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Hot Tweets: Discussing various outcomes of Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal, plus, FIGHT ISLAND

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Tonight, the UFC begins its four-event foray on ‘Fight Island’ when UFC 251 takes place in Abu Dhabi. In the main event, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman defends his title against short-notice replacement, and BMF champion Jorge Masvidal. So let’s talk about the welterweight title fight implications, and the start of the UFC’s own Kumite.

What if Masvidal wins?

The most interesting question coming into UFC 251 is quite simply: what if Masvidal wins?

Dana White is often quick to say that the reason the UFC dominates MMA is because it’s a meritocracy where the best always fight the best, but in recent years, that notion has become more blatantly false. Nowadays, to borrow a phrase from Pirates of the Caribbean, currency is the currency of the realm. The most important aspect for any fighter getting a title shot now is the ability to draw fan interest. Conor McGregor is a hell of a fighter, but the man is on the precipice of a lightweight title shot despite having a 1-1 record in the division and having been completely throttled by the current champion. Unless, of course, Masvidal wins at UFC 251. Then McGregor will have a welterweight title shot instead.

For Masvidal, the lay of the land is simple: he’s a 35-year-old fighter with an enormous amount of mileage on him who only recently became a star. His window to cash in is incredibly small. If he wins the welterweight title and becomes one of the biggest stars in the UFC and then defends against Leon Edwards or Gilbert Burns, that should be considered promotional malpractice.

Look, at this point we’re all used to divisions being in total meritocratic disarray, so why not add one more to the throng? While a rematch between Masvidal and Diaz holds little interest for me given the texture of their first bout, a matchup between Conor and Masvidal would be quite fascinating. For one, Masvidal is probably one of the few top welterweights Conor could actually beat and secondly, it’s a vastly better use of our collective time than watching Khabib emasculate Conor for a second time. Plus, if Conor does win, then the entire MMA world gets to spend he next ten years debating if a man who obviously and objectively not even sort of the GOAT is the GOAT because he won three belts. Good times will be had by all.

And if Usman defends?

Without a doubt? No. Burns’ title shot was as much about circumstance as it was him having a bullet-proof claim for a shot. That being said, Burns will still have the inside track for the next crack at Usman, should “The Nigerian Nightmare” retain his belt.

The biggest impediment I can see to Burns reclaiming his shot is a controversial win for the champion. Let’s says Usman wins a narrow split decision at UFC 251. Coming out of the event, all of the talk would be about Masvidal and how, on just six days’ notice, he arguably should have won the title. Assuming this event does the numbers it seems to be trending towards, in that scenario, I have little doubt that the UFC would set up a proper rematch between the two, with a full promotional build as well.

The other major impediment for Burns would be an injury to Usman. If the champion wins the title, but suffers some kind of injury that requires him to sit out for an extended break, I imagine the UFC would go ahead and set up a Gilbert Burns-Leon Edwards number one contender bout.

Outside of those two scenarios though, I do imagine Burns will still get his title shot. For one, the UFC likes to reward company men, and Burns said yes to the title shot when the UFC was originally negotiating with Masvidal. They’ll pay that forward if it is easy to do so. And for another, there isn’t another clear-cut contender. Leon Edwards is deserving but he’s most well-known for getting pieced up by Masvidal backstage; no one outside of his immediate family is clamoring for an Edwards title shot. The only other possible upstart would be Conor McGregor, who is not going to volunteer to get his ass beat by a champion as bland as Kamaru Usman.

So congratulations Gilbert Burns, you’re still in the driver’s seat.

What about the BMF title?

Well, Dana White has already explicitly said that the BMF title is not up for grabs on Saturday, so in a very direct sense, no, it won’t be won or lost. However, in a more metaphorical sense, I think the minute the cage door closes at UFC 251, the BMF title is vacated. The fun of something like the BMF title is that it isn’t just a regular belt. Having it functionally unify with the welterweight title would be about the least BMF thing that could happen to the fictional title.

As it’s not my belt, it’s hard for me to feel to confident placing many restrictions or guidelines around the BMF title but to me, there would be three key factors to the title:

  1. The BMF champion can never be a current UFC divisional champion.
  2. BMF title fights should only be announced a maximum of six weeks before the bout.
  3. There is only one belt and that belt passes from individual to individual. There are no replicas.

You could certainly add more rules if you’d like (perhaps an imperative to finish the bout) but to me, those three rules get to the heart of what was fun and interesting about the belt when Nate Diaz birthed it into existence: it was unique, interesting, and indicative of some other, more basic aspect of fighting that is worthy of recognizing.

So given those parameters, Jorge Masvidal relinquishes his title on Saturday and the belt either reverts to Nate Diaz, or is now vacant and the internet needs to find a new out to crown the champion.

Trevor Wittman

One of the reasons I’m so confident in Usman winning this weekend is that he’s been working with Trevor Wittman, who may well be the best coach in the game at this moment. Wittman has been a phenomenal coach (and the best MMA cornerman) for a long time and it’s great to see him get his due now. That being said, I don’t know if he’ll be Coach of the Year if Usman wins, but he will definitely be in the conversation. Now, if Usman wins AND Justin Gaethje beats Khabib Nurmagomedov later this year, Wittman has it locked up.

Mike Perry

I don’t want to get too in the weeds on Perry’s actions that came to light this week. Suffice it to say, it’s abundantly obvious to anyone with an ounce of reason that professional fighters should not go around and assault citizens. That being said, to expect the UFC to release Mike Perry is outrageously naive.

To borrow another phrase from Pirates of the Caribbean, the UFC Athlete Code of Conduct is more guidelines than actual rules. In any situation like this, the UFC will largely hit the same notes: issues a statement, enact some pro forma punishment (counseling, canceling a fight), and then never address the matter again. Perry’s situation will be no different. They’ve already done the first two and that’s probably the last we’ll hear about this situation until Mike Perry fights again at he end of the year.

And that’s a shame because there are some legitimate warning signs that Mike Perry is not just a hothead but is in actual need of intervention and assistance. At the end of the day, MMA is a sport where fighters take a large amount of sustained and repeated head trauma and it feels like very few people involved in the sport give more than a cursory consideration to the long and short-term health consequences of it.

I hope Mike Perry gets the help he needs.

Fight Island

So, it’s finally here. Fight Island has arrived and for the next 15 days, the UFC will host four fight cards. But then, on July 26, they’re going to pack up and go home, and Fight Island will, ostensibly, be no more.

But what if it wasn’t? What if the UFC had actually purchased an island for fights instead of having the UAE just finance a brace of shows for them? If the UFC had done that and then bounced, here are the three fighters I’d want to be stuck on the island with me:

1. Valentina Shevchenko

There’s a non-zero chance “Bullet” is actually a BlackOps mercenary in her spare time. Not a Call of Duty player but a legitimate, paramilitary commando. She could take control of the situation and keep us alive while we’re stranded on this island, plus she doesn’t have wildly abhorrent personal views like some other people who might fill a similar role.

2. Francis Ngannou

Have you heard his story? The man struggled through hardship few ever do and raised himself up to be a future heavyweight champion of the world. And he’s a delightful personality! He’s the exact type of spirit you want to have with you when stranded on a desert island, especially because he can just knock trees down by uppercutting them out of the ground so we can build a shelter. Plus, who wouldn’t want to have “The Predator” with them in an island jungle setting?

3. Stephen Thompson

Dude is just the nicest guy in the world. He’d bring a great energy to the whole place and keep things as upbeat as possible. Also, as I would quite obviously be the millstone around everyone’s neck in this situation, Wonderboy would be the one to talk Shevchenko out of killing the “dead weight.” Plus, c’mon, there’s something poetic about having a karate guy on a desert island, kicking trees all day.

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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