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Hot Tweets: Discussing Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2 and the future of the lightweight division

UFC 268 Weigh-in Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

We are back! After a brief hiatus due to the early UFC start time last week, I’m back to answer your questions about the wonderful world of MMA and with UFC 268 taking place in just a couple of hours, let’s talk about Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, and the future of the lightweight division.

Kamaru Usman

Well, first up I imagine he will be talk to Joe Rogan inside the octagon where Rogan will proclaim him the greatest welterweight of all-time, because Rogan really likes to be wrong about stuff and say the things he is wrong about for the world to hear. Then after that, we’ve got one of two roads.

The first option is that Usman will be noncommittal about his next opponent, saying that he’s already lapped the division and no one is getting him excited (which is entirely valid), and then angling for a boxing match against Canelo Alvarez that literally no one on Earth, other than Usman and his family, wants to see. Then, after Leon Edwards wrestles his way to victory over Jorge Masvidal next month, Usman will rematch Edwards because he believes in defending his title and Edwards will be by far the most deserving person in the division. I believe this is by far the most likely scenario.

But in a more fun world, in a world where Usman doesn’t pursue a money fight he has zero chance to win, in a world where Usman says “F*ck it”goes full YOLO, he gets on the mic and calls out Khamzat Chimaev.

Look, there is no world in which Chimaev deserves a title shot. He’s been stunningly impressive, true, but he has one good win and that is over a guy who was not even ranked in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings. However, because Usman has lapped the division, he’s afforded a lot more rope than your regular champion. Yes, with a win over Masvidal, Edwards will deserve a title shot, but no one will be clamoring for it because no one cares about Leon Edwards. And you know who people are clamoring for? Khamzat Chimaev. He’s the one opponent (other than a Diaz brother which is a non-starter for the UFC) who fans would be legitimately hyped for, and he’s the person with whom the biggest promotion could be done. The long-reigning champion who has defended his belt against all comers versus this seemingly unstoppable monster. It sells itself.

I suspect Usman won’t do it, but if he did, that’s the biggest fight of 2022, at least until Conor McGregor returns.

Colby Covington

I guess I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: I’m picking Colby Covington to win the rematch with Kamaru Usman. I hate myself for it but here we are.

For as much as Covington is not my cup of tea, and his gimmick is bad, (I will admit he has a least improved on it over the years, but it still is cringe), he is a legitimately great fighter. Covington pushes an extremely high pace, has cardio for days, and has a really solid understanding of how he can win fights: by making them ugly and outworking his opponents. He’s like a wrestling-focused, 170-pound Forrest Griffin. And while I think he is objectively worse than Usman in almost every category, I question where Usman is in his career right now.

At 34, Usman is past his athletic prime and has admitted that his knees are shot. This has been the case for the past couple of years, which is why you rarely see him shoot for takedowns, preferring clinch attacks, but eventually, not having working knees is a pretty major liability in a fist fight. On top of this, Usman has also looked pretty vulnerable in his last couple few fights. Burns hurt him badly in the first round and I thought he looked pretty bad in his rematch with Masvidal, up until the finish, in part because it looked like he was trying to force things in pursuit of a finish like he predicted. Usman has similarly predicted he will stop Covington early and I have a gut feeling that he will try and make that happen. Maybe he can pull it off, but if he can’t, dumping the tank against Colby Covington is a horrible, horrible idea.

So let me be clear, I want Kamaru Usman to win. I don’t really think he has major holes in his game, other than the holes that any athlete faces as they get older and their body starts to deteriorate, but his first fight with Covington was far closer than most remember and I think he’s declined somewhat. If Usman comes in with anything other than the intent to win a five-round war of attrition, I think that mentality and his very slight decline is enough to tip the scales in favor of Covington.

Chaos by unanimous decision, which is also my call for biggest upset on the night.

The lightweight title picture

It depends on who wins.

If Justin Gaethje wins, then I have no issue whatsoever with him getting a title shot. His “recent loss” was to Khabib Nurmagomedov, AKA the GOAT. I don’t knock anyone for losing to Khabib and since he has retired now, that loss still counts, but in my mind, doesn’t really factor into the divisional structure. In a perfect, meritocratic world, Gaethje would have rematched Dustin Poirier for the vacant lightweight title to crown a just champion, but instead Poirier went after the cash (as he should have) and so Gaethje was left in limbo. A win for him tonight should earn him a title shot, no questions asked.

On the other hand, if Michael Chandler beats Gaethje this evening, I don’t believe he deserves a second crack at the title, regardless of who is holding it after Poirier and Charles Oliveira settle up next month. Let’s be clear, Chandler did not even sort of deserve his first crack at the belt and though he came damn close to winning it, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and Nate Diaz fights. Chandler lost and lost convincingly to an active fighter. He needs at least one more win after this one should he get his hand raised tonight.

Now, that’s not to say he won’t get a title shot. The UFC is clearly a fan of Michael Chandler (for some reason) and so if he starches Gaethje and Poirier claims the title, I fully expect that to be the next fight up for both men. Things get a little murkier if Oliveira defends the belt given how recently they fought, but since Chandler almost won and the rest of the lightweight contenders are seemingly one-win away, it wouldn’t shock me if Chandler got some more of that Dana White privilege. I suspect this won’t matter though as I think Gaethje is going to get the job done tonight.

Justin Gaethje

If Chandler beats Gaethje, I am going to be the saddest panda because I love Gaethjesus like a son and will maintain until I die that Chandler, like Brian Ortega, is actually a terrible fighter. So it’s probably going to happen. But what won’t happen is we won’t be forgetting about Justin Gaethje.

Gaethje is the most exciting fighter in MMA history, full stop. Put his bouts up against anyone else, ever, and I’d take Gaethje. The man has no duds and that alone means he will always be in the title picture. If Gaethje loses to Chandler it’s a setback for sure, but he’s still only a couple wins away from contendership again. Off a loss, maybe he gets Dan Hooker (great fight) or even better, Conor McGregor. Gaethje probably wins either of those matchups and then he just has to beat another top-7ish guy and boom, he’s back on the doorstep. When the way you fight means your name will always be on the fight poster or on top of the card, and when the way you win means people are going to say “OH MY F*CKING GOD,” you are always in the title picture. It’s why fighters really should place more of a premium on being exciting *cough* Leon Edwards *cough*.

More lightweight

Deserve is a tricky word, doubly so in this case, and so my answer is both yes and no.

In a world of sporting merit based entirely upon results, Islam Makhachev does not deserve a title fight. Yes, he’s on a dominant nine-fight winning streak where he has looked nigh untouchable but he also has one win over a top-10 fighter and not even a top-5 guy at that. Of course, in this merit-based world, Makhachev would also have gotten to fight top guys long before this so that’s a bit of a double-edged sword.

However, in a world where the only thing the UFC and fans are concerned about is determining who is the best fighter in the world in a specific weight class, then Makhachev would fight for the belt next because he very likely is that. Many people would argue that point, and until he fights the top guys we can’t know for sure, but no one can credibly watch that man fight and say, “He has no chance against Dustin Poirier and Charles Oliveira.” If you booked Makhachev tomorrow against any lightweight in the world, I think he’d be a betting favorite and if not a favorite, he’d be damn close to even money, and the only other person who can say that is Dustin Poirier, and maybe Justin Gaethje if he wins tonight.

Sadly for Makhachev, the fact that he can probably kick the tar out of any other 155er in the world probably won’t amount to much given the state of lightweight right now. My best guess is that he faces Chandler or Beneil Dariush next, with the promise of a title shot should he win.

Final Predictions

Honestly, a lot of the fights on this card were tough for me to predict because my brain was telling me one thing but my gut another. Like with the main event, everything in my head says that Usman is a better version of Covington and so he should win cleanly, but as discussed, I just kinda think he’s gonna lose. I feel that way with a few of these but here are my final predictions:

  • Colby Covington by unanimous decision
  • Rose Namajunas by unanimous decision
  • Marlon Vera by KO, Round 3.
  • Shane Burgos by KO, Round 1
  • Justin Gaejthe by KO, Round 1
  • Alex Pereira by KO, Round 1
  • Bobby Green by unanimous decision
  • Phil Hawes by KO, Round 2
  • Edmen Shahbazyan by unanimous decision
  • Ian Garry by Submission, Round 1.
  • Chris Barnett by KO, Round 3.
  • Dustin Jacoby by KO, Round 1
  • Melsik Baghdasaryan by unanimous decision
  • Ode Osbourne by unanimous decision.

The one I feel the least good about is the co-main event. Rose wins a technical fight at distance pretty easily but if Weili decides to make this an ugly, physical fight, I think she can run over Namajunas. Just not sure she believes that’s her path forward.

Anyway, enjoy the fights y’all.

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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