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Hot Tweets: Discussing the three title fights at UFC 259 and ranking the rest of the bouts

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Well, it’s finally here. UFC 259 is the best card the UFC is going to put on this year, and arguably the best top-to-bottom card they’ve put together in several years. Three title fights with four champions who hold five belts is some major top end for an event and the rest of the main card and prelims are also filled with bangers. So with UFC 259 sucking up all the air in the MMA room, let’s talk about Jan vs. Izzy, Nunes vs. Anderson, and the rest of this weekend’s fight action.

Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya

Well first off, let’s discuss the possibility (probability?) of Adesanya becoming only the fifth champ-champ in UFC history. Because I’m bucking the trend and I’m gonna say Janny Blacho pulls off the upset the upset of the year and retains his title.

Look, I’m not crazy. I’m well aware that Adesanya is the best striker in UFC history and Blachowicz can only charitably be described as above average (the man has Legendary Polish Power and a good chin, and that’s about the extent of it) but this isn’t kickboxing. Adesanya went hammer and tongs with Kelvin Gastelum because Gastelum just kept in his face and has a head made of cinderblocks. Blachowicz has those same attributes only he’s also friggin’ enormous. I just see a world where Adesanya looks good early but Blachowicz uglies the fight up and wins down the stretch, especially if he can force clinches and put that weight to good use. LPP by decision.

HOWEVER, if Adesanya does what oddsmakers are expecting him to do, then things get interesting. “The Last Stylebender” has already said he intends to defend his middleweight title next, but I’m not so sure about that. The way Adesanya has talked about his possible opponents, none of them seem to pique his interest, and since Robert Whittaker is probably going to beat up Paulo Costa (drunk or not), it’s hard for me to imagine Adesanya is all that keen on rematching Bobby Knuckles. I could absolutely see a world where instead Adesanya says he wants to defend the 205 belt against Glover Teixeira, which not only is a winnable fight for him that would add to his legacy, it also keeps the longterm plan of a fight with Jon Jones alive.

If Adesanya does drop back down to 185 for his next bout though, then 205 will continue on the same as it always has. Teixeira will probably have to fight someone else - like the winner of Jiri Prochazka vs. Dominick Reyes - to hold down his spot and when it’s being announced he’ll call for an interim title fight that won’t happen and so he’ll just fight anyway and hope that Adesanya defends at middleweight and then comes back up. Ultimately, this is why champ-champs are lame: the create stagnation in two divisions as viable contenders have to wait twice as long for title shots. But such is the MMA world since Conor McGregor happened.

Israel Adesanya, five years from now

No, because Adesanya has better coaches. That’s not intended to be a dig on the team at Jackson-Wink, though I guess it is. It’s merely said as a statement of fact. Jon Jones went from being a dynamic wunderkind who obliterated everyone he fought to being a boring point-fighter who arguably lost his last two fights as a direct result of his style change.

Jon Jones is not good at kickboxing and he never has been (that’s why Alexander Gustafsson nearly took the belt off him the first time, because Jones wanted to do his long-range point fighting and Gustafsson just threw combos on his ass). But because Jones has an absurd reach, Mike Winkeljohn or Jones decided he should become an outfighter, despite the fact that it’s the worst part of his game. Jones is arguably the most effective clinch fighter of all time and an unbelievable top-position grappler. He should spend all his time doing that and instead he jabs and teeps people and it sucks.

Fortunately, that won’t happen to Adesanya because, first of all he’s been fighting forever. His style is fully developed and honestly, he probably couldn’t change it much if he tried. But more importantly, he won’t adapt his style in a similar fashion to Jones because he has the confidence that comes with a lifetime of kickboxing excellence. Adesanya has been brutally knocked out and that didn’t deter him from continuing to employ the head-movement heavy style he currently uses. Conversely, Jones, at least in part, became bad-karateka because it creates the least likely chance for him to get knocked out, the thing he believes is how he’s most likely to be upset (ironically, this actually isn’t even true because instead of blowing the doors off guys like Dominick Reyes with his clinch game, it gives them 25 minutes to hang around and steal a fight).

Now, none of this is to say that Adesanya will be a highlight reel for the rest of his career. He’s still primarily a counter-striker and so, when faced with an opponent like Yoel Romero who won’t play into his game, it’s going to neuter much of Adesanya’s offense. The longer he holds a title, the more likely we are to see similar tactics employed against him as fighters adjust to kill the king. It happened with Anderson Silva, and it’s coming for Izzy too.

Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson

In short, she can’t.

I don’t mean to dismiss Megan Anderson’s ability, but if she pulls off the upset tonight, outside of some kind of fluke cut stoppage, it would be one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Certainly the biggest in women’s MMA history (not most consequential, that will forever belong to Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey). Anderson is a competent striker and not entirely lost on the ground but by far her best quality is that she’s big and reasonably athletic. Unfortunately, neither of those attributes make much hay against a woman who bulldozed Cris Cyborg. There just aren’t a lot of avenues for Anderson to pursue effectively in this fight.

But okay, let’s try and make the case.

If I’m coaching Anderson, the first priority is making it to the later rounds. Though Nunes seems to have mostly resolved her cardio issues, that’s still your best weapon in this fight, especially if Nunes perhaps takes Anderson lightly or if motherhood has distracted her. So to make it past the first 10 minutes, I’m going to rely a lot on wrestling. Nunes likely won’t be expecting to have to defend many takedowns as Anderson has rarely shot them in her career, so an early takedown could catch Nunes off guard, win the first round, and sap some of the strength from the champion. It also could chip into Nunes’ aura of invincibility and make her have to fight from behind, something she’s not accustomed to doing.

Next, if the wrestling fails, Anderson needs to lean on clinch work. Anderson is big and athletic and can at least hold her own with Nunes’ physicality in close. It’s at range where the speed and power will kill her. So Anderson needs to force tie ups, lean on Nunes, and try to wear her down. Most importantly, she needs to make Nunes work. Nunes’ cardio has held up because in her longer fighters her opponent is still ultimately fighting the fight Nunes wants. Anderson needs to make this a test of lungs.

Finally, Anderson has to be competitive on the feet. Like I said, Nunes’ speed and power pose a substantial risk to Anderson but she can’t just abandon her striking entirely. It’s the skill she’s ostensibly best at so she needs to have confidence that she can spend five minutes on the feet with Nunes and not get her doors blown off. That means being defensively responsible and working behind a jab. Don’t let Nunes get into a rhythm on the feet because you’re gonna have a bad time.

Or hell, maybe Anderson just throws a bunch of calf kicks because apparently those are an undefendable killing machine that must be stopped.

If Anderson wins

If Megan Anderson wins, it immediately goes down as one of the greatest upsets in MMA history and Dana White books the rematch before the post-fight presser even starts.

Seriously, the best-case scenario for the UFC probably is an Anderson win. For as good a person as Nunes is, she’s never been very marketable, and though I have my doubts that Anderson is either, it’s fresh blood for the UFC to try with. Plus, if Nunes wins, there’s nothing left at 145 so the UFC might just shutter the whole damn division.

Moreover, Nunes cannot have that much left in her career. She’s accomplished everything there is to accomplish, she’s a mother now, and there’s actually no one left for her to fight after Anderson. An Anderson win sets the UFC up with a bankable rematch, diversifies their titles (always a good thing) and keeps women’s featherweight around for at least a little while longer.

As for Nunes, I don’t think a loss really affects her much. In this sport, everyone loses (except Khabib). So if this weekend happens to be when time finally catches up to The Lioness, then she’s still the greatest female fighter ever and a lock for the Hall of Fame. Her legacy will be none the worse for wear.

Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling

For what is clearly the most exciting, competitive bout of the weekend, it somehow feels like Yan vs. Aljo is being overlooked on this card. You’re gonna be hard-pressed to find a bigger Jose Aldo fan than I am and even I realize that Yan “winning” the title by beating Aldo was specious as best. But this fight? It will unequivocally determine the 135-pound king. And it’s a super-close fight.

Yan has realistically never lost (his one L is a bad split decision he then avenged) but somehow has managed to look vulnerable with some regularity. Conversely, Aljo often looks like he should be the greatest bantamweight ever but has consistently found ways to shoot himself in the foot. Aljo is all dynamic grappling and Yan is all pressure and boxing. It’s a fascinating style matchup and one that I could see playing out 20 different ways depending on the day of the week it happens.

Ultimately, I favor Yan to edge the fight out. If there’s one thing I have no doubt about going into this fight, it’s that Petr Yan will not cost himself the bout. He may lose to Sterling, but it won’t be because he fought poorly, or made a bad decision, it will be because he got beat by a better fighter. I can’t say the same for Sterling. Aljo has been his own downfall too many times for me to want to pick him when he’s facing an indefatigable buzz saw like Yan.

One more, for good measure

I can only assumed because everyone thinks Joseph Benavidez is washed, which is ridiculous. Joe B is not the fighter he once was but he’s still a damn sight better than Askar Askarov. Aside from his gaudy record, Askarov hasn’t shown much to make me think he’s a really threat to the top of the table at flyweight and even absent that, on paper this is terrible for him. Benavidez is a good wrestler and elite scrambler. Askarov isn’t going to be able to take him down and if he does succeed at that, he’ll have no chance in holding Joe B down. Unless I’m totally missing something, the odds on this are super off.

Rankings the fights at UFC 259

There are FIFTEEN fights this evening because the UFC does not want its hardcore fans to have social lives and though most of them are awesome, not all of them are bangers because THERE ARE FIFTEEN OF THEM. We could scrap several of the unknown fights from the early prelims and all be better for it, but since that won’t happen, here’s a rundown of the fights you should tune in for, in order of priority.

  1. Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya: Champ-champ fights don’t happen a lot. Regardless of the outcome, the stakes are highest for this one.
  2. Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling: The best fight on the card also happens to be for some really important stakes.
  3. Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson: Not a good fight but titles matter and watching the GOAT go to work is privilege enough.
  4. Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober: Makhachev is about to get his chance to take over for Khabib. If he’s really as good as they say he is, this fight will be a major milestone for him.
  5. Kyler Phillips vs. Song Yadong: Sleeper for Fight of the Night. The stakes on all the rest of the fights are middling at best and this one is almost guaranteed to be both shiny and chrome.
  6. Thiago Santos vs. Aleksander Rakic: Someone is gonna get knocked out, probably in weird and violent fashion.
  7. Kai Kara-France vs. Rogerio Bontorin: Flyweights are awesome.
  8. Tim Elliott. vs. Jordan Espinosa: See above.
  9. Trevin Jones vs. Mario Bautista: Both fighters are fun as hell. Honestly, I probably sold this one short.
  10. Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney: Pretty sure Cruz is gonna do Cruz things for 15 minutes which will be both cool and frustrating as hell.
  11. Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews: Solid, competitive matchmaking.
  12. Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov: This high only out of respect for Joe B’s career. I expect this to mostly be a boring, dominant fight from Benavidez.
  13. Carlos Ulberg vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu: Ulberg was on a show called Game of Bros and turned down New Zealand’s Bachelor twice. He’s also a pretty fun kickboxer and might deliver a sick KO.
  14. Uros Medic vs. Aalon Cruz: “Uros Medic” is a great name and Aalon Cruz’s Tapology picture looks like a boxer from the 1920s.
  15. Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos: Look, every card needs a smoke break.

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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