UFC 252 goes down tonight, and though there is a lot of excellent action on the card, the headlines have been dominated by two topics: whether the main even winner will be the heavyweight GOAT and Mr. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley. So let’s discuss the impending fallout from UFC 252 as well as the recently announced flyweight title fight between Deiveson Figueiredo and Cody Garbrandt.
UFC 252: Finding the GOAT
if DC convincingly beats Stipe this weekend (and doesn't retire), how much more would he need to do to be in GOAT heavyweight consideration?— Eric Stinton (@TombstoneStint) August 12, 2020
As with all things, the answer depends. Fortunately, in this instance, what it depends on is pretty simple: are we living in reality or in the land of hot takes?
In reality, Daniel Cormier can never be in the heavyweight greatest of all time conversation. Cormier is a phenomenal fighter and one of the 10 best ever to set foot in a cage, regardless of weight class. But to call him the heavyweight GOAT is to completely divest oneself from reason. Though Cormier has spent the majority of his career at heavyweight, the vast majority of his accomplishments and great wins are at light heavyweight. By my count, DC has six great heavyweight wins, and that’s stretching to include Derrick Lewis and Roy Nelson, who are good fighters but probably shouldn’t qualify as great wins. Leaving those two out, Cormier’s best heavyweight wins are Stipe Miocic, Josh Barnett, Antonio Silva, and Frank Mir. Even if Cormier comes out and colds Stipe in the rematch, that’s still just not a robust enough resume for heavyweight GOAT status (it’s not even really enough for UFC heavyweight GOAT status but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
However, if we’re living in the land of hot takes (a country I spend as much of my time as possible in and hope to retire to one day) then if DC beats Stipe again he will be the heavyweight GOAT, not just of the UFC but for all of MMA.
Consider if you would, B.J. Penn. My rational brain knows that Georges St-Pierre is pretty clearly the MMA GOAT. However, deep inn my soul I know that B.J. is the greatest fighter we’ve ever seen. This is not based off his record (which at this point is mediocre) but off the reverence his contemporaries had for him and the underlying assumption that Penn was actually the best lightweight in the world for nearly a decade, even though most of that time he spent bouncing around weight classes in pursuit of something larger. Cormier’s HW GOAT claim rests on very similar ground. Had DC had not dropped to 205 in consideration of his teammate Cain Velasquez, it is entirely possible, and even probable, that he would have put together by far the best run we’ve ever seen in this sport at heavyweight. But “would” isn’t “did” and Cormier never played those games so we’ll never know.
The reality is, Fedor Emelianenko is the HW GOAT. Now that’s not to say that if you put prime Fedor against prime Stipe/DC that Fedor wins. It’s just to say that Fedor’s wins and status during his prime are the greater than any other heavyweight, and I think this is pretty clear.
Being the GOAT is more than just the sum of your title defenses. GOAT status is an idea. A belief in the public consciousness that you are the very best. Stipe and DC have never had engendered that in widespread fashion, whereas Fedor did and does. I’m not here to dispute that Fedor had a number of unimportant wins, but the man also was the best heavyweight in the world for nearly a decade and neither DC nor Stipe can claim that. In short, Fedor is the standard by which all other heavyweights are judged and thus he is the GOAT. And no matter what the outcome this weekend, neither man will take that from him.
Daniel Cormier: double champ
How big of an asterisk is next to the words "two weight champion" after DCs name in the record books, considering that every serious person watching the UFC knew that the only reason he had the 205 lb belt was that Jones was suspended?— Mackleless inventor (@high_light) August 11, 2020
How does it stack up against McGregor, who never defended his titles but took his belts in devastating fashion from the previous owners? Or against Nunes, who beat both the defending champions and everyone who took a shot at her titles?— Mackleless inventor (@high_light) August 11, 2020
I believe there is zero asterisk next to the title of “champ-champ” for Cormier. DC has never been the best light heavyweight in the world, but he was the true and honest 205 champion because the best fighter to ever live is self-destructive.
Let’s be super clear here: the hit-and-run accident that Jones originally had his title stripped for has functionally been swept under the rug by now, but it is BAD. Jones allegedly ran a red light causing the accident, and then fled without even checking to see if the other party was okay. Aside from being an atrocious and cowardly thing to do, given what we now know about Jones’ issue with substance abuse, the are some pretty clear presumptions that can be made and Jones is incredibly lucky that the pregnant woman he hit, nor her baby, were seriously injured. In any other sport, Jones would’ve been suspended for at least a year. Instead, the UFC reinstated him in five months.
Now, as for the PED issues, I’m more lenient. I, personally, believe that USADA and the “War on PEDs” is a massive waste of time, energy, and resources and don’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s tail about popping for banned substances. That being said, even if you don’t agree with the rules, everyone knows them and you have to abide by them or suffer the consequences if you get caught. I don’t for one minute believe Jones’ pleas of innocence (both because he has not really proven to be a trustworthy character and because it would be incredibly coincidental for all of this to happen) but even if you do, it doesn’t change the facts on the ground. The scoreboard is the scoreboard and Jones was justly stripped and suspended. In short, you cannot blame Cormier because Jon Jones has a total inability to get his sh*t together.
Now, as far as ranking DC among the two-division champions in the sport, I do think you can dock him some points in that regard but the reality is, every two-weight champion in UFC history has a big black mark on their resume. Randy Couture, B.J. Penn, Conor McGregor, and Georges St-Pierre never defend belts in one of their divisions, one of Amanda Nunes’ divisions is not really a division, Henry Cejudo probably should’ve lost to Mighty Mouse and really, his flyweight defense was just against the bantamweight champion, and Cormier has the Jones albatross. So given all that, Cormier’s two-weight campaign actually stacks up fine. If I’m ranking two-weight champions I think it would look like this:
- B.J. Penn - No defenses at welterweight but the best wins in the best divisions in the sport.
- Randy Couture - But for the Vitor eyelid cut, he’d have been the first to defend belts in both divisions.
- Amanda Nunes - Even the women’s featherweight is non-existent, Cyborg is a big win.
- Conor McGregor - Similar to B.J. though his lack of a reign in either division hurts him.
- Daniel Cormier - Docked because of Jones and because HW is just a terrible division.
- Henry Cejudo - About as unimpressive as a two-weight champion can be
- GSP - The Bisping win while true on paper, is just incredibly hollow.
Of course, all of that is wildly debatable but I feel pretty good about that list and just making it on there is still incredibly impressive.
Is the UFC going to rush Sean O Malley to the top 10 guys if he beats Vera in spectacular fashion this Saturday despite Vera has never been finished in the UFC ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) August 12, 2020
100 percent. It doesn’t matter whether he styles on Marlon Vera or not, if O’Malley wins, he’s getting a top-10 guy next. Which is good because I find it hard to believe O’Malley is going to turn in a spectacular win here. He may beat Vera - he’s got the talent and attributes - but Vera is as game as they come and I struggle to see O’Malley starching him.
Either way though, if O’Malley wins, he’s getting the full push in part because some of what he says is true. O’Malley probably is the biggest star in the bantamweight division right now. No casual fan has any idea who Petr Yan is, and Aljamain Sterling is delightful but still isn’t getting the fans clamoring for him. O’Malley is the guy right now and the UFC is going to try and strike while the iron is hot and hope to get another Conor McGregor.
If O’Malley wins, I expect we’ll see him fight someone like Jimmie Rivera - another challenging but winnable fight for him, and one that would then set him up for a title eliminator next summer. And if O’Malley really shows out and stops Vera, then we could see him get pushed all the way to a fight with the winner of Marlon Moraes vs. Cory Sandhagen. (As an aside - O’Malley Sandhagen would be a friggin’ BANGER).
Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman
Who's handled their post championship career better, Weidman or Rockhold?— Liberté, égalité, anxiété (@MagpieMcGraw) August 12, 2020
Well, considering Luke Rockhold has basically never handled anything well, this is a pretty easy one: Chris Weidman.
Luke Rockhold is (was?) a great fighter but his personal choices have always left something to be desired. If somehow you don’t know what I mean, listen to any interview with him or go watch him on Millionaire Matchmaker. Rockhold is just that guy and somehow, despite getting starched IN IDENTICAL FASHION in three of his last four fights, Rockhold remains that guy. It’s just who he is. He seems wholly incapable of introspection, thus when he does return, he’s liable to get stretchered by yet another left hook.
Weidman, meanwhile, has been put into the unenviable position of having to come to terms with his own limitations, and while I don’t know that he’s been able to fully realize them, he at least recognized that there was an issue with him and didn’t put everything down to outside factors like injury and metal fatigue.
To put it simply: both men have a fatal flaw that has led to their recent failures. Weidman’s is that he’s not a good athlete and Rockhold is that he’s such a good athlete. The sad reality for Weidman is that his is a physical limitation that can’t truly be overcome, only mitigated. The tragic reality for Rockhold is that his can pretty easily be overcome by just abandoning his hubris but that will never, ever happen. Weidman will try and fail and Rockhold will never try in general, which makes them the perfect foils for one another.
Jeez, remember when it seemed like Weidman and Rockhold were going to have an epic trilogy of title fights and carry the middleweight division for years? Oh how foolish we all were.
Cody Garbrandt, flyweight contender
How ridiculous is it that garbrandt is getting a title shot in a weight class he’s never competed in going 1-3 in his last 4 fights?— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) August 11, 2020
It’s not ridiculous, it’s awesome. Look, in a meritocratic system, does Cody Garbrandt deserve a flyweight title shot? Of course not. But is this the fight the UFC should have made? Abso-friggin-lutely.
Outside of women’s featherweight, men’s flyweight is the bastard division of the UFC. They clearly do not care about it and, frankly, neither do the fans. However, the UFC is now in a position where their current flyweight champion, is pretty rad, both for hardcore fans and casual fans. Demetrious Johnson is arguably the greatest fighter ever, but he was mostly brilliant and rarely dope. Deiveson Figueiredo, on the other hand, is DOPE. Dude throws hammers and people get dropped. He’s the kind of thrillingly exciting fighter that fans could start to love but he needs marquee fights to get out there and, god love Brandon Moreno, no one knows who that man is. Figueiredo vs. Moreno is a fight 23 people in the world would care about and, if Moreno wins, would lose the very little momentum that the 125 division has right now.
Cody Garbrandt, however, now there’s a name. Garbrandt is the former bantamweight champion who already got a big push. If Figueiredo KOs Benavidez and then Garbrandt, now that is a foundation you can build a name on. And of course, if Garbrandt wins, then the UFC gets a star as champion, a star they’ve already sunk plenty of investment into. This is pure upside for the UFC.
Plus, and this is the most important part, it’s just fun! Who doesn’t want to see Cody Garbrandt get into a hook-throwing competition with Deiveson Figueiredo?! Are you telling me you didn’t enjoy Garbrandt-Dillashaw I and II, or Garbrandt Pedro Munhoz? Then you’re a liar. Garbrandt’s true destiny is to be the most fun action fighter at 135 and below. Just going in there and swinging with someone, kill or be killed. I can think of few more fun fights to make right now than locking the cage door behind Figueiredo and Garbrandt and just letting them throw bolos at one another until one man goes BOOM.
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tangentially 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.