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Hot Tweets: Why is Darren Till fighting Kelvin Gastelum and Khabib Nurmagomedov as GOAT

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Last week, the UFC officially announced that Darren Till would be moving up to middleweight and his debut would be against Kelvin Gastelum and almost everyone immediately thought the same thing: why are they doing this? So let’s talk about that plus, look ahead to the biggest event of the year.


Who hates Darren Till and why?

Remember back in June when Dana said they probably pushed Till too soon and they needed to pump the brakes and re-assess things with him? That was one of those rare times Dana was both very honest and very correct. Took him all of two months to completely forget about that and all because Till told him this is the fight he wanted. Newsflash, fighters think they can beat everyone and often want things that are clearly detrimental to their career. It’s the promoter’s job to countermand those impulses and keep promising fighters from ruining their career through hubris. Dana giving the okay for this bout is unconscionable from a promotional standpoint and really speaks to just how bad the UFC can be at its jobs.

There’s just no way to defend this as good booking. To be clear, Gastelum is going to absolutely wreck Till, but let’s take the outcome out of the equation and just look at the circumstances. Till is on a two-fight losing streak at welterweight. Gastelum is coming off the presumptive Fight of the Year for the interim middleweight title. From a purely meritocratic standpoint, this fight is insane. Gastelum should be fighting Romero or Hermansson, not an unranked middleweight.

Now, let’s consider the possible outcomes here. By far the most likely outcome is that Gastelum beats up Darren Till, and coincidentally, that’s the worst possible outcome for the UFC. By beating up a debuting Till, who has lost two in a row already and was never really a star outside of his home country, Gastelum gains approximately nothing. He maintains his status as a top middleweight but is still needs to beat a Romero or Hermansson to get back to a title shot. Meanwhile, Till will now be on the wrong end of three losses in a row and the move up to middleweight that should’ve been used to reinvigorate his career is already stopped in its tracks. You know it’s terrible promotion when the most likely outcome is that everyone loses.

But what if Till wins? That’s the big gamble here, but even if he does, they payoff doesn’t justify the odds. Till winning will immediately insert him into the middleweight title picture but he’ll need at least one if not two more wins to merit a shot at the belt - AKA the same number of wins he would need if he fought someone much less likely to beat the brakes off him like Urijah Hall or Ian Heinisch.

So, in summation, this fight is bad and the UFC should feel bad. Darren Till should be fighting a softball opponent for his middleweight debut, one who isn’t even ranked honestly. Instead he’s getting thrown in the deep end and is most likely going to drown, taking with him the UFC’s promotional effort thrown behind him in the hopes of finding the next Bisping. What a disaster.


Conor’s comeback

ICYMI: Conor McGregor has had one hell of a 2019 and is in full damage control mode.

First and foremost, Conor has to quit sucking. Conor Stans will hate me for saying that but it’s not possible to be a reasonable, rational human being and defend McGregor’s recent actions. There’s a fine line between being a lovable bad boy and an outright jerk and McGregor has pretty obviously gone over that line on several occasions. He’ll always have the diehard fans who will argue that ‘no he didn’t really punch that old dude it was more like a slap and actually we don’t know what he said but the old guy probably deserved is and EIRE!’ but if he keeps this up, his broader appeal will go out the window.

Also, he needs to fight. Honestly, it could be almost anyone, he just needs to return to the cage and remind people he’s actually good at fighting. Because it’s been almost three years since he has won a fight and in that time he’s gotten worked over twice and failed to drop an old dude he sucker-punched on a barstool. There are plenty of viable opponents so pick one and do the damn thing. However, my gut says he’s waiting to see if Dustin Poirier upsets Khabib, then he can leapfrog Tony Ferguson for a title fight. But if I was managing Conor, I’d tell him to call out Tony Ferguson immediately, for a number of reasons.

For one, it instantly gets fans back on your side. People would immediately stop thinking about ‘Wow, Conor is crazy and spiraling out of control’ and start thinking ‘Wow, Conor is crazy and that’s awesome! What a fearless bastard!’ Tony would probably accept the fight because fighting Conor is legitimately bigger than fighting for the title, which would then give everyone three months of tremendous buildup where Tony gets weird and Conor gets to do the things fans actually love and embrace him for, all while Conor gets to taunt Khabib by saying he may be the champion but I’m the most important fighter.

Then, at the end of it all, if Conor beats Tony, he reaffirms himself as an icon and a world-class fighter and makes a rematch with Khabib the biggest fight in UFC history. And here’s the lowkey brilliant part of all of this: Conor would work Tony. Tony has always been one of the better matchups among the top lightweights for him as he’s very, very hittable on the feet and a slow starter. Add in the fact that Tony is 35 and approaching/already starting to decline and Conor has a great chance to win.

At this point in his career, everything has to be a cost-benefit analysis for Conor. A fight with Tony offers the highest upside of any fight (aside from a Khabib rematch) and also the highest win probability. The only other fights at lightweight that would even approach making sense are Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje. Gaethje-McGregor would be the most exciting fight in MMA history, but is a legitimate coin-toss at who wins. Conor would dust up Cowboy but that fight is likely to not matter anymore once Gaethje beats Cerrone this year. All that leaves left for Conor is Tony or the winner of Diaz-Masvidal, and if I’m Conor, I’m taking Tony all day.


Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix Finale

This may be a homer pick as I trained out of the same gym as Douglas Lima for a time but give me Douglas in the rematch. In their first fight, Rory MacDonald was either still in it or at least close to his prime and the fight was razor close. Now, Rory is definitely on the decline a bit and his recent dalliances with possibly retiring make me favor Lima. At the end of the day, Rory still needs to wrestle, and if he can, he can win but I like Lima to work his kicks and a strong boxing game to edge things out over the course of five rounds.


The handsomest man in all the land

Have you seen the man’s mustache? Need I say more?


Jurassic Park

While like all kids of 90s I have a special place in my heart for velociraptors (even though Jurassic Park basically just made up like half of the stuff about them) I gotta go with the Ankylosaurus. Thing is basically a spiked tank with a club. It’s what an armadillo wishes it could be.


Khabib vs. Dustin

Khabib is gonna maul Dustin. That’s no disrespect to Poirier who I think is actually one of the more interesting challengers for Khabib because he’s probably the biggest puncher in the division, but I just don’t see him having anything for Khabib unless he lands the one big shot.

I’m quickly coming around to believing that Khabib Nurmagomedov is the best fighter in MMA history. I know, I know, that’s lunacy but hear me out. If Khabib beats Dustin, he already has a legitimate case for being the best lightweight ever. If he then goes on to beat Tony (something I think he absolutely does), he just flat out is the best lightweight of all time, which means he has to AT LEAST be in the conversation for GOAT. Lightweight is the best division in MMA by miles. There are probably 10 objectively good light heavyweights in the world right now. There are 50 good lightweights, at least. And to spend a decade in that division undefeated, to go 29-0 while beating the best fighters in the best weight class of your era, that’s GOAT stuff right there. Does he have the same diversity of skills as someone like Aldo or Jones or GSP? No. But at the end of the day he may well have a better resume than all of them.


Khabib at welterweight

My guess is no, and frankly I hope he doesn’t. We as fans are far too interested in champions bouncing around weight classes but lightweight is the weight class where we should be the least interested in it happening. We want to see Jon Jones move up to heavyweight because light heavyweight is trash. But lightweight it filled with so many good fighters and is constantly turning over at the top. It’s a true shark tank. We should want to see Khabib keep churning through the best the division has to offer because unlike other divisions, the top fighters are all very different from one another and provide distinct and interesting challenges.

Like I said, I think Khabib might actually be the best fighter of all time and so I’ll watch him fight anyone, but I’d rather see him fight Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje and Gregor Gillespie than Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal (though, let the record state I think he probably beats them all but it’s very close). What I really want to see more than anything is for someone to truly dominate the lightweight division and establish themselves as the unquestioned king of the best division in MMA history. B.J. should have done it but felt the urge to fight up weight classes and move around and even go to freakin’ heavyweight. If he had instead chosen to stay at lightweight for his entire career, he’d likely be considered the greatest fighter of all time right now. Khabib has the chance to do just that and I hope that’s what we see.


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.