clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hot Tweets: Does Brian Ortega deserve a title shot with a win over The Korean Zombie?

New, comments
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was oddly quiet in the world of MMA this week. Perhaps it’s just a general sense of fatigue as it seems like years since there wasn’t a major event on the weekends. Or perhaps it’s just a calm before the storm that is UFC 254. Either way, not too much happened this week so let’s talk about a litany of subjects including the main event tonight, Islam Makhachev, Khamzat Chimaev, and Michael Chandler.

UFC Fight Island 6

In the immortal words of William Munny, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.”

On the face of it, no, a win this weekend shouldn’t garner Brian Ortega a title shot. You correctly pointed out that Ortega’s last two wins don’t make a strong case for title contention, but I’ll do you one better: Brian Ortega holds no wins over currently ranked contenders. Moreover, Ortega hasn’t fought in nearly two years. Here’s a fun fact, the last time Ortega got a win, Alexander Volkanovski was still relatively unheralded and coming off a win over the great Jeremy Kennedy. In that same stretch of time, Volko has racked up five wins and the title of “consensus greatest featherweight of all time”.

In a rational world, Ortega himself wouldn’t be ranked and the UFC would make him get at least a couple of wins under his belt before throwing him to the champion. But these aren’t rational times and the UFC and MMA fandom in general seems prepared to just move on., and honestly, that’s okay. Two years ago, Ortega was the new hotness, and if he gets a win over a one of the all-time great action fighters in Chan Sung Jung, then sure, let’s feed him to Volko. It’s better than running back Volko-Max for a third time and it’s not a fight without interest. Sure, on paper Volko should run through Ortega, but that’s Ortega’s charm. Everyone he’s fought should beat him, and does beat him, until somehow, miraculously, they don’t. He couldn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat with Max Holloway but I’d like to see him try against Volkanovski.

Had Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez actually fought, then I would strongly argue the winner of that bout would be more deserving of a title shot. However, currently I would place Korean Zombie as the most deserving challenger, so if Ortega beats him, then he rightfully gets that shine. That’s how this game works: you fight for what the other man has and to the victor goes the spoils.

Khamzat Chimaev

Well, you shouldn’t. Look, I know everyone is pumped about riding the Khamzat train right now but we’ve all lost the plot in a major way here. Khamzat is most definitely a good fighter, but no one actually knows how good of a fighter he is. Just because Khamzat says everyone is not on his level doesn’t mean anything. Literally every fighter other than Forrest Griffin says that. I know it’s less fun but we all need to rein it in a little bit.

No top-10 fighter should want to fight this guy because they are all (at least somewhat) rational people. Beating Chimaev would give them at best a modest bump in short term but it would get them no nearer a title and it would all be at the risk of losing their standing in the division entirely. Sometimes a top-10 guy will have to fight a lower ranked opponent because that’s just business, but fighting an unranked opponent no one knows anything about would just be stupid.

Here’s what we do know about Khamzat Chimaev: he’s talented, he’s incredibly athletic, he is an excellent grappler, and he has power in his hands. That’s it. That’s the list of things we know about this man. His three wins were no doubt impressive but they were also over John Phillips, Rhys McKee, and Gerald Meerschaert. That’s not exactly a who’s who of competition.

Moreover, the fashion in which he beat them tells us little about him. Chimaev was on an entirely different level of physicality than those fighters and thus the fights were close to meaningless - like watching an NBA player compete against high schoolers. You can’t really tell if he’s LeBron or if he’s J.R. Smith until you put him against people of his own level. That’s why I think a fight with Alex Oliveira would actually be the best fight for Khamzat. Oliveira is a flawed fighter but a superb athlete who is not going to get run over by anyone. If Khamzat runs through him, well, then sorry welterweight division, you’re in trouble. But if not, then we might get a real understanding of who Khamzat is and a win would still probably get him ranked, when then let’s him climb the ladder.

But, you know, patience has never really been a virtue for the UFC so instead we’ll probably see Khamzat fight Adesanya by March.

Other avoided prospects

In a direct sense: next. There is a zero percent chance Khabib Nurmagomedov and his team allow Islam Makhachev’s next opponent be against anyone other than a top-10 opponent (Rafael dos Anjos is a top-10 welterweight). Nor should they. But to answer the true spirit of your question: hopefully soon.

The Dagestani Knucklegang Cartel has always been very high on Makhachev as the guy to take over once Khabib hangs it up. Personally, I don’t see that but still, the man is obviously extremely good and he needs to be fighting the best of the best so we can suss out just how good. I mean literally, any top-10 lightweight would be a good fit the UFC just needs to put their foot down and make it happen.

As a side note, Makhachev has always fascinated me because he’s the perfect representation of the limitations of this sport. He is essentially the same fighter as Khabib only without the all-world athleticism and it’s fascinating to see how that manifests in application. Like a Michelin-starred chef cooking the same meal but using the best ingredients in one and day old ingredients in the other. Either way it’s going to be great, but only one of them will you remember long after you’ve left the restaurant.

Anway, there is a clear and obvious choice for who Makhachev should fight next, which leads me into the next question . . .

Michael Chandler’s debut opponent

Michael Chandler should fight Islam Makhachev. I think this is far and away the most appropriate fight and here’s why:

First, there’s a very real possibility Chandler isn’t even a top-10 lightweight in the UFC. I think he probably is, but given his age and the fact that he hasn’t faced a truly elite, elite fighter in years, it’s hard to feel too confident in that. Makhachev would be a good way to kind of ease him into the shark tank that is 155. After all, look what the UFC did with Eddie Alvarez when he came over: he got Donald Cerrone. Rushing him in against Tony Ferguson or something is just not the smart move.

Second, it’s a good stylistic matchup. For Chandler, he wants to face Khabib and has been adamant he has the style to give the champ problems. As discussed above, Makhachev is Khabib Lite so if Chandler can beat him, that goes a long way towards proving him right and making him an interesting challenger for the champ. Conversely, for Makhachev this is exactly the opposite, a difficult matchup on paper that, should he win, would signal he is very much a threat to everyone in the division.

Finally, that’s the fight that gets Chandler a title shot. Again, in a normal world, Chandler would need at least two wins in the organization to get a title shot but that’s not necessarily true here. Should Khabib beat Gaethje, his options for challengers are pretty thin but not so thin as if they let Chandler get a title shot without winning a fight. He needs at least something to hang his hat on and being the guy to beat Khabib’s teammate is arguably the best selling point he can have. Not to mention the fact that Khabib basically said as much already.

Which brings me to my last point on this topic: it baffles me that this fight isn’t happening next weekend. Both Makhachev and Chandler will be on Fight Island for UFC 254, Makhachev because he was supposed to face Rafael dos Anjos before RDA was forced out, and Chandler because he’s serving as the backup to the lightweight title fight. Both men are/were preparing to make a weight cut and fight on the evening, both compete in the same division, and the fight makes sense for both fighters and for the UFC. Why isn’t it happening?! If something happens to the main event, then Chandler can still fill in and, if Makhavchev had to weigh in as well then, if Chandler didn’t make weight or something, the UFC would still have a viable alternate. Honestly, this feels like 2 + 2 = fish.

Khabib vs. Chandler

No, they don’t. If Khabib beats Gaethje, I think he’s gonna end up fighting Georges St-Pierre. It won’t happen for awhile, there will be months of negotiations and posturing but eventually, the UFC and GSP will come to terms and Khabib will get the superfight he’s always wanted, likely next summer.

If, that doesn’t end up happening though, the UFC will push for a Conor McGregor rematch (if Conor can beat Poirier). Khabib, meanwhile, would push for a Chandler matchup if Chandler does fight Makhachev and beats him but I think it’s unlikely that Khabib can force that issue. However, the UFC can because I have a feeling the UFC isn’t interested in booking Chandler vs. Makhachev. It seems like Chandler is likely going to get Tony Ferguson and either way, the winner of that will probably be the person who Khabib fights for his 30th bout, if GSP decides he’s not interested.

Still though, my money is on Georges St-Pierre as the final fight because, if Khabib really is going to walk away next year, that’s the only fight to do it on. Well, that or a welterweight title shot.

Hell hath frozen over

Well, two of those things are likely to happen at some point, just a long way off so I’ll rank them thusly:

  1. Leon Edwards gets a title shot. Leon is gonna fight for a belt next year. Kamaru Usman respects him and he’s a damn good fighter.
  2. Jon Jones fights at heavyweight. Jon is gonna fight Stipe/Ngannou late next year.
  3. Henry Cejudo returns. Once again, the UFC has screwed the pooch here. Cejudo is basically only going to return for a featherweight title shot and the UFC flat out refuses to do so. That is idiotic. There isn’t a real clear-cut contender at 145 right now (see above) and it would be a legitimately cool thing to see Cejudo try and become “Quadruple C.” But once again the UFC’s embargo on fun rears its ugly head.

Conor McGregor

Do you need an extra $20? Probably not but you aren’t going to turn it down if it’s being offered. One thing I’ve come to learn in this life is that it doesn’t matter how much money someone has, they always want more. Does the UFC “need” Conor? No. In fact, given their ESPN PPV deal and the vast amounts of cheap labor they can harvest from the Contender Series, they’ve never needed any stars less than at this particular moment. But the fact is they can make more money with him and at the end of the day, everyone is in service of the almighty dollar.

El Fin

I have nothing left to prove. Enjoy the weekend!

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.