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Hot Tweets: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s conversation with Dana White and what to do with Max Holloway

Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Hello friends! With the UFC taking a break and the holiday season hitting, it’s been a while since we’ve done this but with the return of fights, so too returns Hot Tweets. A lot has been going on over the past few weeks so let’s hop right into it, starting with the biggest news in the sport, Dana White and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s will-he-won’t-he conversation.

Dana and Khabib

On Friday, Dana White had a private sitdown with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to discuss Khabib’s potential return to the sport after he announced his retirement following a victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. Then yesterday, White told ESPN that Khabib is open to coming back for another fight if one of the lightweights at UFC 257 “can do something special.” As of this moment, Khabib has not said anything about the nature of his talk with White so these are the facts we can work with but, to me, something seems amiss here.

In my opinion, this is an instance where Khabib has been pretty clear that he is retired and White is not hearing him because White can only see the dollar signs ahead of him and not the wishes of his fighter. Here’s why:

In White’s announcement, he said that one of the lightweights at UFC 257 needs to impress but realistically, we can infer that Dana means Conor or Dustin. Michael Chandler is making his UFC debut against the sixth-ranked dude in the division and got bolted by a featherweight not that long ago. Unless he literally explodes Dan Hooker’s head with a right hand, I can’t see why Khabib would have any interest in his final fight being that. Similarly, Hooker just lost to Poirier so him beating a UFC debutant, regardless of how impressively he does it, has to have limited appeal.

So based on that, we can comfortably determine that White is saying “either Conor or Dustin need to work miracles” but that also doesn’t add up. White said that Khabib feels he’s accomplished everything he can in MMA, which is true. He’s the lightweight GOAT and has at least some claim to being the overall GOAT (when you are the best fighter ever in the best division by miles, you are in the conversation). So even if Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier absolutely show out next weekend, what is the incentive for him to fight either of them? He already has dominant wins over them and both happened recently. If either fight got booked, Khabib would be an enormous favorite, which frankly, doesn’t do much for his legacy.

The kicker to all of this is that yesterday White also told reporters that Khabib no longer has any interest in fighting Georges St-Pierre. To be frank, I have no idea if that is true or not but it strains credulity to believe that the one fight Khabib has consistently called for over the last few years he is suddenly over, but a rematch with a dude he already obliterated, that’s on the table?

I have argued many times that Khabib is not going to fight again, at least not anytime soon and I think nothing has substantively changed to make me alter that. If White had come out and said that Khabib might be interested in moving up to try for the welterweight strap, that I could have believed. But this? Nah, man. I think White is strongly hoping that McGregor blows the doors off Poirier in their rematch and then gets on the mic and says something so vitriolic it incites Khabib to come kick his ass one more time. Even that probably won’t work though so we should all just resign ourselves to the fact that Khabib is done fighting, at least for now.

Max Holloway

Well, there’s no ifs about this one. Max didn’t just beat Calvin Kattar, he beat the brakes off him. That is one of the most lopsided ass-kickings we’ve been privy to in some time and frankly, Herb Dean and Kattar’s corner should be ashamed of themselves for allowing Kattar to take all of that. But I digress.

The answer seems to be the winner of Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega. Volko is going to defend his featherweight title against Ortega at UFC 260 and Dana White has already said that given Max’s performance they are probably going to do Volko-Max III. But I kind of wish they wouldn’t.

Volkanovski and Holloway are clearly the two best featherweights in the world at this point and I would watch them fight each other 10 times and not be upset about it but as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. We’ve seen them fight twice now and upon rewatching, I believe Volkanovski won both bouts. Granted, the second was razor close but I thought the champ made enough adjustments to take it and, more importantly, I left that fight feeling that if he and Max kept running it back, more often than not Volko would win. Like I said, I’d watch them fight forever because it’s incredibly high-level fighting with different adjustments and looks each time out, but in broad strokes, I think we know how it goes. Instead, I’d like to see Max at lightweight.

Holloway has never been a small featherweight and though his one foray up to 155 didn’t go his way, he also put on the second best fight of 2019 against the best lightweight not named Khabib (I recognize that Poirier is ranked No. 2, but he has a clear win over Gaethje who is ahead of him and deserves the top spot). That’s not bad at all. There are a number of awesome fights available to him at lightweight and, more importantly, they’re almost all fights we haven’t seen before. And of course there is the potential for a rematch with Conor which, at this point, is one of the fights I’d most like to see in the sport.

It’s probably not going to happen and we’re probably going to get Volko-Max III and that’s certainly not bad but personally, I’d like to see something new.

Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega

As William Munny said, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.”

Ortega is a marketable fighter who previously challenged for the title and just styled on one of the top-five contenders in the division. Does it matter that in his title shot he got literally schooled by Max Holloway? Or that he has only one win over a currently ranked featherweight, the aforementioned victory over Chan Sung Jung? It sure doesn’t. Ortega is a big name coming off an impressive win and Volkanovski needed new challengers to defend against, so in he goes. It’s not like any of the other non-Max Holloway fighters at featherweight are really demanding it with their resumes. Let Zabit Magomedsharipov fight one five-rounder before we put him in against the champ. In the meantime, I’m cool with this.

Rebooking Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev

At this point I think it may just be the principle of the matter. Dana White has already been defeated by the MMA Gods over Khabib vs. Tony Ferguson and he’ll be damned if he loses this one too. Plus yes, I think he really wants to strike while the iron is hot with Khamzat and get the man a title shot.

This is entirely opinion and I have no real proof to support it, but I think White is looking back on Khabib’s career with regret right now. Khabib came into the UFC with some hype and quickly developed a cult following but the UFC didn’t really recognize what they had with him. Instead, injuries and a log-jammed division led to Khabib getting his title shot about four years too late (when Khabib dominated Rafael dos Anjos it was assumed he’d be next for then-champion Anthony Pettis but an injury kept him out until 2016 and then Conor happened). By the time they finally got the belt on Khabib, it turned out that his career was almost over. We got three more fights from the man. Now Dana is thinking just how much money they could have made with him if things had worked out differently and he’s doing his level best to make sure they can squeeze every drop out of Khamzat. That’s my guess, anyway.

Dana White and the media

In order of asking:

  1. I think the relationship should improve from his side of things and get worse from the media’s side of things. Yes, it would be good if Dana White wasn’t perpetuating a lie that the media is full of liars and snakes but also no one needs to become best friends with him either. The core issue Dana White has always had with the media is the media is in the truth-telling business and he is not. He’s in fight promotion and those two things are often directly at odds with one another. The media is not White’s PR firm nor should it be but he certainly believes differently and I think that probably tracks back at least in part to the early years of the Zuffa-controlled UFC where the sport was on life support and everyone, fighters, media, promoters, were all trying to keep the thing from dying. However, that’s not where the sport is now. The role of journalism is to hold the powerful accountable and the media should collectively carry less water for the UFC than it still does and White should grow up about that.

2. As far as the second question, if that’s referring to me directly, the answer is no. I’m willing to admit that I’m probably more acrimonious than most towards White and the UFC but I’m also too small-time to have even rated on his radar. If that’s a more general “you” referring to the media writ large, then no as well because asking White valid questions about health and safety concerns stemming from his business, or to clarify why he lied about something only leads to a bad relationship when the one party views journalism as a personal attack.

3. I don’t believe so. I can’t say definitively because maybe I missed something but I believe all criticism surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the UFC’s handling of it was valid. The UFC seems to have done a decent job mitigating the pandemic, but “seems” is the operative word there because we actually have no idea the extent to which continuing to hold events—meaning fighters continued to have camps. etc.—impacted the world.

Inarguably, continuing to hold events did not help stop the spread of the coronavirus, but also inarguably, society has deemed what they’ve done acceptable. The trade-off was a few more people got sick but we got to have live sports and everyone seems to be okay with that. And that isn’t restricted to just the UFC, that’s all sports, everywhere. But asking about safety, not just accepting “We got this” from White, and then questioning whether it’s a good idea at all were entirely valid courses of action.

To be clear, the UFC continuing to hold event last year very likely resulted in me still having a job. Without that, you might not be reading these words right now and that’s true for many in the media. But that doesn’t mean anyone owes White any fealty the same way the fighters don’t. White didn’t continue to hold events because he wanted to keep everyone working (perhaps that was a factor, we can’t read his mind), he did it because it made him and his company more money. According to him, they had their best year ever in 2020 and it’s the media’s job to inform the public of all that went into that, the good and the bad.

The return of Nate Diaz

This past week, Dana White declared that the UFC was working on a fight for Nate Diaz at lightweight. White also said that it wasn’t Tony Ferguson and at this point, the prevailing logic seems to be the answer is Justin Gaethje. Gaethje is the frontrunner for no other reason than because White gave a wry smile when a reporter asked if it was Gaethje and White has never had much of a poker face. Gaethje also is one of only two possible lightweights that make any sense at all as everyone in the top half of the rankings other than he and Charles Oliveira are booked and there’s just no way in hell that Nate Diaz fights Rafael dos Anjos again or takes on Paul Felder. There’s no upside for him there. But a fight with Gaethje is also kind of a head-scratcher.

Gaethje is the most exciting fighter in MMA (he won Fight Night bonuses in every one of his UFC fights until he ran into Khabib) but he’s not a true former champion and he’s coming off a loss where he didn’t look good. It just seems like a guy not quite on the tier of Nate in terms of notoriety. At the same time, he probably makes more sense than Oliviera who has even less profile and would absolutely kick the sh*t out of Nate. Maybe Nate is thinking that he can take Gaethje’s shots and wear him down and a win would set him up nicely for a trilogy fight with Conor for the belt? I guess I can see that line of thinking even if I don’t think it would work out for him.

The fight that makes the most sense for Nate Diaz, at least as far as lightweight is concerned, is Tony Ferguson. Ferguson still has a big profile even coming off two losses and he’s a winnable fight for Diaz that would put him “in the mix” at lightweight. But given that Ferguson is coming off two losses, I guess that disqualifies him in Nate’s mind. But really, the fight that makes the most sense for Diaz is a trilogy with Conor McGregor. No fight is going to bring in as much money or interest while also affording him a realistic shot at winning. If Conor loses to Poirier next weekend, I suspect that’s the fight we get next, regardless of whatever other plans the UFC was making. And if Conor wins, hell if Nate holds out they might still do it anyway.

Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things 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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