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Hot Tweets: Max Holloway’s future, Herb Dean’s snafu, and Miesha Tate’s title aspirations

UFC Fight Night: Holloway v Rodriguez Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Well, we’ve done it. After nine straight weeks of action, this weekend represents the last card in the UFC’s pre-holiday run. On Saturday night, Miesha Tate will continue her comeback, with designs on a title shot should she win (something we will certainly talk about), but first, let’s talk about the weekend prior wherein Max Holloway had a slightly more difficult time against Yair Rodriguez than many imagined, and Herb Dean continued his run of bad work.


Max Holloway’s future

First and foremost, shoutout to Yair Rodriguez. To paraphrase the ageless Paul Rudd in 40 Year Old Virgin, “I always thought he was like a Streisand, but he’s rocking the sh*t in this one!” Going into UFC Vegas 42, I didn’t give Yair any shot whatsoever at beating Max, and while he did not do so and I would argue he wasn’t particularly close to pulling off the upset, Rodriguez undoubtably stuck it to his naysayers and gave a spectacular accounting of himself. It was the rare loss in MMA where the defeated fighter still came out on top in some ways. Anyway, on to Maximillian.

As mentioned above, though the fight was certainly competitive, I felt at the time and upon rewatch that many people got caught up in the fact that Yair was such a big underdog and held his own for much of the fight. In actuality, I think Yair had a super strong first round and then slowly fell off as the fight wore on. He was never out of it, but aside from the early leg work, Max never seemed in danger of losing the fight to me and, to be frank, a lot of that came down to Max have an impervious chin. It’s nothing new. For all the skill and talent of Max, his game ultimately boils down to a very simple calculus of, “I will throw more punches than the other guy and he can’t hurt me back so I’m going to win the numbers game here.” It’s a great style if you have the underlying physical capabilities of enacting it, but it’s also one that has an expiration date. The question with Max is when that date will hit, and to be frank, I have no idea.

Personally, I’ve been predicting Max to decline since the loss to Poirier, sometimes in these very pages, and it’s incredibly impressive to me that he has not lost a step yet. Against Poirier, we saw Max struggle with the power shots Poirier landed on him (shots that ultimately determined the outcome of the bout) and I took that as a sign that the vaunted chin of Holloway was starting to wear down, but here we are two years later and he’s eating monster shots from Yair without issue. Still, I can’t see this lasting much longer. Yes, Holloway is only 29 years old but he’s been fighting professionally since he was 18 years old. Once fighters hit the 11-12 year mark, it’s when we start to see the first signs of drop off among fighters. Maybe Max can stave it off a little longer because he is still so young but Father Time is a relentless bastard and he comes for us all. In the next year or so, I think we see Max fall, likely when he makes his inevitable move to lightweight.


Max Holloway’s future, part deux

Well, I can’t speak for everyone but I damn sure want to see Max Holloway vs Justin Gaethje. That is a Fight of the Year winner if ever I’ve seen one. Max peppering Gaethje relentlessly, Gaethje chopping Max’s legs out from under him. Sign me the eff up. And realistically, sign me up for Max against anyone in the top 15 of the lightweight division. That’s what I want to see, and good God willing, we will get that soon enough.

Don’t get me wrong, Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski fighting each other is the platonic ideal of MMA. It’s the sport at the highest level, and if they fought 10 times, I’d watch every one of them, gladly. However, I’ve seen them fight for 25 minutes and I feel like I have a pretty good bead on what that matchup is and will be every time out. Holloway is sensational but Volko is just a hair better and better equipped for the matchup. Barring injury, I favor him to win a clear majority of encounters between the two. And as for the rest of 145, Max is still Max. He’s great and so the fights there can be fun and exciting but Max will probably roll right over the other fun contenders like he did with Yair and Calvin Kattar, and that isn’t particularly great.

But lightweight? Oh, lightweight! Think of the possibilities. Think of the intrigue. Max is a tremendous defender of takedowns, can he upend Islam Makhachev? The aforementioned Gaethje-Holloway fight is an odds on favorite to win Fight of the Year any year they book it. And Max and Dustin already put on a top-10 all time fight their first go around, who wouldn’t want to see them run that back? Lightweight is the best division in the sport, and Max Holloway is one of the best fighters in the sport. The two belong together. I hope they do the trilogy fight with Volko soon and then, after Volko edges another close one, Max finally fulfills his destiny and moves to the hallowed halls of 155.


Herb Dean’s latest snafu

For those unaware, Herb Dean did another bad thing this past weekend. In the co-main event, he double-clutched a stoppage, jumping in and touching Marcos Rogerio de Lima while he was pouring the lead onto Ben Rothwell, only to back off as if he didn’t intervene. Then, after another moment of hesitation, he said he was stopping the bout. It was all sorts of terrible, and it’s not the first time Dean has done something like this. In fact, this sort of thing appears to be becoming a semi-regular occurrence for him, which is curious because for many years, Herb Dean was the gold standard in MMA refereeing. So, how did we get here? After watching the fight, I spent some time pondering that very question (I even spoke about the incident and Between the Links this week) and I’ve come to an answer that I think makes sense: Herb Dean is burnt out.

Think about it, what motivation can he possible have to stay on to of his game? Dean has been at the pinnacle of MMA refereeing for over 15 years (he made his UFC debut in 2004). He has refereed some 6,000 fights, and he won Referee of the Year seven times. There is literally nothing else for him to accomplish, nowhere else for him to go in this vertical. He’s in the same situation that countless number of people are in their own dead end jobs, just working for a paycheck. I’m certain he still likes the gig. But after 15 years of being the top guy, your edge is going to dull, you’re going to make mistakes, and in a world with zero accountability for those mistakes, the overall performance is going to drop off.

I could definitely be wrong. There are a number of reasons for a person’s performance to nose dive, but I now that personally, if I’m in a situation with limited mobility and minimal oversight, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get my best effort, and it feels like Herb could be in the same boat.


Song Yadong

Hell yes he should!

Julio Arce is a damn good fighter and I think people underestimate just how good Arce is because of the way Yadong handled him, but this is a guy who was 4-2 in the UFC coming into the fight with Yadong with both losses being competitive split decisions against very solid featherweights. And Yadong rinsed him. That counts for a ton in my book.

Despite having been in the UFC for four years now, Yadong is still only 23 years old. The guys at Team Alpha Male rave about, and it’s easy to see why. I absolutely see him being a future title contender if not an outright champion and with the way he outclassed a very good fighter in Arce, I’m ready to see Yadong take on other top bantamweights (remember, he has a win over Marlon Vera, though the bout was contested at featherweight), the sooner the better.


Miesha Tate vs. Ketlen Vieira and the bantamweight title picture

For the sake of being thorough, I will say, “Amanda Nunes would need to lose to Julianna Peña next month and then they run an automatic rematch, that would do the trick.” However, since I like to at least pretend to live in reality, my answer is “the apocalypse.” Seriously, if Miesha Tate wins tonight, even if it’s by the skin of her teeth, she is getting the next crack at Nunes, and you know what? She deserves it.

Let me blow your mind with quite possibly the saddest stat I’ve ever heard: no woman in the UFC’s bantamweight top-10 (aside from Nunes) has more than a two-fight win streak in the division currently, and only two women even have that! Women’s bantamweight is stuck in a quagmire of inactivity and parity. They all beat each other and no one beats Nunes. Hell, the belt hasn’t been defended in two years because no one has made a real claim to deserve it! If Tate wins tonight, she may not “deserve” a rematch on paper, but she’s a huge name on a decent run since returning, and there is a marketable story there to sell. She’s getting the shot.

Conversely, if Vieira wins, it would undoubtedly be the biggest win of her career but she just blew weight and lost to Yana Kunitskaya. Unless she does something spectacular, she’s not in line to fight for the belt. She would be in line to fight Holly Holm for a title shot though. But then she’d probably lose that fight which puts us right back to Nunes facing Holm or Germaine de Randamie again. Fine fights but old hat at this point. Bantamweight desperately needs new blood, which is what we hoped Aspen Ladd would be until she can’t make weight, and without it, I fear this is our foreseeable future for as long as Nunes stays active.


Retirement

I don’t particularly feel like I have a great understanding of Miesha Tate (I never thought she’d come out of retirement, for instance) but based on what she’s been saying, I get the feeling that she’s back for good, even if she takes an L.

Tate has mentioned a lot of reasons for her return but one of the things she has repeatedly said is simply missing the sport and being in a better space personally than she was when she retired. I don’t believe a loss tonight will change that, and since she already walked away the once, I think Tate will be much more reticent to hang up the gloves a second time until she truly feels she has nothing left to give the sport. Just my two cents.

Now for Lupita Godinez, I can say with absolute certainty that regardless of the outcome tonight, she’s not going anywhere. I honestly have no idea how good Loopy is, whether she’s got the ability to stay around the UFC longterm, but I am damn certain that the way you make friends at UFC HQ is by doing what Loopy has done this past five weeks - volunteer as tribute. And while the UFC won’t repay the favors you do for them in money or other such compensation, they are pretty good about giving “company fighters” a very long leash in the wins and losses department.


Michael Chiesa vs. Sean Brady

Look, I’ve come around on Michael Chiesa. For the longest time, I thought he was at best a mediocre welterweight, climbing up the division by clambering over the faded husks of one-great fighters with big names. But then the Vicente Luque fight happened and I turned a corner. For his foibles (of which there are many), Chiesa damn near stunted on Luque who I think incredibly highly of. Yes, he got got in the end but he showed plenty even in that loss, and I’m now willing to admit that Michael Chiesa is a legitimate top-10 welterweight. Unfortunately for him, Sean Brady is that dude.

Let’s be clear, Brady has not had an easy road through the UFC thus far. At 10-0 he made his promotional debut against Court McGee, an elite “make prospects look bad” fighter. He then got two developmental fights before facing Jake Matthews, another guy I have a lot of respect for. And it’s not just that Brady has been beating good guys, he’s looks tremendous doing so. Brady can strike, he can grapple, he can mix it all up, and he is just now starting to hit his stride. Honestly, the biggest thing holding him back is his name. Sean Brady is just too common. Everyone reading this probably went to high school with a Sean Brady (and he probably drank a lot, did poorly in school, and took football way too seriously). If Brady’s name was Parzival von Hammerfist or something the UFC probably would have fast-tracked him to a title shot.

Anyway, I think Sean Brady is the real deal as far as prospects go, and as such, I believe he will give Michael Chiesa the size nines tonight. Violently.


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.