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Hot Tweets: The UFC’s final trip to Fight Island and the state of the middleweight and lightweight divisions

Robert Whittaker and Darren Till
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

This weekend, the UFC finishes its first foray to Fight Island. A lot has happened n the previous three events and tonight’s card could have long-standing ramifications for several of the top contenders. Let’s discuss the state of the UFC’s middleweight division as well as offer brief word on Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The middleweight division

The UFC’s middleweight division is in an interesting state. They have a newly crowned champion who is highly marketable and one obvious contender who is now set up for the next title shot, but after that, there is a noticeable lack of definition. Here is how I see it breaking down:

If Till beats Whittaker tonight, he will almost certainly receive the next title shot and that is more a function of his name value than his record. Till is a good fighter but even with a Whittaker win, he’s only 2-0 at middleweight and had just lost two in a row at welterweight, but to quote Max Holloway, it is what it is.

If Whittaker wins tonight, then things depend on the middleweight title fight. If Adesanya retains, I don’t see Whittaker getting a rematch off of one win. The way Izzy beat him means it would be a tough sell to run a rematch back so soon. But if Costa wins, I think Whittaker would get the next title shot.

So, if Adesanya and Whittaker both win, how do things shake out? At that point we probably are in a spot where Jack Hermansson and Jared Cannonier need to fight in a No. 1 contender bout. It’s feasible that the UFC would just pick one of them to give a title shot to, but neither has a huge name at this point and a contender bout would give them time to keep building up Adesanya.

Or hell, they might just give Conor McGregor a title shot.

The tragic end of MMA careers

The short answer: pretty damn sad.

First, I should clarify that these two fights are not really the same. Alexander Gustafsson vs. Fabricio Werdum definitely has tinges of “eh, that’s subpar” but it’s not in the same octagon as Shogun vs. Lil Nog.

Gustafsson’s last fight definitely does not inspire confidence but he’s still relatively young and moving up to a weight class where he may well do better than he previously did. And Werdum’s last fight was also bad but not because Werdum is a shot fighter, but because he came in fat and out of shape. If Werdum has taken this more seriously, Gus vs. Werdum could actually be decent and if not decent, is at least interesting.

Shogun-Little Nog III though, is nothing but a travesty.

On the one hand, I guess we need to be thankful that these two aren’t fighting anyone else. Lord knows they don’t need to be competing against elite light heavyweights and it’s incredibly depressing to watch the two old horses get put out to pasture by middling young talent. So there’s that. But more realistically, this fight shouldn’t be happening because neither of these men should be competing anymore. Shogun is 38 going on 50 and “minotouru” is 44 going on 107. There are no good outcomes here.

The tragic end of Joseph Benavidez

I’m pretty sure Ian McCall gets to claim the title of unluckiest person in MMA as there was a five year stretch there where all evidence pointed to him being actually cursed by an angry witch. But after him, Benavidez is up there.

Let’s get this out of the way, Benavidez is definitely not a choke artist. He never shat the bed in a big fight. In his first title fight against Dominick Cruz, he comported himself well but it came early in his career, he had a difficult physical gulf to overcome, and he was not nearly the striker he developed into. That was just a tough ask at the time.

Then, when he first challenged for the flyweight title, Benavidez arguably won. He gave Demetrious Johnson all he could handle for five rounds and came up just short on two judges’ scorecards. Different people at ringside on that night may well have led to him claiming the title in his first go-around.

His next title shot, is maybe the closest you could call to a choke job but really, he just got caught clean with a dynamite right hand by the best fighter in the world at the time. Could happen to anyone. Then his two fights with Deiveson Figueiredo weren’t choke jobs, he’s just well past his prime. The first one, honestly, he may have been able to win anyway because Figueiredo did appear to be slowing before the headbutt, but this most recent one left no doubts. At this point in time, Joe B is just not as good a fighter as he once was.

So again, he’s not a choke artist. He happened to compete at the same time as one of the five best fighters ever, and arguably the best of them all. Even given that, he was a hair’s breadth away from claiming the belt. Sometimes you give everything you have, leave no stone un-turned, and still come up wanting. That’s the unfortunate career of Joseph Benavidez.

Jon Jones at heavyweight

If DC beats Stipe, all hell is going to break loose in the heavyweight division. I don’t believe Stipe will retire, win or lose, after UFC 252 and Francis Ngannou has an ironclad claim to a title shot, so I guess they could just run Stipe-Ngannou II for the vacant belt. It won’t be satisfying for fans but I’m not sure there is another option. It would certainly be hard to justify giving two other people title shots over him because if they don’t plug Stipe back into the picture, then who would get it? Is Ngannou vs. Curtis Blaydes III really the vacant title fight the UFC is looking for?

No, it isn’t. Which is why, if Cormier wins at UFC 252, I think the UFC backs up the Brink’s truck and coerces Cormier back for one more fight with Jon Jones at heavyweight. That would serve two functions: one, it’s among the biggest fights the UFC can put together two, it gets Jones out of 205 and opens up that division for the other contenders. In the meantime, they can have Stipe rematch Ngannou for an interim belt and then the winner fights Jones once he is crowned heavyweight champion. That way the UFC has kept the heavyweight title in play the whole time, created a number of top-shelf fights, and ultimately given Jones another belt. It’s a win-win-win.

The lightweight division

There is a zero percent chance the UFC is going to strip Khabib Nurmagomedov of the lightweight title. Aside from it being one of the most idiotic and impossible PR nightmares in recent sporting history, it would just be dumb. Khabib does not mean something because he holds the lightweight belt, the lightweight belt means something because Khabib holds it. If you stripped him tomorrow, everyone in the world would know who the true best 155er is and all you would be doing is delegitamizing your own title. Of all the “paper champions” in UFC history, whoever was gifted the lightweight belt by virtue of Khabib getting stripped would be the paperiest. Unless Khabib sits out for like two years, there is no world in which he will be stripped.

However, if Khabib does wish to take an extended period of time off, what the UFC should do is an interesting question. They already have an interim champion and they have had interim champions defend belts before (Renan Barao when Dominick Cruz’s knees were perpetually exploded) but I have a feeling Justin Gaethje would be less than interested in taking any other fight besides Khabib at this point. Perhaps they can cajole Gaethje if Khabib flat out says he wants to take another year off or something but otherwise, even the lure of a Conor McGregor payday likely pales in comparison to being the guy to hand Khabib his first loss. Gaethje wants to prove he’s the best in the world and, again, you don’t do that by holding a UFC title, you do it by beating Khabib.

So in the end, we’re all likely in for a bit of a wait when it comes to the lightweight title, and that is fine. Many things in life are bigger than sport and the death of a loved one is certainly that. Khabib Nurmagomedov is quite possibly the greatest fighter of all time and he’s earned the right to have us wait. Because everyone should be able to agree that what no one wants to see is Khabib rush himself back and not be himself. Gaethje beating a diminished Nurmagomedov would lessen the enormity of the accomplishment and no one should want to see that.

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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