any of the combined 42 scheduled fights (pending any unforeseen fallouts) on Friday’s Invicta card, Bellator 215 and 216 and the UFC’s ESPN linear cable debut, the only fight I’d pick over MVP-Daley would be Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou, the main event of Sunday night’s UFC Phoenix card.

I mean ... we’re talking about Cain Velasquez, here. Two-time UFC heavyweight champion. The guy who would probably be the unquestioned heavyweight GOAT if not for all his injury issues. He’s coming off his longest layoff, and he’s got an intriguing opponent who is looking to pen his own redemption story. This fight truly could go any of a number of ways. For me, that’s enough factors to tip things in favor of Cain-Ngannou as the fight I’m most anticipating, but that’s the only fight all weekend which I’d watch ahead of MVP-Daley if they were head-to-head.

How will Ngannou 2.0 fare against Cain?

@AndiJutlander: Is Francis Ngannou still a real danger to the HW’s with high level wrestling? Or is he just a knockout artist with limited range?

So, I don’t mean this to sound as flippant as it might come across, but that’s pretty much what we’re about to find out Sunday night, aren’t we? There’s really no way around this in the land of the giants. Ngannou has already proven decisively he’s got ferocious knockout power even by the standards of the division with the heaviest hitters. He’s also yet to prove he can win against the best when he’s forced to go to Plan B. It’s not like Ngannou can drop down to light heavyweight, so we’re going to have to find out if he’s truly improved his game one way or another.

And even if Ngannou manages to get past Velasquez, which would be a real feather in his cap, that still might not be enough to quiet his doubters. One can already envision people attempting to discount an Ngannou victory by pointing out how long Velasquez has been away from action. And ahead of Ngannou in the pecking order would still be Stipe Miocic, who already manhandled him for 25 minutes, and current champ Daniel Cormier, who, I don’t know if you’ve heard, knows a thing or two about wrestling himself. Just like people try to pretend Israel Adesanya didn’t stuff every last one of Derek Brunson’s takedowns before knocking him out and still claim he never fought a wrestler, I’m sure even with an Ngannou win over Velasquez, the haters will still be there.

Better storyline for the UFC?

@MikeJBknows: What’s a better scenario for the heavyweight division? Ngannou winning or Cain? #Fighttweets #UFCPhoenix

It all comes down to “what if” with Cain Velasquez, as it usually does.

Let’s say Velasquez shows up after nearly three years away and ragdolls Ngannou the way he did Travis Browne last we saw him back at UFC 200. The allure of having Velasquez go from there and attempt to win a third UFC heavyweight title from there would be an easy sell. But how long will Cormier be sticking around? The fact they won’t fight one another is one of the sport’s best-known stories. Would Velasquez want to stay active while DC finishes his time in the limelight, and who would be worth the effort in the meantime? So if Velasquez wins and if he comes out healthy and if Cormier fights one more time and then retires, then all the pieces would be in place for a big Velasquez title fight down the road, in which case, a Velasquez victory might be best in the medium term.

As for Ngannou? A victory over a two-time champion who can mix up ferocious striking with nasty wrestling would be just about the best way to rehab his image after it took such a tumble in the wake of his consecutive losses to Miocic and Derrick Lewis. We don’t know how things will pan out for Cormier’s next fight, whether it’s Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones or Miocic, but a convincing win for Ngannou hands the UFC a storyline in which Cormier could avenge his teammate’s loss, so for the UFC’s short-term interests, and it always seems to be about the short-term in this era, perhaps an Ngannou win would be best.

Let’s pump the breaks on the idea of stripping Robert Whittaker of the UFC middleweight title.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Strip Bobby Knuckles?

@LucasWalsh1: Should Robert Whittaker be stripped of his belt until his health problems are over or should the UFC make an interim champion?

I think I’m leaning toward “neither,” although I recognize that’s not altogether likely.

UFC president Dana White has strongly hinted he’s not going to strip Robert Whittaker of the UFC middleweight title. That’s the correct answer.

Whittaker last fought in June. If his agent’s timetable for his return is accurate, then he’ll be out somewhere between 12-15 months before he returns. The most recent precedent for stripping a UFC fighter of a championship due to injury-related inactivity was Dominick Cruz being removed as bantamweight titleholder. Cruz was stripped of the belt a bit more than two years after his previous title defense, and it took a second consecutive fight fallout (he pulled out of dates with Urijah Faber and Renan Barao) to make it happen.

If we’re holding to that standard, and we can never be 100 percent sure of this in the current era, then Whittaker deserves a good degree more time before the UFC considers taking his title.

As for interim belts? You saw Kelvin Gastelum walk around Melbourne last weekend with Henry Cejudo’s belt claiming he’s the real champ, and you heard Israel Adesanya say he should fight Gastelum for the full middleweight championship, while uttering expletives at the thought of fighting for an interim belt.

And why wouldn’t he say “F*ck interim”? Any UFC fighter who is paying attention saw what became of Tony Ferguson and Colby Covington’s interim belts and know full well just how disposable the UFC simply uses interim belts as convenient props to be discarded as soon as they get in the way of company plans. But they sure do love giving interim belts out, and sure do seem to have a thing against having five-round non-championship PPV main events, so I suspect we’ll end up getting Adesanya vs. Gastelum with an interim belt attached, whether anyone wants it or not.

Who’s next?

@diggableme: 1. Conor McGregor is calling out everyone these days. Putting yourself in his shoes, what is best next fight? 2. Who does Nunes fight next?

I mean, if I’m in McGregor’s shoes, and I have his bank account, I vanish to a private island and never work another day in my life. But that’s not what you’re asking.

At the rate at which “The Notorious” one has spit out tweets expressing interest in fighting whomever had a buzzy win on any given weekend, I’m half-expecting you’ll be reading Fightweets on Saturday morning after awakening to the news McGregor went onto Twitter and challenged the winner of Friday night’s Pearl Gonzalez-Vanessa Porto fight for the Invicta FC flyweight belt. McGregor’s challenged everyone and anyone in recent weeks, and despite that, I still think the best matchup for the former champ-champ at this stage of the game is Donald Cerrone, for the all the reasons I’ve already laid out.

With women’s champ-champ Amanda Nunes, I mean, it sure didn’t seem a coincidence the UFC yanked the Holly Holm-Aspen Ladd fight right around the time it became clear the timing would be right for Nunes to fight Holm at UFC 237 in Curitiba, Brazil, no? Unless something unexpected goes down in the UFC’s contract negotiations with Cris Cyborg that brings about an immediate rematch of the Nunes-Cyborg UFC 232 fight, there’s no bigger women’s fight which can be made at this point than Nunes vs. Holm.

ONE in America?

@zequan2019: Do you think that @ONEChampionship will ever have events here in the United States ? #WeAreOne #MartialArts

I’m not going to call something done until it’s done, but considering they went out of their way to sign Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, and Sage Northcutt to contracts; considering they got a streaming deal in the U.S.; and considering they’re bringing their big. U.S. based names on a media tour through Seattle, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas in a couple weeks, at some point, 1 + 1 + 1 would seem to = 3, no?

Another shot of Johnny Walker

@bigpapapump81: Are you as excited as me for the upcoming Johnny Walker fight? I couldn’t be any more pumped!

For real, though, we don’t know how far along Johnny Walker really is as a fighter. He’s just six months removed from the Brazilian version of Contender Series, after all, and you only need look at Sunday’s upcoming main vent to see an example of a knockout artist who ended up moving a bit too fast, too soon.

But in this case, really, what does Walker have to lose? If he loses to Cirkunov, it was a big step up that he was game enough to take on short notice. No one’s going to hold that too much against him. If he wins? With his charisma, personality, and flash in the cage, a big win against an established name on short notice during a big card headlined by the champ of his division, then, yeah.

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