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Hot Tweets: Edmen Shahbazyan’s loss and the EA UFC 4 fighter rankings

This past week, Edmen Shahbazyan ran into a wall named Derek Brunson, the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Georges St-Pierre superfight picked up more steam, and EA Sports announced its fighter rankings for EA UFC 4. So without further lily-gilding and no more ado, let’s dive into it.

Edmen Shahbazyan

I do not.

In a grand sense, allowing any 22-year-old to fight top-10 opposition is probably a bad idea. Even if they can excel, from a talent development standpoint, every person under the age of 25 should be fighting five or six times a year against a lower level of opposition. The thing young fighters need more than any other is experience and cage time. Letting a prospect go put in 15 minutes against overmatched opposition gets a bad rap from fans and fighters – “He HaSn’T fOuGhT aNyOnE. CaN cRuShEr!” – but it’s actually the best way to let young fighters get meaningful reps and learn their own strengths and weaknesses in a live environment. Sparring and fighting are not the same thing, especially when you spar the same people over and over again. Fighters don’t just perform endless rematches with the same three opponents. Getting real rounds in against a variety of opposition is an incredibly effective development tool, and it’s what leads to well-rounded, honest-to-god fighters like Jorge Masvidal.

That being said, the UFC is under no onus to develop fighters. Its job is to develop stars, and a simple way to do so is to have a very young person excel, because that’s an easy marketing push. In all but a very few cases, the UFC has very linear strategy of growth for a fighter. Sure, they usually don’t give a prospect a title shot after a few wins, but they are also happy to throw talented fighters into the deep end. If they swim, great! If they sink, back to the shallow end. Giving Edmen Shahbazyan to Derek Brunson was perfectly in line with the UFC’s M.O. and completely fine. It’s to Shahbazyan’s team to pull the reigns back on their fighter. But sadly, very few camps in MMA ever truly look out for their athlete’s well-being.

A final note on this topic: This is all moot, as well, because Derek Brunson was not a bridge too far for Shahbazyan. Yes, Brunson won, but Shahbazyan acquitted himself well in the beginning. He just hit a wall. Perhaps he gassed because the moment was too big for him, or because he took Brunson lightly. Regardless, Shahbazyan was tested against a battle-hardened top middleweight and came up wanting, but viable. There is a lot to build off of for the young prospect. Now if he’d just think about getting with another team . . .

Michael Chandler’s next move

Last week, I’d have said Bellator, 100 percent. And while I still think the most obvious spot for Michael Chandler to land after his contract is up is back with Scott Coker, I’m far less confident than I once was.

Earlier this week, Chandler was candid about his intention to truly test free agency this time around, and that raises some interesting possibilities. So let’s break down the possibilities.

The UFC: The worldwide leader in MMA is always the frontrunner for any free-agent signing as they have the most money and biggest platform to offer. However, in this instance, I don’t see them having much interest. Sure, if they can get Chandler for a cheap deal, why not add him, if for no other reason than sticking it to Scott Coker. But Chandler is 34 years old, and the best part of his career is behind him. He competes in the UFC’s deepest and best division, and he’s never been a major draw. Eddie Alvarez was a star when the UFC signed him and had one of the best resumes in the sport. Michael Chandler is just another guy at 155 for the UFC.

ONE Championship: Chandler listed ONE Championship as a possible landing spot, specifically citing the potential for a trilogy fight with the aforementioned Eddie Alvarez. In concept, this might make sense, but Chandler is going to have a big asking price, and rumor has it ONE is in financial trouble. Honestly, it would make more sense if Chandler stuck around Bellator and they co-promoted something with ONE.

PFL: Now this is the real wild card. PFL is in a bad way right now, with fighters demanding to be released due to a delay in promotion from the coronavirus pandmic. Their own featherweight champion is currently going scorched earth on them, but if PFL decides to come back this year, maybe they can entice Chandler over and throw him and Lance Palmer together.

Bellator: In the end, Chandler is most likely to return from whence he came. Bellator has invested a considerable amount of resources into Chandler, and letting him walk away, even on the back-nine of his career, would be a mistake. He and Patricio Freire are the poster boys of the organization, and Scott Coker has always been a loyal guy. Chandler will probably get paid more than he’s actually worth, but will ultimately stick around Bellator, and we’ll likely see him take on a more prominent role with commentary and analysis.

The MMA Metagame

The short answer is, it depends on where the MMA metagame is at any given point in time. The better answer is, specialists who also possess all the tools.

At the top of MMA, techniques and trends cycle through fairly consistently. At first, MMA was dominated by BJJ guys. Then, wrestlers learned to avoid submissions and became the dominant archetype. Following that, strikers learned how to counter-wrestle. Then, jack-of-all-trades began wrestling the strikers and boxing the grapplers, and so on, and so on. As each iteration comes to prominence, the tide of skill continues to rise. You cannot be a specialist in one tier – you have to be great at everything. Currently, most top-tier fighters are great at everything and elite at one thing. In other words, they are considered specialists. Soon enough though, the pendulum swings back, and you’ll have more five-tool-players taking over the top spots. It all moves in cycles.

However, on a large enough scale, I think you would find that specialists do better than jack-of-all-trades, at least, once you get to the upper echelon of fighting. My thinking here is that at the peak of the sport, you are better off having a decided preference, because the margins are so small, slight edges lead to major results and having “a thing” removes choice and opportunity. Essentially, instead of having to exhaustively cover every minute variation of every position in every phase of fighting, you can limit training to the spots you know you want to be in and how to create those opportunities. There’s only so much time in a life to prepare for the myriad possibilities in fighting, so knowing one thing so deep in your bones you can’t un-know it feels like an advantage.

Take Khabib. Remember above when I was saying that sparring and fighting aren’t the same because you spar the same guys over and over again? Well Khabib has 28 fights in his career, but really he’s only had one fight in his career – it’s just happened 28 times. In every single fight of his, Khabib is facing the same battle: This man does not want to be taken down, and I want to take him down. Think of the worlds of advantage that gives him. He can put all of his focus and energy into one battle and how to win it, and that focus is backed by a lifetime of experience fighting that same fight. Conversely, Conor McGregor has fought many opponents with many different objectives. He can spend an entire training camp focused on stopping Khabib, but what is that in comparison to a lifetime? It’s a drop in the ocean, and we saw Khabib take Conor into that ocean and drown him. To paraphrase Bane, “You adopted the grappling. Khabib was born in it. Molded by it. Khabib didn’t see striking until he was already a man, and by then, it was blinding.”

Or, in simpler terms, Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Speaking of Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib wins, probably fairly easily, and it does 2 million PPV buys.

The weight for this bout doesn’t really matter. Khabib and Georges St-Pierre are roughly the same size, so whatever weight they choose to cut to is irrelevant. Honestly, I’d prefer if they held this fight without a weight class, just for the sake of it, but I expect when it happens it will be at lightweight.

As for the fight itself, in his prime, GSP would present some difficult problems for Khabib. His jab can maintain distance and he has incredibly strong hips. The problem is, Khabib’s wrestling doesn’t much give a shit about your hips. Plenty of people have sprawled on Khabib, and how did that work out for them? Khabib is not really a shot-wrestler. He has a lightning quick shot, because he’s one of the best athletes in the sport, but that’s really just about him getting his hands on you. Khabib’s wrestling isn’t about getting to the hips, it’s about touching you. Then once he does, he never lets go. GSP has good hips and is a good wrestler, but when Khabib gets a hand on him, he’s going to muscle him in the clinch and against the fence like Johny Hendricks did, only Khabib is a VASTLY better control grappler than Hendricks was.

Where GSP could be successful though is in taking Khabib down. I have long believed that instead of standing with Khabib, the best avenue to victory would be in taking him down and making him work off his back. Now, this runs the risk of letting Khabib touch you, which is a really bad idea, but once again, it would be changing the dynamic of the fight for Khabib. Instead of him fighting the same bout he has his entire life, now he’d be competing in a different kind of contest. GSP is a good enough wrestler to take Khabib down and control him from on top. That’s the aspect of this fight I’d find fascinating.

As for pay-per-view sales, GSP is one of the biggest stars ever, and Khabib is the second-biggest star in the sport. If the selling point is arguably the greatest two fighters of all time competing in their last fights ever for the title of actual GOAT of MMA, that thing is going to sell enormously. Get Conor McGregor as the referee, and it would break 3 million PPV buys. But even without that, it’s clearing 2 million easily.


Apparently, people are upset by some of these. To those people I say, “I don’t want to yuck your yum. If you like being up in arms about stuff, more power to you. But just so you know, if you let stuff like this bother you, you will be bother by things for your entire life.” EA has historically been really bad at this stuff – remember when they gave Conor McGregor better grappling than BJJ world champion Gilbert Burns? – but honestly, this year’s crop doesn’t even seem that bad.

Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko are five-stars, no doubt about it. Same for Jon Jones and Khabib. I would also have added GSP – assuming we’re talking about peak GSP – and Kamaru Usman to that list. But really, that’s a pretty minor infraction. As far as I can tell, there are only a few head-scratching decisions in the top-50:

  • Jorge Masvidal at No. 14. C’mon. I love Masvidal, but having him ahead of Daniel Cormier, Justin Gaethje, Cris Cyborg, and Tony Ferguson? That’s a “we can’t have our cover athlete be 27” choice.
  • I was stunned to see T.J. Dillashaw at 14. I recognize the game doesn’t have USADA suspensions, but still, you could’ve dropped him down to a four-star easily.
  • The gulf between Stipe and DC is puzzling.
  • I was absolutely flabbergasted by Conor only being 20. I mean, that’s probably pretty true but wow. Never would have guessed.
  • Yoel Romero should obviously be number one overall.

Ultimately, ranking all the fighters in the UFC is a nearly impossible task. Sit down and try it. If you are genuinely trying to factor in everything and give it your best go, I think you’d lose your mind very quickly. There’s just so much to account for. EA UFC’s rankings aren’t perfect, but they seem to be an honest attempt at it, so it’s tough for me to fault them. Not let’s hope they’ve finally found a way to make grappling not suck.

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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