A lot happened this past week. Alexander Volkanovski survived an incredibly close scare from Brian Ortega to retain his title; Valentina Shevchenko was Valentina Shevchenko; Aljamain Sterling withdrew from his planned title defense; Dan Hooker flew to the United States last Thursday, made weight the next morning, beat ass on Saturday, and then just a few days later signed on to face Islam Makhachev at the end of this month. Plus more details have been revealed about Jon Jones’ latest horrible thing. So, let’s discuss.
Alexander Volkanovski, the champion
Do u think the UFC will bring Cejudo back and fight Volk for the Belt ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) September 30, 2021
No, but they should. Or, more correctly, they should have already.
After Volkanovski won the title, in a bout without any controversy at all, there was no obvious next contender for Volko so they just ran it back with Max. I hate that. I’m never in favor of immediate rematches unless you are a truly dominant, 8+ title defenses champion, and even then I’m still not stoked on it. If you beat the champion, you shouldn’t have to do it again immediately just because they got the belt before you. It devalues what beating the champion means and, in this case, because their second fight was so close, it has negatively affected the perception of Volkanovski as champion. Everyone has basically forgotten that Volkanovski clearly won their first contest, because the second was muddled.
So if I had the book for the UFC, I would have granted Henry Cejudo his wish and matched him up against Alexander Volkanovski last year. Then Holloway could have gone and gotten his wins and the rematch between Volkanovski and Holloway has a stronger foundation. To be clear, Cejudo does not “deserve” a featherweight title shot by any traditional standard, but how many times are we going to see a fighter even have the potential to win titles in three UFC weight classes? It would have been a unique and really cool thing to see happen, instead of watching something we literally had just seen.
All this is moot now though because with Max having one dominant showing, and with him soon to have a second one (he’s going to kick the ever-loving crap out of Yair Rodriguez), there is little doubt that a trilogy fight is on the way. And depending how all that shakes out, Volkanovski and Holloway may just be fighting each other every six months for the next two years. High-level fighting to a degree not seen in almost any other division, but still, tough to sell Volko-Max 14 to the general public.
Why do you think Brian Ortega sucks? I definitely think he’s overrated, but you never tell us why.— Mason (@ThoughtChef) September 29, 2021
I have said for the past several years and in many different places that Brian Ortega sucks, and following his near-title winning performance last weekend . . . I apologize to absolutely no one. Brian Ortega does suck. He proved it on Saturday.
Brian Ortega obviously does not suck at fighting. He was as close as any human being has ever been to winning a title without actually winning it, and doing so over — for my money — one of the three best fighters in the world right now, possibly the best. You don’t get there if you suck. But also, he is not good at many of the component parts of fighting, and that’s what I mean when I say that Brian Ortega sucks.
Ortega’s game lacks anything beyond a basic cohesion. He is a predatory submission grappler who is athletic and tough as hell. Those things can all work in concert in the loosest of ways (and they do for him) but he generally lacks any sort of tactical or strategic architecture to take advantage of his best tools. In the simplest terms, Ortega cannot dictate the tenor of fights, he can only react, and because he is athletic and tough and has one supreme weapon, that is enough to win over many, many people, but it’s also decidedly not enough to beat the truly apex fighters and, though we haven’t seen it yet, it’s the sort of game that can be taken advantage of by substantially lesser fighters, so long as they are disciplined.
To make an analogy to another sport, Ortega is a guy who will only ever hit home runs or strike out, and for much of his UFC career, he’s been getting fastballs right over the plate. Eventually, people are going to start feeding him sliders and he is going to stop hitting dingers and start striking out.
How the fuck was round 3 a 10-8 for Ortega? pic.twitter.com/NqMnaNpgmd— BirksMMA (@BirksMMA) October 2, 2021
Now, having said all that, you cannot deny what Ortega has been able to accomplish in his career thus far and what he damn near pulled off in the third round against Volkanovski. As the gentleman above notes, I scored the third a 10-8 for Ortega and, upon rewatch I stand by it, because that round was a 10-7 for Ortega until the last few seconds when Volko escaped and gave him the size nines. MMA scoring remains woefully inadequate to accurately capture what goes on in fights, particularly when there are back-and-forth rounds. We do the best with what we’ve got and I still believe I got it, mostly, right.
Volko was as close as anyone has ever been to losing a title without actually losing it, something he himself admitted. Ortega then sunk in ANOTHER deep submission attempt that Volkanovski was able to gut out. In my book, that’s a 10-7, but because Volkanovski turned the tables with 30 seconds to go and smashed him, he gets one of those points back. I still believe that Ortega won that round more dominantly than Volkanovski won the first two because, again, he damn near won the fight, twice. Also, what is not noted here, is that I scored the fourth round a 10-8 for Volkanovski, because again, he beat the tar out of Ortega. In fact, if there is a score of mine to quibble with from last weekend, I’d say it’s that one. Round four could have just as easily been a 10-7 Volko. Upon rewatch, that is the change I’d make to my score. 10-7 round four for Volko, 47-45 Volko overall.
What are your thoughts on Shevchenko/Nunes 3? I don't like that fight for Bullet at 135 and Nunes can't make 125. I'm not saying Valentina wouldn't win but is there a better option like having them fight at 130lbs?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) September 29, 2021
No, because 130 pounds isn’t a division, so who cares? Shevchenko is happy to fight Nunes at bantamweight and so, assuming we’re going to do that at some point, let’s just have them fight at 135 pounds. It’s a real division, where the two have fought twice before, and in both instances the fights were close. Also, I do not nor have I ever felt that five pounds is a massive difference in weight.
That being said, I don’t think we need to go to the trilogy. I’ve argued for it before and ultimately, I’d be happy to watch it, but I’m just as happy to watch Shevchenko keep beating ass at 125. As I’ve said many times before, the most impressive thing in MMA is not to win titles in multiple divisions, it’s to stack title defenses up. There are seven multi-division champions in UFC history. There are two champions with double digit title reigns. If she stays at 125, Shevchenko is a virtual lock to join that company. Hell, she’s already the first person in history to fill up one side of the championship rubies on the new UFC belt. Let’s see her fill them both up.
Dan Hooker, the wild man
What does Dan Hooker gain by fighting Islam on a month's notice? Seems like an almost guaranteed loss.— Jeremy Orozco (@Orozco_Jeremy5) September 30, 2021
A big bag of money. No, seriously, Hooker already said as much. Plus, he get’s a low-risk opportunity to insert himself into the title conversation.
Heading into UFC 266, Hooker said frequently that he had a hard time finding anyone who would fight him because all the ranked guys were either booked or not fighting. That’s why he faced Nasrat Haqparast, because Nasrat said yes. Now, Hooker gets paid a tidy sum, he gets to face a ranked guy, and he does so by engendering goodwill with his employer. On top of that, if he wins, it’s huge for him but if he loses, well, it was a short-notice fight against a future champion. No harm, no foul. Plus, it’s important to remember that short-notice fights don’t just affect one guy. Both men are getting a change of opponent here. Hooker is in fight shape already, so it’s not a matter of gearing up, it’s simply a matter of fine-tuning for a specific opponent, the same thing that Makhachev now has to do.
Aside from now having to spend even more time away from his family, which is obviously very tough, this is all upside for Hooker.
Is aljo praying for Cody to beat Yan?— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) September 30, 2021
I would bet it’s quite the opposite, in fact.
Look, Aljamain Sterling has said a lot of very dumb things recently but none of those things have anything to do with him as a fighter. Sterling won the title against Yan fair and square and people just need to accept that. Yan did a BLATANTLY illegal thing. If you want to be mad at anyone, be mad at him. You don’t stand overtop a fighter for 10 seconds punching him and then knee him in the dome because you got confused. You just f*cked up and have to take that L. Sorry. In my opinion, Yan shouldn’t have even been given an automatic rematch because his loss was in no way controversial so, really, Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen is actually the fight that should have happened anyway.
The idea that Sterling pulled out to avoid fighting Yan is absurdly idiotic. For one thing, it supposes that Sterling is afraid of Yan and, as a baseline, you should just assume that no elite professional fighter is afraid of any other fighter. Their brains aren’t wired like that. For another, it supposes that not only is Sterling petrified of losing his title, but he’s also an idiot. What, you think he can just avoid fighting Yan forever but retain the belt? C’mon now.
But most importantly, Sterling almost certainly wants to fight Yan because he genuinely believes he’s the best in the world and he wants to prove that to everyone. The only way for him to prove that, in the eyes of a lot of people, will be to beat Yan. But he doesn’t want to fight Yan when he’s not at 100 percent and could risk potential of serious injury, because who the hell would want to do that?
Aljo and Yan will rematch after Yan beats up Sandhagen and then Yan will at least have actually earned a rematch.
Jon Jones. That's the question.— Figure souriante (@figuresouriante) October 1, 2021
First, let’s put these here. If you haven’t read them, I encourage you do to so.
Second, let’s acknowledge two things. Jon Jones has not been convicted of anything. Given the above, there is a plausible scenario wherein Jones did nothing wrong and this is all a big misunderstanding. But, given Jones’ own social media post blaming alcohol, even plausible starts to feel like a stretch.
Even in the view most charitable to Jones, what happened the other week is horrible and demands some sort of culpability beyond “the alcohol made me do it,” because not only is that a bullsh*t excuse, it’s also a load of crap. Jones has had, by his own admission, “an unhealthy relationship with alcohol” for years. You don’t deal with an alcohol problem by posting self-righteous stuff to social media or spending one night in rehab. You have to genuinely reckon with your problems and accept responsibility for your actions. As far as anyone can tell, Jones has never been forced to do either, and so terrible things continue to trail in his wake. Until the UFC and those around Jones stop enabling him, then the overwhelming likelihood is that they will continue to happen. It’s a goddamn tragedy.
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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.