The UFC has had a busy week.
This past weekend, Max Holloway put on one of the best performances of his career by demolishing Calvin Kattar and the UFC record book at UFC Fight Island 7. Then on Wednesday, Michael Chiesa announced himself as a legitimate contender in the welterweight division with a dominant win over Neil Magny at UFC Fight Island 8. But though that was all well and good, truly, it only served as the appetizer for this weekend’s big event.
UFC 257 features the return of Conor McGregor which is always a big deal and this time he’s taking on second-ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier in a rematch that all but guarantees the winner the next title shot. It’s a big deal and as you can imagine, there’s a lot to talk about so let’s jump in.
The difference between now and then
Who do you think has improved more, Dustin or Conor? If Dustin, do you think Conor needs to have out-improved Dustin to get the win?— Fa’res Husseini (@FaresHusseini) January 19, 2021
This has been one of the biggest narratives heading into UFC 257: who has improved more? And to be honest, I don’t think we actually know the answer though I will give you my best guess.
Poirier has, quite obviously, improved dramatically since their first fight. After moving up to lightweight, Poirier began showing a discernible increase in his defensive skills, parrying, blocking, and rolling in a way makes it hard for fighters to hit him clean. He’s also improved his offensive striking. Where previously Poirier was very much a lunging brawler reliant on his power, now Poirier works a very good jab. This is a man who stood with Max Holloway for 25 minutes and beat him. There aren’t many men who can say that.
Conversely, McGregor has only fought eight times since last he fought Poirier, and three of those were immediately after the Poirier win, so it’s very difficult to judge how much he has improved. The simple fact is that after knocking out Poirier, McGregor had three more knockout wins that told is very little about his improvement and then he lost to Nate Diaz. In the rematch with Diaz, we learned that McGregor can at least go five rounds but even that was a bit of a stretch for him. The he clowned Eddie Alvarez, got worked by Khabib Nurmagomedov, and beat up Donald Cerrone. Literally none of those fights really told us much about him. It’s like Francis Ngannou. He might be improving leaps and bounds but we can’t really know because we aren’t seeing anything different from him.
So since he’s a world-class fighter, I think it’s fair to assume that McGregor has improved from who he was seven years ago, but given just how much Poirier has improved, I think it’s probably not to the same degree as “The Diamond”. However, that’s not really what matters. What matters is whether Poirier has improved enough to win this rematch and to that, I’m less sure.
For all the many things you dislike about Conor McGregor, no one can credibly claim he’s offensively impotent. For the first two rounds especially, McGregor is an incredibly dangerous striker with sharp timing and renowned power. For as much as Poirier has improved defensively over the past few years, that alone may be enough to get the job done. Poirier is still prone to the occasional lunging attack and still gets hit and McGregor excels at finishing hurt opponents. That’s a bad combination for “The Diamond.”
If Dustin wants to win, he needs to use his hands to smother Conor’s and force clinches early. Drain some of the power from that left hand and then you can start scrapping with him. Most importantly though, Poirier needs to force McGregor backwards. Every second of a fight that McGregor is coming forward, he’s getting to do what he wants and Poirier needs to stymie that early. If he can do that, I think he has a good chance. If he can’t, it my be a short night for the pride of Louisiana.
If Conor wins
What fight do you want to see the most for Conor McGregor if he beats Dustin Poirier?— Nick Baldwin (@NickBaldwinMMA) January 21, 2021
What Nick is asking isn’t quite the same, but I’m going to extrapolate a little here because the answer to his question has been the same for years and will remain the same forever (Justin Gaethje, very possibly the two most exciting fighters in the history of the sport).
Should Conor do what the oddsmakers are predicting him to at UFC 257, what happens next will depend entirely on one man. No, not Khabib Nurmagomedov (Khabib has retired, he has made this clear, literally he couldn’t be any more clear on no longer wanting to fight, he’s said it a lot), Dana White. If White can finally accept that Khabib really isn’t going to fight Conor again to give the UFC one more multimillion buy PPV, then he’ll finally strip Khabib and McGregor will fight someone for the vacant belt.
Well, if Michael Chandler wins at UFC 257 sadly, it would probably be him. Fortunately, I don’t think we have to worry about that (I’ll talk about that later). So instead, my money is actually on Justin Gaethje. Gaethje is rumored to be the frontrunner to fight Nate Diaz next and the only reason I could possibly see for Diaz to want to fight that thrashing machine is that if he wins, then there is no world where he wouldn’t end up fighting McGregor next. (and as far as matchups go, Gaethje is at least a better one than most of the other top lightweights would be for Nate). Similarly for Gaethje, he’s made it clear he wants to get back in the title hunt and any win would do it for him. Beating Nate would give him the biggest platform to then call for a McGregor fight and bingo bango bongo, now you’ve got a lightweight title fight that everyone will watch.
However, if Dana White insists on living in the fantasy world where Khabib might come back in 2021, if only Conor will say something mean enough, then I think we see Conor make good on his Manny Pacquiao promise. I doubt Conor would really want to fight another top lightweight in a non-title bout because, seriously, why should he? There’s bigger fish to fry out there, and with a win over Dustin, McGregor can just wait for Dana to change his mind, and in the meantime, make another $100 million.
If Dustin wins
If Conor looses to Dustin, what’s next for him?— Funky Ben Lonsdale (@BDLmma) January 19, 2021
If Dustin Poirier pulls off the upset at UFC 257 things are probably a lot more straightforward. Firstly, once the faint hope of a Khabib-Conor rematch is dead and gone, Dana White will finally let the lightweight champion retire in peace. Hell, I wouldn’t be shocked if White stripped Khabib at the post-fight presser and just said Dustin is next in line. Once that’s done, then it’s only a matter of who Dustin fights for the title and again, if Chandler wins then he’s probably got the inside track. If Chandler loses though, the UFC might just go ahead and pull the trigger on Charles Oliveira. I mean at that point, might as well. All of Dana’s dreams have come crashing down so what’s the harm? Alternatively, they might just go ahead and do what they should’ve done in the first place: Poirier vs. Gaethje 2 for the belt. After all, with a Conor loss, all the Gaethje-Diaz rumors would stop immediately, because if Conor loses, there’s a 99 percent chance that he fights Nate Diaz next.
It’s been years since the Diaz-McGregor fights but in all that time McGregor has consistently said he intends to fight Nate one more go around. In an ideal world, they’d do it for the lightweight title, the biggest prize of them all. But if Conor loses to Poirier, Poirier isn’t going to run it right back and so McGregor will go back to the well one more time. After all, it’s a good well to have in your back pocket.
What is one thing about chandler that we should know.— Jack Morris levy (@Jackattackto) January 21, 2021
That he’s gonna get beat by Dan Hooker on Saturday.
In all seriousness, Michael Chandler is a pretty good fighter who will be a solid contributor in the UFC, but he’s never getting a title shot, at least not on true merit. This is going to make me sound like a hater, and perhaps I am but have you actually looked at his record? Yes, he’s a three-time Bellator champion but he’s also A THREE-TIME BELLATOR CHAMPION! That means he lost the belt three times! The man is 6-5 in lightweight title fights. That’s not great, Bob! And as good as lightweight is, it’s not like he was fighting against the very best of the best in the division. Chandler’s best wins are Eddie Alvarez and . . . old Benson Henderson? Patricky Freire?
Again, I’m not trying to hate on Chandler but he just doesn’t have the record that people seem to think he does. He’s a solid athlete with decent wrestling and power in his hands but there isn’t a lot more to him than that. Maybe he comes in and wings a big shots and lamps Dan Hooker, but it’s far more likely that he gets chewed up at range and while trying to close the distance.
What more does Max Holloway have to do, if anything, to become the greatest featherweight of all time?— AD (@adubz123) January 21, 2021
For me, I think it’s going to be difficult for Holloway to assume the mantle of greatest featherweight of all time. Jose Aldo is the youngest champion in Zuffa history (it’s true!) and defended his title nine times against the very best of his era. Max Holloway is a great fighter but he only defended his belt three times. Yes, Max beat Aldo but greatness isn’t solely a matter of who beat who. It’s a matter of accomplishment and there is a pretty dramatic difference between beating a lot of good guys on your way up and holding down the top of the mountain for years on end.
When you’re on the rise, you’re just another guy gunning for the top spot. When you’re the champion, EVERYONE is coming for you. People spend years analyzing your game and planning to fight you. If you’re champion long enough, entire legions of young fighters develop styles that will work against you. I mean think about it, is it just a coincidence that Max Holloway’s MMA style perfectly matched up against Jose Aldo? No! Aldo was already the king of the division before Max even had his first professional fight!
Max Holloway is really, really freaking good. But to be the GOAT you’ve got to reign for years. You have to stack up a pile of bodies beneath you of those who came for the king and were found wanting. If Max wants to be the featherweight GOAT, he’s going to have to win the title back and keep it for a few more years which is certainly possible, but at this point doesn’t seem likely.
Does Michael Chiesa really think he has any chance of going 3 minutes with Colby?— Jack (@jack_keeton31) January 21, 2021
I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Michael Chiesa’s performance, if only for a moment.
Neil Magny is not particularly athletic or even especially talented. But he has become a very-good-bordering-on-great fighter almost entirely because he has a tremendous work ethic, elite cardio, and he almost never makes stupid decisions in fights. On Wednesday, he made a lot of those and it cost him the fight. And ultimately, a lot of the credit for that has to go to Chiesa.
Outside of a flash knockout, good fighters don’t just fall into an ass kicking - another fighter puts it on them. Magny is absolutely a good fighter and he got handled by Chiesa’s grappling and tenacity. It was the kind of win that is more impressive on paper than it was to watch and one that should finally earn Chiesa his respect in the welterweight division. As for calling out Colby Covington, it’s a smart move because you should always have a name ready, and if Chiesa can beat Covington, that’s his ticket to a title shot. But it’s also a horrible move because I don’t see a realistic way for him to beat Covington.
Say what you want about Covington (God knows I have) but the man can fight his ass off. Kamaru Usman is one of the very best fighters on the planet and Covington gave him all he could handle for 20 minutes. Covington works at a furious pace, is a very good wrestler, and would box circles around Chiesa. Outside of a random back take and submission, this seems like a tough row to hoe for Chiesa.
MMA Conspiracy Theories
What is the best MMA related conspiracy theory. Doesn’t need to be true or even plausible, but just a good story.— Paul Garcia (@hpaulg) January 21, 2021
One of the great things about MMA is that all of the completely insane things that sound like they should be conspiracy theories are actually true. Jon Jones once hid under a cage to avoid taking a drug test? True! Featherweight Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett knocked out Wanderlei Silva at the height of Silva’s powers? True! Pride imploded because of it’s ties to the Yakuza? True! This is a sport that was literally founded on a conspiracy (or something close to it) when Rorion Gracie picked seven guys of some legitimate fight background to come compete against his scrawny younger brother (not even Rickson, the family champion) to promote Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. When that’s your starting point is it any wonder conspiracy theories thrive in this space?
All that being said, for a long time the Jon Jones one was my favorite because it had layers. What was Jon taking? Did the tester really spend all day waiting for him? Did Jon really pee under the cage and upon hearing the rumors, did the tester actually go back and try to collect a urine same from there?! I mean, that’s just good content. But now that we know that at least part of it is true, some of the shine is off that one so my new favorite has to be every single time a fighter questionably makes weight. It’s 2020. Digital scales are a thing and yet the UFC keeps trotting out the old beam scale and because, as the theory goes, the beam scale allows an enterprising official to help out an important fight who had a tough time with the cut. Take Khabib’s weigh in at UFC 254 for instance. Did Khabib actually make weight? Well, officially yes. But like actually, actually? We may never know the truth and that makes it wonderful.
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.