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Hot Tweets: UFC 259 fallout, Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad, and who will be the next champ-champ

UFC 259: Yan v Sterling Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

This past weekend, three titles were fought for at UFC 259 with only one of them changing hands, and it doing so in the most unlikely of fashions. Beyond that, there is yet another UFC event this weekend so the hits keep right on coming. So let’s talk about some of the fallout from UFC 259, where we go from there, and what happens tonight at UFC Vegas 21.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan II

The big story coming out of this past weekend was Petr Yan’s DQ loss and the mountains of fallout directed at Aljamain Sterling as a result. UFC President Dana White has already said they intend to book an immediate rematch as soon as possible and so, given that, UFC 262 could make sense as an optimal landing spot for the bantamweight title bout. Of course, that does depend on Sterling’s timeline for return (I know Yan is basically ready to run it back tomorrow if the UFC books it) and with Sterling getting brutally kneed in the head, he may want more than a couple of months to recover and then get back into training camp. Still, given the circumstances that seems like a date the UFC could well be targeting for this fight. However, I believe this would be a bad decision.

I take a deep dive into this very subject on this week’s Great Divide which will be dropping soon so I won’t go into exhaustive detail here but I am of the opinion that the UFC should not book an immediate rematch for Yan.

Though he has caught an enormous rash of shit from Yan, “fans,” and even some notable media figures, Aljamain Sterling has done nothing wrong in this situation. Yan committed a clear foul that ended the bout and the disqualification was entirely justified. There are only two viable ways to interpret Yan’s actions, either willfully illegal or grossly negligent. In either scenario, Yan comes off poorly but what’s arguably even worse is that Yan knows his strike was illegal but has failed to accept any blame for his role in the outcome. Instead, the former champion has been ponying off responsibility on Mark Smith for his call (which was 100% correct) and saying Sterling was making the whole thing up to win the title. At a very basic level, this is just trash behavior and shouldn’t be rewarded with an immediate title shot, especially since Yan’s resume at bantamweight is actually not all that impressive (he has wins over Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera, and John Dodson, unfortunately, it’s not 2016 so those aren’t as good as they sound).

I believe that Petr Yan is the best 135-pounder in the world right now but that doesn’t mean he gets a pass on doing something that, even viewed in the most generous possible light, is still the dumbest thing done in UFC title fight history. I’m fine with people making mistakes so long as they own them, but Yan is doing his level best to pass the buck on something that falls squarely on his shoulders and it seems like the UFC is going to let him do just that. Instead, I wish they’d let Aljo defend against someone else and make Yan fight at least one top-ranked opponent before putting him back in there. Hell, let him fight T.J. Dillashaw even. At least Dillashaw has admitted he screwed up.

Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad

Inactivity is always a hard thing to judge when it comes to fighters. Some fighters show ring rust when they’ve been out for awhile and then you have others, like Dominick Cruz, who insist ring rust isn’t real. Ultimately, I come down believing that ring rust is real but that a certain level of professionalism and dedication can minimize those effects. That being said, I don’t think inactivity had anything to do with Conor McGregor losing to Dustin Poirier and I doubt it will play much of a role tonight either.

McGregor didn’t lose to Poirier because he has competed sparingly these past few years (also, that’s entirely his fault), or because he spent too much time focusing on boxing, or because he looked past Dustin or whatever other hogwash Conor, his coaches, or Dana White try to deflect with. He lost because Dustin Poirier beat his ass by virtue of being the better fighter with better coaches.

This will infuriate people but the book is out on McGregor. He’s the greatest glass cannon in MMA history. A stunningly potent offensive force who wilts when confronted with equal pressure coming back at him. He’s MMA lightweight Mike Tyson (this is actually an unfair comparison to Tyson, especially since we’d never have to question his power, and it’s now fair to do so with McGregor the lightweight). The man needs an overhaul of his team and coaches to get back to the top and that seems highly unlikely.

Conversely, the book is very much not out on Leon Edwards. Edwards is phenomenally well-rounded and entirely devoid of ego, at least inside the cage. He will adapt his game plan and strategy to take advantage of the various weaknesses of his opponents and play to his great strength of versatility. You can’t really “solve” Leon Edwards, you just have to beat him. You win more phases of the game, more skirmishes than he does over 25 minutes, which is a tall order and one that can only be accomplished by the very best fighters in the world. Belal Muhammad is a good fighter, but I don’t think he’s on that level. He’ll be competitive and make Edwards work for it but ultimately the math just isn’t on his side. Edwards is the casino, and the house always wins.

Leon Edwards’ future

Earlier this week Dana White said that if Leon wins tonight, he will get the next welterweight title fight, so obviously he won’t. White’s track record with statements like this is pretty horrendous.

The reality is that even though Edwards is clearly the most deserving challenger atop the welterweight rankings right now (followed by Stephen Thompson), no one actually cares if he gets a title shot or not. Be honest, can you remember more than two of his wins on his current nine-fight win streak? Trick question, it’s actually eight wins and you didn’t even know that because no one cares. This is exacerbated by the fact that the champion already has a win over Edwards, even if it was five years ago. There just isn’t a lot to gravitate to about that matchup other than the vague idea of meritocracy.

That’s why this weekend is so unfortunate for Edwards. Like it or not, Khamzat Chimaev is the Next Big Thing for the UFC and people care about him. If Edwards rolled in and handed Chimaev his first loss, on the back of everything else he’s accomplished, that would lock him in for a title fight. Instead he now gets an arguably harder matchup against a guy that, like himself, no one really cares about. It’s the most Leon Edwards outcome imaginable and really, it just sucks all around.

The only way I see Edwards being able to circumvent this impending disaster is if he blows the doors of Muhammad and then cuts a Chael Sonnen-esque promo on Usman. But if he comes in and is just his normal, excellent self en route to a clear decision win, then he goes and gets jawed by like, Nasrat Haqparast backstage, the closest he’s getting to a title fight is if he buys tickets to Usman-Masvidal II.

Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya

Well, the superfight is dead but we probably still have to listen to this nonsense.

Adesanya is going to go back to middleweight and that’s good. That’s his best division and though the UFC let him move up, he by no means has cleaned it out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever: the true mark of greatness is not in winning multiple belts but in defending your own for years on end. Meanwhile, Jon Jones weighs 260 now which means that man is never dropping back to 205. There’s no real world in which the two face off at this point, unless it is several years down the line.

Instead, we’ll get Jones and Adesanya continuing to chirp at each other over social media in what has become, for my money, the most pedantic rivalry in the history of the sport. Call me old fashioned but picking a fight with someone smaller than you is real bush league stuff and then reveling in that man’s failure is just . . . it’s a bad look. Honestly, if someone took away Jones’ Twitter account, we’d all be better for it.

Two quick asides here:

  1. Mad props to Jan Blachowicz. I told y’all last week that LPP was going to get it done and he delivered. Awesome, awesome stuff from him. (Incidentally, though many of my calls last week were right, my declaration that “Petr Yan will not cost himself the bout” turned out to be comically wrong).
  2. For all Jones’ trash talk about how he’d kill Adesanya, and he very well might, I actually think Izzy fares better against Jones than he did against Jan. It’s not like Jones has used his wrestling a lot lately and part of Adesanya’s struggles against Jan was Jan’s defense and the caution around his return fire. Jones doesn’t bring the same Legendary Polish Power for Adesanya to be worried about on the feet and so I think he might be a little more willing to open up his offense.

Julianna Peña, writing checks she can’t cash

If her intention is to be put in a coma, then yeah this is a fool-proof plan. Otherwise, it seems like a real dumb idea.

After Nunes steamrolled Megan Anderson, Peña immediately called for the next title shot and she’ll probably get it given that Nunes has already mashed practically everyone else, but the way Peña is going about it isn’t going to make her any fans. Peña’s insistence that Nunes “doesn’t want to fight me” threads the nearly impossible needle of being both nauseatingly trite and stunningly asinine. Nunes has fought literally everyone in two divisions and is the unquestioned GOAT of women’s MMA. She’s beaten the brakes off of a litany of all-time greats (and won two competitive decisions over Valentina Shevchenko) and was actively interested in a rematch with Cris Cyborg AFTER she already knocked her out. That woman would fight a f***ing polar bear. But sure, she’s afraid of a woman who got choked out by Germaine de Randamie six months ago.

Look, there are some fighters who are good at trash talk and then there are some fighters who just say a lot of things and people confuse that for charisma. Julianna Peña is definitely in the latter category, but she’s probably going to get a title shot as a result, and when you compete during the same era as Amanda Nunes, getting your ass beat by her is the closest you’ll ever get to holding the belt.

The Next Champ-Champ

Honestly, I don’t like anyone’s chances right now. In matters of champ-champ hood, opportunity is equally as important as ability. I mean, let’s face it, Conor McGregor was the UFC’s first ever champ-champ because they let him do it, not because he was the first guy who could do it. Dozens of fighters have been good enough to be champ-champs, but you’ve got to be great and you have to be compelling enough to warrant the UFC making that effort, and the current crop of champions are lacking one of those two key components. Let’s go through the list.

115: Weili Zhang is phenomenal but no one is beating Valentina Shevchenko.

W125: I’m the leader of the Valentina Shevchenko fan club but even I have to admit that she would lose to Nunes a third time (albeit in another close fight).

W135 and W145: Nunes holds these titles until she retires.

125: Deiveson Figueiredo is awesome but there’s a very real possibility he’s like, the third best 125er in the world right now and he’d get thumped up by the top bantams.

135: Aljamain Sterling is probably going to lose his title soon, and I don’t like Yan’s chances against Volko.

145: Alexander Volkanovski may be your best bet among current champions as he is really, really friggin’ good. That being said, lightweight is already completely saturated with contenders so his path to a title shot isn’t great and even if he does get one, every lightweight is unbelievably good too. It’s a tough row to hoe.

155: I would pick Khabib to beat Kamaru Usman right now (and Israel Adesanya for that matter) but the man is retired and has no interest in those fights. You could sell me on Poirier beating Usman but the likelihood of that fight ever happening is low. 155 just has too much business to get sorted.

170: I’d be interested in Usman vs. Adesanya but he’s already said he won’t do it and I’d still favor Izzy.

185: We found Izzy’s ceiling.

205: This might be your safest bet since heavyweight mostly sucks but it’s still hard to see the LPP beat like, Francis Ngannou.

HW: No one at the top of this division is ever dropping down.

So looking over all of that, I’m really not seeing any great choices for current champions to win a second title (unless you’re talking about Jon Jones who, certainly has a good chance though I still would rate him as an underdog to win the heavy). If Nunes ever decides to retire, Shevchenko would immediately become the number one choice here but otherwise I think we’ve got to look to contenders and among those, one name sticks out to me: Cody Garbrandt.

When he’s on, Garbrandt is undoubtedly one of the most athletic and dangerous bantamweights in the world. He could definitely give Petr Yan a scare at 135. More importantly though, Garbrandt already had a flyweight title shot until COVID derailed those plans. Once Figgy Smalls and Brandon Moreno settle their business, there’s a decent chance Garbrandt gets thrown right back in there, and if he can avoid the urge to swing right hooks with Figueiredo, he may well win the flyweight title. If he does that, I would bet anything that the UFC goes ahead an immediately gives him a shot at the bantamweight belt. So “No Love” is the best bet.

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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