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Hot Tweets: Fight of the Year, Yoel Romero heading to Bellator, and the UFC champs in 2021

UFC 256: Figueiredo v Moreno
Deiveson Figueiredo
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Well everyone, we did it. We’ve made it to the final fight weekend of 2020 (well, for the UFC anyway, I know Rizin is doing their traditional New Year’s Eve card) and so too will this be the final Hot Tweets of 2020. With the year winding down, and the first break of UFC events in what feels like a lifetime soon to hit us, there aren’t any hugely important topics to address so let’s close out the year with a smattering of random questions covering a lot of different ground.

Fight of the Year

With the year nearly over, you all can expect to see a lot of year-end awards columns over the next few days and, unlike most years, I think there is going to be a good amount of dissension with the winners. There are reasonable cases to be made for a number of people for Fighter of the Year, Knockout of the Year, and Submission of the Year, but for me, the one category that is unquestionable is Fight of the Year.

The best fight of the year took place in March when Zhang Weili defended her strawweight title against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (ironically, it immediately preceded the worst fight of the year, Adesanya-Romero). That fight is one of the five greatest fights of all-time and easily my choice for the greatest women’s fight of all-time. As far as I was concerned, barring a miracle, they had locked up the FOTY award just a few months into 2020. And though Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno was a very good fight, it wasn’t quite a miracle.

One of the major faults with year-end awards is that recency bias inevitably skews year-end discussions. It’s hard to remember just how great a fight was that happened eight months ago, especially when immediately afterwards, there was a global pandemic that made the remainder of the year feel like an eternity. If the fights were reversed, this wouldn’t even be a discussion but instead, there is at least the talking point, even though I doubt it will come to much.

However, I’m not even 100 percent sure Figueiredo-Moreno is the second-best fight of the year. It’s certainly in the running, but I think there are legitimate cases to be made for a number of other fights over it. Gaethje vs. Ferguson was awesome, as was Poirier vs. Hooker. The problem with Figgy Smalls and Moreno, if we’re picking nits, is that the fifth round was a definite letdown and though the draw felt like a just outcome for such a fight, there is still a little bit taken off by the fact that a point deduction played such a major role. Figueiredo-Moreno is no doubt a great fight, but I think it’s one of those that won’t age as well as we remember it.

That being said, whether it’s recency bias or deserved, I do have Figueiredo-Moreno as second in my year-end rankings and expect it to ultimately finish up that way, but check out MMA Fighting next week to find out for sure.

Khamzat Chimaev

Speaking of year-end awards, let’s address my choice for this year’s Breakout Fighter of the Year, Khamzat Chimaev.

I actually don’t think Chimaev is going to end up winning this award because of Kevin Holland’s run in 2020 culminating in his KO of the Year contender against Jacare Souza last weekend. But as impressive as Holland’s 2020 was, Khamzat is still my choice for Breakout Fighter of the Year because when I look back on this year, it’s Khamzat who has gained the most ground. I mean, from a pure numbers standpoint, Chimaev was basically unknown in June and by the end of the year he’s fighting the number three contender in one of the UFC’s marquee divisions, very likely for a title shot. Undeniably, Kevin Holland has a better in-cage year than Chimaev did, but nobody, save maybe Deiveson Figueiredo, elevated themselves more this year than “Borz” did.

And the best part about that, is we still have no idea how good this guy is! It’s commonplace now for other welterweights and middleweights to say it, but it makes it no less true, Chimaev hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet in his UFC run. John Phillips was 1-3 in the UFC when he faced Chimaev (and has since lost another one), Rhys McKee was making his UFC debut (and has since lost another fight in the organization), and Gerald Meerschaert is... well, he’s Gerald Meerschaert. As impressive as those wins looked, none of them told us anything truly substantive about Chimaev other than he is clearly a potent offensive fighter. But now Borz is going from that to facing Leon Edwards which is a bit like throwing a great high school power hitter in against Clayton Kershaw. Maybe he really is a wunderkind and if so, we’re about to find out, but otherwise, it’ll be back to the drawing board and a realistic progression schedule for Chimaev.

As far as where Chimaev actually lands, again it’s hard to say given how little we’ve actually seen him against good talent. But having seen all his earlier fights, I venture to say he is currently a top-10 fighter with all the potential in the world to win the belt one day. My main question for him is how he handles adversity, because at the very top levels of the sport, opponents are schooled to deny you your favorite attacks. You have to be able to adapt and work through problems that may occur or you may not have trained for and we haven’t seen Chimaev even remotely have to deal with that. Luckily, I suspect we’ll get to see just that in his next bout, and that will tell us a great deal about where Chimaev is going to end up.

Yoel Romero to Bellator

Honestly, I’ve been mulling this over since it happened and I just can’t come up with a good reason other than initially they wanted to drive his price down. When Coker first shot down the idea it made no sense to me as, unlike other fighters, this wasn’t snagging some castoff in his golden years. Romero is still a top-5 middleweight right now! But perhaps it is as simple as that. Maybe Coker just reflexively shot down the idea because they want to move away from the UFC castoff stereotype and then, upon further consideration, he realized that was dumb in this instance.

Either way, I’m just glad Romero landed in Bellator because there are about 12 different fights I want to see him have over there, including his inevitable battle with Vadim Nemkov.

Speaking of Bellator . . .

Bellator has put a lot of time and energy into developing their own talent and while not every one of those fighters has been a hit, I think you’re seeing a decent amount of them pay off. A.J. McKee is the best prospect in MMA right now and could 100 percent become the best featherweight in the world one day. Given that, Coker has really been putting an emphasis on being a place where talent can grow and not just a retirement organization for MMA’s elder statesmen.

The question, as always for Bellator, is whether they’ll be able to retain their talent. Michael Chandler is as synonymous with the Bellator brand as you can get and ultimately, even he left the organization to try his hand in the UFC. Can we really expect guys like McKee to not do the same? I think it’s an uphill battle.

Unless, of course, the Ali Act does come to MMA. If that comes to pass, the game is going to change very quickly, and Scott Coker and company are going to be afforded a huge opportunity to eat into the UFC’s market share. And frankly, I think that day is coming in the not too distant future. Just think this out, there is no real reason why the Ali Act should exist for boxing and not for MMA, and since there’s no way in hell it’s going to leave boxing, that leaves only one logical endpoint. So if that happens in the next five years, then things will get very weird indeed.

Kevin Lee

As a low-end top-10 lightweight.

Kevin Lee has always been a guy with an immense amount of talent but an inability to capitalize on that talent in the biggest moments. As such, he’s still an elite lightweight but he’s not getting a title shot anytime soon if he continues doing what he’s doing. Kevin Lee needs a sports psychologist, and to find the right coach to maximize him. Not just a good coach, which I know he has now with Firas Zahabi, but that lightning-in-a-bottle pairing that creates later career magic for a fighter. Think Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Cordeiro or Michael Bisping and Jason Parillo. Kevin Lee is far more talented than either of those fighters and could absolutely turn his career around to being a truly great lightweight if he can surround himself with the right people, get his head straight, and maybe catch a lucky break or two.

Bad Fight Promotion

Waffle House at 2 a.m., no question.

Back in the day, Walmart Black Friday shoppers might have been a fun one just because you had people from every walk of life going crazy to get things on the cheap, but now everyone just Amazon’s stuff. They’ve lost their edge. And the people who refuse to wear masks would just suck because those people can’t fight. They’re softer than baby turds on a warm summer day. They’d wet themselves at the prospect of having to do anything other than hide behind a gun. But Waffle House? In the immortal words of Senator Clay Davis, sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit. The people throwing down drunkenly at a WaHo truly do not give a single f*ck. They could lose a shoe, have their pants fall down around their ankles, and be puking into a gutter, and they’ll still stand up between wretches to throw them bows. Drunken, post-downtown Waffle House visits are where I’ve seen some of the best brawls. Especially because afterwards you can get an All-Star breakfast for 7 bucks. That’s culture you can’t beat.

The lightweight champion this time next year

This is a great question because it’s one I devote an inordinate amount of time to already. At the end of every year, I like to take an assessment of the previous year as a whole for each division and attempt to predict what it will look like at the end of the upcoming year, and for this year, no division is more interesting than the lightweight division, which is a pretty big change from the last few years.

If Khabib had not retired after UFC 254, I would have said Khabib without any hesitation whatsoever. He’s very clearly the best lightweight in the world, and ever. There isn’t a man at 155 alive who can beat him and frankly, I’m pretty skeptical about any 170 pounder doing it too. But I am firmly of the belief that Khabib is truly done with MMA, meaning the lightweight division is now open for business. So here’s how I think it plays out:

Dustin and Conor fight in January, and after Dana speaks with Khabib and realizes he can’t get him to come back, that bout becomes for an interim title, in the last desperate hope of Dana to get Khabib back. Conor wins the title and immediately calls for Khabib. Khabib stays retired, Conor is promoted to undisputed champion and then spends the majority of 2021 not fighting. Meanwhile, Gaethje beats Michael Chandler in the spring and then, he faces Charles Oliveira for an interim belt while Conor is off shooting a movie or something. Then, in December, Conor fights Gaethje for the undisputed lightweight title and Gaethje wins it.

The one major wrinkle I see in this is that Oliveira has a real shot to get the title, if only he can avoid the Gaethje match. Gaethje’s defensive wrestling won’t give Do Bronx too many chances to get him down, and unlike Khabib, Oliveira isn’t going to be able to pressure Gaethje with reckless abandon. It’s just a bad matchup for him. But outside of Gaethje, I really like how Oliveira matches up with the rest of the top end of lightweight. Still, I unless Poirier beats Conor, I think he’s going to need one more win before fighting for the belt, and that means, more likely than not, he has to fight Gaethje.

Now, as a bonus, I’ll end with my predictions for all the UFC champs at the end of 2021, with 0 explanation.

115: Zhang Weili

W125: Valentina Shevchenko

M125: Deiveson Figueiredo

W135: Amanda Nunes

M135: Aljamain Sterling

W145: Disbanded

M145: Alexander Volkanovski

155: See above.

170: Leon Edwards

185: Kevin Holland

205: Israel Adesanya

Havyweight: Francis Ngannou

Post yours in the comments section, and everyone have some happy holidays. See y’all in 2021!

Thanks for reading this week, especially those of you who sent in Tweets!

Do you have any burning questions about stuff 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. We make no judgments here. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.

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