Hello, friends! The final pay-per-view of the evening goes down tonight when UFC 269 takes place, and boy is it a doozy. Two title fights, one which will crown the champion in the best division in the sport and the other where we get to see the greatest female fighter of all time compete, plus a litany of other exceptional match-ups, including a former bantamweight champion dropping down to flyweight for the first time and another former bantamweight champion trying to put himself back in the title conversation. All in all, this is one of the most stacked fight cards of the year, so let’s get down to business.
The Big Fights
What do you see as the keys to victory for Nunes, Pena, Oliveira and Poirier and how do you think the call-outs will go if any?— Zak Kitzler (@KitzlerZak) December 9, 2021
The main and co-main events tonight are obviously the marquee matchups on the card and well worth tuning in for. Unfortunately, I think there is a very real chance that neither fight is particularly good. Clearly, they will involve some of the best fighters in the world competing (and Julianna Peña), but my read on both fights is that they are single-question contests – fights that have one major question at the heart of them. When that question is answered, the outcome is determined. Those fights happen all the time and can certainly be fun, but one-way traffic is usually not considered a “good” fight.
The co-main event is pretty simple, so let’s start there: Amanda Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time, and Julianna Peña is not. Peña cannot win an MMA contest against Amanda Nunes. What she can win is a fight (though even that is a daunting task). For Peña to win, she needs to ugly this fight the f*ck up and make it a boring slog against the fence. Remember how Kamaru Usman foot-stomped his way to victory over Jorge Masvidal in their first fight? Peña needs to do that. It won’t be pretty, but at range, she’s a sitting duck and, if Amanda Nunes has weaknesses, it’s in her cardio. The more Peña can turn this into a test of wills instead of skills, the better off she’ll be.
For Nunes, obviously the opposite is true. Nunes’ keys to victory are simply to be Amanda Nunes. She’s a much more dynamic and powerful striker, and Peña has never shown the boxing to give Nunes cause for concern with regard to return fire. Keep the fight at distance and rifle shots into Peña’s head until she falls down. Or, if Nunes is feeling frisky, she can shoot takedowns on Peña. In broad strokes, though, that would help Peña by making this a grappling fight. But if Nunes gets on top, Peña is also screwed.
So, can Nunes ugly this fight up? We’re gonna find out.
The main event is admittedly a more intriguing contest, but I still think it ultimately comes down to one question: Can Charles Oliviera score takedowns? On the feet, Poirier is the far superior boxer, and though Oliviera has a good kicking game, his durability remains a question mark. Every time he goes for a kick, Poirier is going to counter with big shots, and if Poirier hurts Oliveira like Michael Chandler did, “The Diamond” isn’t going to chase him to the floor and allow him to recover. For Oliveira to win he needs to get on top of Poirier, and I legitimately have no idea if he can or not. Oliveira rag-dolled Tony Ferguson in the clinch, but Poirier is a better clinch-fighter than Ferguson and a better wrestler (pedigree be damned, Ferguson was always a subpar defensive wrestler).
On the other side of things, Poirier primarily needs to make this a striking contest, but more so, he really just needs to remain disciplined. Oliveira’s greatest strength is in his dynamism – he can score finishes quickly, either through grappling or striking – and so Poirier needs to dictate the terms of engagement and not allow for “Do Bronx” to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Oliveira may not like the narrative, but there is a reason he has been labeled as a “quitter” and it’s because he has a history of falling apart as things got difficult. In a protracted battle, Poirier is greatly advantaged.
As far as callouts go, sadly, I think we’re in store for some tedious mic work tonight. If Nunes wins, she will say the same thing she always does: “I’m the champion forever and I’ll fight anyone.” Riveting stuff. Similarly, if Poirier wins, I suspect he will mostly just talk about what this means to him and his family, and not commit to anything specific – hell, he might even retire, though that’s unlikely. Should Peña pull of the upset, her speech will likely be cringe-worthy, but I assume she’ll have the presence of mind to know that an immediate rematch is a foregone conclusion, so she’ll just say “let’s run it back” or whatever. I think the only fighter who has the opportunity to do something genuinely fun on the mic is Oliveira. Justin Gaethje is next up at lightweight, and Oliveira and Gaethje have been beefing in the media this year. A “this guy thinks I’m a quitter, but wait until I make him tap out next summer” is possible and probably our best hope for a good call out.
The lightweight title picture
no matter who wins the LW title should Justin Gaethje pivot and seek The Notorious vs The Highlight 1? And could that fight reach 1.7 million buys?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) December 9, 2021
No, nor do I think he will.
Justin Gaethje has made it crystal clear: he wants his title shot next. When Khabib retired, the sporting way to handle it would have been to have Poirier and Gaejthe (numbers 1 and 2 in the world at the time) rematch for the belt. That’s how you crown a new champion, by having the two best guys fight. Instead the UFC had the number three and four guys fight for the title, Poirier got the cash grab, and Gaethje got the shaft. Now he wants his due and proper, and the man damn sure deserves it.
Personally, I believe Justin Gaethje is the best lightweight in the world right now (maybe second best behind Islam Makhachev). I have Poirier ranked number one in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings because of what he has accomplished (including a win over Gaethje) but if they two rematched tonight instead of the UFC 269 title fight, I’d favor Gaethje, and if it were Gaethje in there against Oliveira, I’d feel very confident we were about to have a new champion. So, regardless of who wins tonight, Gaethje should choose to fight for the title, because getting the belt is a huge pay bump, and those money fights aren’t going anywhere.
That last point is important because, though it hasn’t happened yet, Gaethje-McGregor is coming in the not-too-distant future. Gaethje is the most exciting fighter in the history of MMA, and that alone would make people want to fight him – because fans want to see him fight – but there’s more to it than that. Gaethje is so exciting because he puts offense over defense, and you can absolutely hurt him. It makes people think they can beat him, as opposed to like Khabib or something, and so when the phone rings with a Gaethje fight on the other line, it seems more like an opportunity than a punishment. Gaethje’s entire career is Anderson Silva’s hands-by-his-hips defense, it makes you think taking a swing is a great idea until you are unconscious and don’t know what happened just moments later.
So, no, Gaethje can pass up the McGregor fight and get a title shot. If he wins, he can choose to fight Conor then. Or if he loses, that fight still makes a lot of sense for both men. I just can’t wait for it to happen. Love or hate McGregor, he is also one of the most exciting fighters in MMA history and, for my money, Gaethje-McGregor is guaranteed to be one of the best fights of all time.
Is O’Malley ready for a top 10, top 5 fighter?— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) December 10, 2021
I have no idea if he’s ready or not, but he certainly needs to face one next if he beats Paiva.
Here’s the deal, I have a strong history of saying the UFC is terrible at promoting because they often throw their fun prospects to the wolves too soon. Now, very occasionally that will create a Jon Jones, but mostly it gets you Edmen Shahbazyan. Slow prospect development is a much better way to go, especially when you have someone who resonates with the fans. But here’s the thing: Sean O’Malley isn’t a kid. Yes, O’Malley gives off the vibe of your rich friends’ younger brother who decided liking pot was a personality trait and now he’s into crypto and CBD, but O’Malley is actually a 27 year old grown-ass man who has been signed to the UFC for almost five years.
Moreover, though O’Malley is content with fighting unranked guys because the money is the same (the correct business decision, for what it’s worth), he also talks an enormous amount of sh*t at ranked guys and honestly, it’s exhausting. Like that same little brother who puts down the bowl to come trash your pick-up basketball skills, let’s check him into the game and see what’s up. Either he gets dunked on and we can move on, or he shows he’s got real game and then let’s start playing. That the UFC is still giving him the Michael “Venom” Page treatment is frustrating because if this kid is as good as he says he is – and he might be! – then let’s see him mix it up with some of the top guys instead of teeing off on short-notice Kris Moutinho’s of the world.
Look, I like Raulian Paiva and I think he’s game enough make O’Malley work tonight, but this fight is fairly dumb, and if O’Malley does his job, all we did was spin our wheels against a guy who doesn’t raise O’Malley’s profile in any meaningful way. Here’s to hoping the next time out is better.
More "sneaky" FOTN potential, Neal vs. ponzinibbio or Emmett vs. IGE?— Subpar Tweeting Guy Patron (@npatron87) December 10, 2021
Surprisingly, it’s probably Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio. Though all four of the guys you mentioned are generally thought of to be exciting fighters, the truth is, none of them have a great track record of “Performance” or “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
When comparing those two fights, Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige is probably the “better” fight in that both men are top-10 bantamweights and they do a lot of things well, but they both also wrestle, and so there’s a much higher likelihood that one man just sits on the other for stretches of the bout. Neal and Ponzi almost never wrestle, and they combined for 9 significant strikes per minute, as compared to Emmett and Ige’s 8. So if I have to choose between those two, I’ll put my money on Neal-Ponzi.
However, if I’m just trying to predict the “Fight of the Night” tonight, my money is on Kai Kara-France and Cody Garbrandt. The stylistic pairing is favorable, and Kara-France is for sure going to push a pace in this one. The smart money is always on the main event, because 25 minutes is a huge advantage for “Fight of the Night” purposes, but since I think that one could be over early, the 15 minutes of back-and-forth at flyweight is the most interesting to me.
And lastly, a Jose Aldo question because we Stan a GOAT
I wasn't buying Aldo as a real bantamweight contender, but then he looked like great against Font. Does Aldo have a chance at another title?— chucklehuttzz (@chucklehuttzz) December 9, 2021
Look, I’m as big a Jose Aldo fan as there is in this world, and I wasn’t buying it either. Since dropping to 135 I have, frankly, been terrified every time Aldo has fought, because I think this is the time his chin gets broken for good. But Aldo looked incredible against Rob Font, whom I think extremely highly of. The fact that Aldo, 17 years into his professional fighting career and 7 years after his prime, has somehow dropped a weight class and INCREASED his volume is about as close as we can get to an MMA miracle as possible. Stuff like that doesn’t happen. Maybe 1 in 100 fighters are every skilled and self-aware enough to make wholesale adjustments to their style. Virtually no one does it when doing so means adjusting a style that made you one of the four or five greatest fighters of all time. Aldo’s bantamweight run has cemented him as a top-3 fighter all time for me.
As for winning another title? Sure, there is always the chance. But for Aldo to claim a second belt, he’ll need to get lucky. Petr Yan presents an atrocious style matchup for him, and if they fought 20 times, Yan probably wins all of them in the same fashion he won their first encounter. He’s too durable for Aldo to back him off with counters like he did Font, and Aldo just can’t keep up with the pace. However, if Yan doesn’t have the belt, things become VERY interesting for Aldo. T.J. Dillashaw would be a fascinating fight and I’d put it as a coin-flip for either man to win. But against Aljamain Sterling, I would actually favor Aldo.
Sterling is an under-appreciated fighter and champion but his style is generous for Aldo. Primarily, Sterling wants to grapple and Aldo is very good at not allowing that, and on the feet, Sterling works a pace but he doesn’t do it in combination. Aldo is the best defensive fighter in MMA history and if you’re throwing one or two shots at him at a time, he can parry them and return fire. It’s when you have the Max Holloway 8-punch combinations - and your chin can eat the Aldo counters that are supposed to back you off - that plays havoc with the GOAT. Sterling doesn’t have that and I think Aldo could cleanly outpoint him, a la Frankie Edgar.
So in summation, Jose Aldo can possibly win a second title, under the right circumstances, but whether or not he does, the man is still the GOAT.
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.