The long run of UFC events is finally coming to an end.
Since January 16th, we have had at least one UFC card a week for a total of 10 events so far this year. And while most of those events have been pretty damn good, that’s still a lot of MMA coming at you. Next weekend will be a welcome break before things get crazy again. But before we get there, we’ve got one final UFC card, and it’s a big one. So let’s discuss all things UFC 260 ahead of tonight’s fights.
Stipe Miocic, the underdog champion
Stipe hasn't been the betting favorite in a fight since 2018. Why are the odds always stacked against him, and do you agree that he is the underdog heading into UFC 260?— The Filthy Casual (@MMAfilthycasual) March 25, 2021
While this is technically true, it also somewhat misrepresents the situation because in that entire time span, Miocic has only fought one dude! In 2018, Stipe Miocic was the favorite against Daniel Cormier heading into their first bout, where he was promptly knocked unconscious. So of course, when they rematched in 2019, Miocic was an underdog and then in the rematch, Miocic got his ass kicked for three rounds before making a great adjustment and coming back to win. When the two had their trilogy fight, it was basically a pick’em. But it’s not shocking that Miocic wasn’t a favorite, given how the first two fights went. The broader point here is that though Miocic is regarded as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, he is an underdog coming into the fight with Ngannou, a rematch of a bout he dominated, and I think a lot of that can be explained by who Stipe is.
Miocic is an undeniably great fighter. After all, you are who your record says you are and Stipe has beaten a tremendous slate of opposition. But for being a dominant champion, he has really never felt all that dominant. Now to be sure, some of that is his demeanor, and some of it is the fact that he doesn’t carry himself as some all-consuming badass, nor does he have the terrifying physique of a man carved from marble, but some of it is also his performances. Winning is the most important aspect of fighting, and Stipe does that better than any UFC heavyweight ever. But man, it sure ain’t pretty a lot of the time.
As mentioned above, Miocic got clubbed by Cormier in their first bout and was then getting battered for most of their second until making the adjustment. In the third, Miocic probably looked his best, but still went hammer and tongs with Cormier until a pretty severe eye-poke functionally took away Cormier’s chances of winning. Before the Cormier trilogy, Miocic spent 25 minutes with Ngannou, winning decisively but still being unable or unwilling to finish a guy who was entirely spent after the first round. And even before that fight, Miocic damn near got finished by the shell of Alistair Overeem. Again, he won all those fights, and that is ultimately what matters. But when you continue to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, it’s pretty understandable that people will doubt you, especially as you get older.
Now, in defense of Miocic, there is another factor at play to his perpetual underdog status, and that’s his skill set. Unlike Francis Ngannou, whose strengths and excellence are abundantly clear to anyone who watches him fight one time, Miocic has become the division’s most dominant champion on the back of subtler things. He is adaptable, smart, he has decent footwork (which is basically unheard of at heavyweight), is ruggedly tough, and is willing to make adjustments. Basically, Miocic is the heavyweight version of Frankie Edgar, and that is much harder to appreciate than an Adonis who cleaves heads off dudes in less time than it takes to make a sandwich.
As for whether Stipe should be the underdog, I’ll save that for the next question.
Who wins tonight?
Do you think that francis ngannou is the baddest man in the wrld rn— the edgy guy (@DoYouKn80471573) March 25, 2021
Yep, probably. But what’s fascinating about tonight’s main event is that no one actually has even the slightest idea if that is true.
Francis Ngannou is, for my money, the most interesting fighter in the sport, because he’s the closest thing we’ve ever had to a cartoon character made real. Seriously, how many fighters have fought 12 times in the UFC and we still know next to nothing about their skill level? Ngannou is the only one, because the one thing we know is the only thing we’ve ever had to know: He could knock out a friggin’ horse if the occasion called for it. Ngannou hasn’t had to show a diverse skill set, or dig into a bag of tricks, because he just touches people and they implode. Here are the things we can say confidently we know about Ngannou: He has otherworldly power, excellent hand speed, good timing, a solid chin (we know this because Stipe cracks and couldn’t stop him), and he’s incredibly athletic. He’s also not 39 years old, and based on those factors alone, I have to think he’s going to beat Miocic tonight.
I believe that Miocic is likely the better technical fighter (though that is speculation because again, no one has a clue about Ngannou), but that he is nearly 39 years old and looks to be diminished from his peak. In their first fight, Miocic fought against a much more physically imposing entity than himself, weathered an early storm, took advantage of Ngannou’s inexperience and grounded out a win. That is a tremendous accomplishment. But now, he’s being asked to do the same thing again, only this time he’s pushing 40, Ngannou is better than before, and the weather-the-storm thing only works once. That’s a big ask of any man, even the best heavyweight alive.
I believe Ngannou is finally going to get the belt many thought he’d have years ago, but if I’m wrong, well, it’s the biggest notch in Miocic’s already stellar belt.
Waiting in the wings
Who do you think Jon Jones wants to win on Saturday?— Matt (@IrishMattMMA1) March 24, 2021
Jones has to be pulling for Stipe tonight. Jones is a lot of things, but he’s not a total moron when it comes to the business of MMA, and Miocic is far and away the best possible opponent for him.
If Stipe Miocic wins, he was likely assume the mantle of heavyweight GOAT for most MMA fans and pundits. Many already have him there, and another win over Ngannou will likely silence most of the remaining Fedor Emelianenko holdouts. In and of itself, that is already the most attractive option for Jones, because Jones is obsessed with his own GOAT legacy, and what better way to cement it than beating the GOAT of another division? Especially when by doing so he can make the very reasonable argument that Stipe was never the best heavyweight ever – he was, and he was just fighting down a weight class.
So from a legacy standpoint, Miocic winning is far better for Jones. But it’s also the better outcome for him in basically every other regard. For one, Jones has a much better chance of beating Miocic than Ngannou. I’m extremely confident that Jones wipes the floor with Miocic. He’s just better than Stipe everywhere, and though Miocic hits hard, he’s not a massively intimidating puncher like Ngannou. For another, a Stipe win doesn’t remove the Ngannou fight from happening, it just delays it. If Stipe wins, Jones will fight him, and then Jones gets the belt and can basically call the shots. If he wants to fight Ngannou, he can do that. Or he can fight Derrick Lewis instead. He can do whatever he wants, because he will be the consensus GOAT and the reigning champion, and no one will tell him shit. Really, there’s no debate. The only possible reason that Jones MIGHT want Ngannou to win is that if Ngannou is the champion, and that is probably a more lucrative fight. But again, it’s also more dangerous and it’s not going to do that much better than Miocic vs. Jones would.
So yeah, tonight you can expect Jones to secretly be pulling for Stipe. But he’ll probably Tweet a bunch of passive aggressive things like, “Man, I cannot WAIT to get my shot at heavyweight and show everyone what I can do. These guys just aren’t on my level.” Should be fun.
The last hurrah for Tyron Woodley?
Do you see Tyron Woodley’s fight this weekend as a make or break for his UFC future?— ap (@adam_peek33) March 24, 2021
By my reckoning, Woodley is the fifth greatest welterweight of all time. But lately, he seems dead set on B.J. Penn-ing his way out of that conversation. Woodley is on a three-fight skid and looks to be completely shot. Now, you can say that he lost to the current three best fighters in the division, so is that really so bad? Yes, yes it is. Because it’s not that Woodley lost those fights, it’s how he lost them.
Woodley has lost his last 15(!) rounds in a row, and they weren’t even close. The man is still tough as nails and still has defensive presence of mind, but he looks entirely incapable of pulling the trigger now. That’s a really bad sign, because you don’t come back from that. No fighter turns gun shy but then gets it back. It’s like in baseball, when you lose your fastball, you don’t get it back. Some pitchers can still get by with craft and guile for awhile, but it’s always the beginning of the end, and the same is true for fighting. Look at Anderson Silva. For the last eight years, Silva has basically refused to punch people, and that hasn’t worked out well for him.
This is exacerbated by the fact that Luque is actually a terrible style matchup for Woodley anyway. Woodley succeeded against the grain in MMA, foregoing the burgeoning high-volume meta-game for a slow, counter focused style that relied heavily on his power and explosion, and some on his wrestling to bail him out if those other tools failed. That style was always susceptible to people who would just do more than him, and Luque is one of those guys.
The reality is, Tyron Woodley’s time as an elite fighter is over. There’s no shame in that. He had a hell of a career and did what most never will do. He probably never got the respect he deserved, but he’s still a future Hall of Famer, and you can’t really ask for much more than that. Tonight, he will lose to Vicente Luque, and on a four-fight losing skid, and getting paid what he gets paid, the UFC will either cut him, or offer him a retirement fight. That’s really the only way this plays out.
Sleeper fight of UFC 260
what's the sleeper fight for saturday.— Jack levy (@Jackattackto) March 24, 2021
Losing the featherweight title fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega was a major hit to this card. With what will likely be not the most exciting co-main event, and the rest of the card being filled out by “rising talent,” there is not a lot of name value here. And honestly, while most of the fights appear competitive on paper, I’m not sure there are that many barnburners on deck.
Aside from the main event, the most fun fight on the card is undoubtably the bantamweight main card fight between Sean O’Malley and Thomas Almeida. Think what you want about O’Malley (you are more than justified in thinking so!), but the kid is exciting as hell in the cage and so is Almeida. O’Malley is a big favorite, and it’s clear why - Almeida doesn’t have the sturdiest chin and walks himself on to counters, something O’Malley excels at. But Almeida also presents an offensive potency that O’Malley hasn’t really had to face before. Make no mistake, O’Malley should win this, but it’s not without risk, and for however long it lasts, these two dudes are gonna be slinging ‘em.
But considering that’s on the main card, it’s hardly a sleeper fight, so I’m gonna go with the light heavyweight scrap between Modestas Bukauskas and Michal Oleksiejczuk. Aside from being a phenomenal Scrabble fight, this fight has a few things going for it, namely that light heavyweight is always hilarious and these two guys both excel at either winning or losing in spectacular fashion (I haven’t looked this up to confirm it, but I have to imagine that Oleksiejczuk is the only active fighter in a major organization to have been submitted by both a kimura and a Von Flue choke). With an average fight time of 3:31 and 5:33 respectively, Bukauskas and Oleksiejczuk are sure to provide the most bang for your buck on the prelims this evening.
And finally, one non-UFC 260 question
Will Miesha Tate get a title shot if she defeats Reanu? She retired on a 2 fight losing streak, let’s not forget garbrandt got a title shot by beating assuncao after a 3 fight losing streak.— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) March 26, 2021
No. Hell no.
You’ll be shocked to know that Marion Reneau is somehow still ranked at bantamweight despite losing four in a row and never being all that high to begin with. But even if Miesha Tate comes back and obliterates Reneau, the UFC won’t throw her right into a title shot. She’ll need at least one more win before they do that, if only to reacquaint fans with her.
I think Tate returning to fighting is great for her. She’ll almost immediately get opportunities in the booth, which is by far he best longterm career path, and assuming she isn’t completely shot, she’ll still be a legit contender at 135. Though there is some new talent in that division, women’s bantamweight has mostly been stagnant for the last several years and Tate still has a good enough skill set to beat most of those women. Plus, there is the highly bankable Tate-Holly Holm rematch the UFC can now use whenever they feel compelled to, and if Tate does win a few, giving her a second shot at Amanda Nunes will at least sell some PPVs.
I am secretly holding out hope that after Tate beats Reneau, she decides she wants to drop to 125 and make a run at Valentina Shevchenko instead. Realistically, Tate has to know she can never beat Nunes, and while I think she also has no chance of beating Shevchenko, that is at least a very compelling and new matchup. Shevchenko is starving for challengers that she won’t be a prohibitive favorite over, and with a win, I think Tate would be just that, plus she’d be the kind of big name that could help boost the profile of arguably the UFC’s most dominant champion. I know it’s a long shot, but here’s to hoping that’s what happens.
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.