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Hot Tweets: UFC on ESPN 12, Paige VanZant, and the next crop of UFC stars

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Another weekend, another UFC event taking place. Coronavirus cases may be on the rise in the United States but that’s not stopping the UFC and this weekend, one of the best fights of the year is taking place. Let’s talk about it plus, we dive into the ongoing struggles of the UFC in keeping their fighters happy (*cough* pay them *cough*).

Poirier vs. Hooker - what next?

I’d say that is the most likely outcome, yes.

The main event tonight is legitimately one of the most interesting fights of the year so far. The only downside is, as good a fight as it is, the winner is almost certainly not getting a title shot. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje are going to handle their business this fall, and despite Dana White’s repeated assertions that “Conor McGregor is retired,” once the lightweight title only has one owner, Conor is going to be right back in the title picture. A Khabib-Conor rematch is the biggest fight the UFC can put on right now, and a Gaethje-Conor fight is the most exciting, marketable fight in MMA history. Sorry Dan Hooker, but you’re going to need another win to get a title shot, even if you do beat arguably the second-best fighter in the division.

As for who will win, I genuinely don’t know and that’s why this is such a great fight. I’ve been of the belief that Poirier is the best lightweight not named Khabib since the Max Holloway win and him losing to Khabib doesn’t change that. However, Dan Hooker presents some real challenges to Poirier. His ability to dictate range and his low kicks are going to be a huge factor. It’ll be interesting to see how Poirier can overcome that. If I have to choose, I’ll say that Hooker comes out to an early lead but Poirier, aided by the smaller cage, is able to turn the fight into a close quarters and pull ahead to win via fifth-round stoppage.

Paige VanZant

ICYMI, PVZ said she intends to test free agency after her contract is up and that she makes more money on Instagram than in the UFC

First of all, yes. All fighters in the UFC deserve to be paid more and thus, all fighters in the UFC should be demanding more money. It’s very simple, the revenue split for fighters is shamefully low, and if you disagree, I don’t know what to tell you. Enjoy the taste of those boots, I guess.

But for VanZant specifically, she absolutely should be demanding more money. That’s the way the free market works. Your value is determined by what others are willing to pay for your services. If someone is willing to pay you more than you currently are making, that’s your worth. If your boss doesn’t think you’re worth it, he can let you walk away. Paige VanZant is in a rare position with the UFC where she has more leverage than most fighters: she can walk away from their offer. And frankly, she should. If you can make more money not taking head trauma, that’s the correct choice. Take that option until the people paying you to get bludgeoned are willing to make it financially reasonable.

And to your point about the UFC helping make VanZant famous to where she has the other options, that’s just constipated thinking. Is it technically true? Yes. The UFC provided PVZ with a platform and a push, but that’s also some real “fealty to the overlords” thinking. A handy tip for everyone here: people with more money and power than you in the work place are not your friends and you owe them nothing. When it’s all said and done, Paige will have made, if she’s lucky and smart, several million dollars in her career. And, to paraphrase a Chris Rock joke, if Dana White woke up tomorrow with Paige VanZant’s money instead of his own, he’d jump out a f*cking window.

Get paid, Paige.

The ongoing standoff with the UFC and its stars

Sure, but not like, a lot.

I’ve spoken about this here before but the UFC’s deal with ESPN provided them a great many things, the most important of which was financial security. The key factor is the UFC gets a set amount of money from PPV events based on the yearly average of all events, instead of the old system where the UFC’s per show revenue depended on buy-rate. This mean that they are substantially less reliant on individual stars and, so long as they don’t have an entire year of subpar PPVs, they will never be reliant on them again.

So given this, the UFC honestly probably doesn’t give a soft turn about Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal sitting out. They’re still doing more than okay with their revenue and ratings (especially given the dearth of competing sports right now) and they’ve got the bigger war chest. Would they prefer Jones and Masvidal to fight? Of course. Even under the new system, more buys is better, and it creates a stronger overall narrative of the company. But they aren’t going to pursue that at the expense of losing their massively leveraged position against the fighters. The UFC has and always will have the bigger war chest, and they’re almost always willing to play the long game.

Speaking of Masvidal

It’s hard to say but I lean towards yes.

The thing about Jorge Masvidal is he didn’t come out of nowhere, but his stardom did, and it’s hard to gauge what kind of staying power that has. And right now, it definitely feels closer to “flash in the pan” than “must-see TV anytime”. Some fighters can sit out forever and such is the nature of their stardom that is doesn’t matter (here’s looking at you Diaz brothers) but I’m just not sure Masvidal fits into that mold. Masvidal was in the public consciousness for a very brief moment and now he’s not, or if he is it’s for feuding with the UFC over money, something average sports fans tend to hate. Sure when Masvidal does come back they’ll run out the press tour for him but I think he may be hard-pressed to recapture that magic. After all, the UFC isn’t willing to pay him for a title fight despite it being CLEARLY the best option (Usman wins, he gets a bump, Masvidal wins, Conor vs. Masvidal for welterweight title - huge business), and as much as I may lambast the UFC for their crocodile arms, they definitely understand how their business works and which people are worth spending on.

The next UFC stars

Well, considering the way you phrased this, I’m assuming you’re already throwing Israel Adesanya into the “star” category. Because if not, he’s number one with a bullet. Izzy has a chance to be the third-biggest star in UFC history behind Conor and Ronda.

Outside of Izzy, I have three names but none of them are particularly daring. First is Maycee Barber. Barber has many issues with her maturity level and her camp but she’s a physical specimen in a division without many of those, she’s highly motivated, and she has the kind of personality that can attract headlines. The biggest impediments to her stardom are Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, two women she could never beat in 10 lifetimes.

Second, Edmen Shabazyan. This pick is almost entirely based on Shahbazyan being an awesome fighter and barely old enough to drink. He’s a happy-go-lucky dude and he may not have the superstar personality but there’s something to build on there.

Finally, this is sort of a cop out but Aljamain Sterling. Sterling already has a gimmick, he’s got personality for days, and oh yeah, he’s the best bantamweight on Earth. Sterling is going to win the title and then sell a number of defenses and becomes solidly marketable star at 135.

Whittaker vs. Till

Almost certainly. God love Jared Cannonier but the Crystal King is not getting a title shot off beating Jack Hermansson and then a year-long layoff due to a turn pec. Till is a guy the UFC already wants to invest in, and has a tremendous personality to match against Adesanya. That’s a no-brainer fight to make if Till can beat Bobby Knuckles.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

Does he have the ability to beat Khabib? Certainly. Will he? That’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

Given his wrestling background, his durability, his mental focus, and his power, Justin Gaethje probably presents the most difficult fight for Khabib at lightweight. That being said, I still think Khabib just kinda runs over him. He’s that damn good.

The problem for Gaethje in this fight is that his wrestling pedigree probably isn’t going to mean too much. This is not collegiate wrestling and Khabib is the best MMA wrestler ever. Period. Moreover, the way Khabib attacks has no precedent in collegiate MMA. All Khabib wants to do is get one hand on you and then drive you into the fence and work his series from there, attacking all levels and all angles.

Plus, we should mention the athletic disparity. It doesn’t get talked about but Khabib is probably the second best pure athlete in the sport, behind only Yoel Romero. That speed and power is a goddamn cheat code and all the preparation and skill can sommetimes still just cave to one dude being MORE than the other (see: Saint Preux, Ovince). Gaethje may well sprawl on Khabib in the middle, only to find himself just manhandled back to the cage anyway and there, Khabib is better.

Gaethje has tools, he’s a smart fighter, and we can’t count him out. But in the end, this fight boils down to one principle: Gaethje will try to keep the fight standing, and Khabib has spent his entire life fighting people who attempt to do just that. The only person who has ever succeeded is Gleison Tibau who is basically a building with arms. Everyone else has succumbed to the smash, and Gaethje will be no different.

Now, if Gaethje wanted to wrestle offensively, then we might be onto something . . .

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.

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