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Hot Tweets: Knees to the head of grounded fighters, ONE Championship, and Venum

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UFC 197 Photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Hello again, friends! Though the UFC is in an uncharacteristic lull right now (I know an event happened yesterday but if an event takes place in the afternoon during Masters weekend, did it really take place at all?), the rest of the MMA world is picking things up. This past week we saw both Bellator and ONE Championship put on marquee cards, with the latter dominating the conversation due to the fall of Demetrious Johnson. So let’s talk about DJ, the knee, and a smattering of other topics going on in the sport right now, including the new Venum deal.


So the big topic this week was Demetrious Johnson getting obliterated by a knee from Adriano Moraes after being dropped to the canvas by an uppercut just moments earlier. The knee, which came while Mighty Mouse was on his butt, was 100 percent legal under ONE Championship’s ruleset and it was also 100 percent awesome. However, because it came almost exactly one month after Petr Yan threw away his UFC bantamweight title by doing something similar against Aljamain Sterling, which in the UFC is 100 percent illegal, this re-opened the long had discussion surrounding the grounded fighter rule, despite the fact that Johnson himself was still very much in support of the rule! Time is a flat circle it would appear.

The grounded fighter rule is extremely dumb and the myriad fans who came out clutching their pearls after watching Johnson get the bricks blown off of him are not built to be fans of this sport, and that’s fine! Sport jiu-jitsu is highly enjoyable to watch and I recommend you become a fan of that. But if you think that knee was any worse than thousands of other KOs that have happened in this sport just because Johnson was sitting down when it happened, I don’t know what to tell you. If his butt was not on the ground but he was in functionally the same position, you know what would have happened? The exact same thing and that’s why this rule is so dumb.

It’s the same core concept as having your hands up. If Johnson eats a clean right hand, it doesn’t matter if his hands are by his head or not, he’s getting bolted. But keeping your hands down does dramatically increase the potential for you to take the fight ending blow. We don’t mandate fighters use defensive fundamentals and we shouldn’t mandate this. You know how Mighty Mouse could have avoided getting destroyed? He could have not stood up without any semblance of protection for his head, something he will say himself.

The truth of the matter is that the grounded fighter rule does nothing to protect fighters from undue damage. Mostly it serves to prolong bouts that could be finished much sooner, and creates a less exciting sport by creating a safe position for hurt fighters to bail out to. Strikes should be prohibited based on the strikes themselves (headbutts) or the location the strikes land on the body (eyes, groin, throat). Creating a rule that hinges on both of those AND also on the opponents body position is entirely unnecessary and ultimately creates ambiguity and terrible, frustrating situations that everyone hates. It’s long past time for the grounded fighter rule to go.

Speaking of Adriano Moraes

It’s definitely not the best win in recent memory given the outlying factors (this wasn’t at 125, DJ is probably past his prime) but it’s a damn good win and it’s definitely the biggest of Moraes’ career thus far.

Moraes is a guy that American Top Team have been huge on for a while now and it’s easy to see why. He’s a legitimate world class grappler and he’s got serious pop in his hands. He also has only lost three times in his career, each by split decision and two of them avenged. At 31 years old, he probably only has a few more years of peak competition left in front of him but with the win over DJ he’s likely going to be the standard-bearer for ONE moving forward and we should all be excited to watch him fight.

ONE Championship’s weight cutting policy

I’m going to speak delicately here as I will freely admit I am not the most versed on this particular topic. On their website you can read all the specific rules ONE has regarding “walking weight” competition, including fight-week hydration checks and as much as I’d like to trust everything ONE says is both true and enforced, this is also the same organization that has claimed it gets views ranging between 25 and 85 million a show and has a shocking number of criticisms, accusations, and issues facing it. Let’s just say there is reason to doubt that everything is entirely on the up-and-up.

For instance, on Wednesday Demetrious Johnson and Adriano Moraes competed in the same weight class officially, but I would be absolutely stunned if on fight night these two men weighed the same.

I’m entirely willing to believe Demetrious Johnson was 135 for the fight. I am much less willing to believe the same for Moraes. Unless DJ has some super dense bones, that strains credulity.

Now, whether this is something to do with ONE, I have no idea. As the old saying goes, if you build a 10-foot wall, someone will build an 11-foot ladder. It’s entirely possible, probable even, that fighters have found ways to work around ONE’s weight-cutting rules so as to gain an edge over their opponents. But if ONE is going to reap the benefits of good media for their ant-weight cutting rules, then they probably should be prepared to speak to why Johnson looked a full division smaller than his opponent last week.

Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix final

Not only is there a better upcoming fight than Patricio Pitbull vs. A.J. McKee, there’s a better upcoming featherweight fight. Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega, though it’s been delayed due to COVID and now The Ultimate Fighter will happen sometime this year and when it does, it’s probably the most interesting fight in the sport at this moment in time.

Volkanovski’s fight game can best be described like a casino: he has very small edges everywhere that, over time, inevitably lead to him winning. Volko’s fight IQ and ability to adjust mid-fight are unparalleled which makes it nigh impossible to win a 25-minute decision over the man. Like Danny Ocean said, “The house always wins. You play long enough, you never change the stakes, the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big and then you take the house.” Brian Ortega is that hand. Ortega is not much of a round-winner but he is a predatory finisher that’s the only way you’re going to beat Volko—a guy who loses for 20 minutes only to win spectacularly. It’s an absolutely fascinating matchup and, though Pitbull may not like it, it’s the one that will actually determine the best featherweight alive.

That being said, Pitbull vs. McKee is AWESOME. It may well be my most anticipated fight this year (as long-time readers/Between the Links listeners will know, I do not like Brian Ortega and thus the prospect of him winning the title and me having to eat all this crow makes me actually not as excited about the bout as I should be). Pitbull is certainly one of the best featherweights alive right now (I’d put him behind only Volko and Max Holloway) and McKee is the best prospect in the sport and one with the ability to really be a star for Bellator. That doesn’t happen every day.

Not to mention, the fight itself is spectacular. Pitbull, obviously, is super well-versed everywhere and McKee has proven himself to be dynamic and dangerous both as a grappler and a striker. I have to assume that on the feet, Pitbull’s defense gives him the advantage but on the floor, McKee is a handful. Plus McKee’s length on the feet could prove to be an advantage for him there. This fight is going to be some of the best MMA you’ll see all year and I hope Bellator does it justice by promoting the absolute hell of out it.


No. It will be worse.

The Venum deal will pay fighters slightly more than the Reebok deal, so that’s a (very minor) improvement. However, that pay increase doesn’t quite keep up with the rate of inflation since the Reebok deal’s inception so there’s that. Plus now instead of being sponsored by a third-tier sporting apparel company that at least had mainstream recognition, now fighters wear the gear of a fifth-tier sporting apparel company whose name looks like it was spelled by Reebok. And of course, it’s worse because now the fighters have another contract imposed on them for however long instead of being close to the end of their previous bad contract. Plus, Bryce Mitchell once again no longer has camo shorts. So really, it’s not great!

Ultimately, as awful as I think this all is (and I do think it’s awful—uniforms are for the military not cage fights, give me fighters looking like NASCARs over this monochromatic nonsense entirely bereft of personality) I just cannot care much about it. If the fighters aren’t going to smarten up to protect their own interests, then why should I bang my head against that wall? So whatever. New shorts, that look identical to the old ones. Yippee.

Conor McGregor

Now for the obligatory Conor McGregor question: yes, he’s done being a champion. It’s not impossible for McGregor to reclaim the lightweight belt given his star power—he will get more chances, I’m sure—but the problem is he’s not the best lightweight in the world. He’s probably not in the top four.

McGregor is a very, very good fighter and one of the most potent offensive forces we’ve ever seen in the sport. He also was extremely lucky in his career-defining run. To be extremely clear, I don’t mean McGregor landed lucky punches, I mean McGregor’s career broke just right for him. He was an exceptional featherweight who mostly get good matchups and then immediately left the division. Then he got into a series with Nate Diaz that people think of as good for McGregor despite Diaz only ever being a fringe top guy, and was fortunate enough to face Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title, the actual best matchup possible for McGregor, aside from Donald Cerrone. Since then, McGregor has had to fight actual tough matchups (and Cowboy) and has been beaten accordingly.

Look, McGregor is very good at fighting but he was a much better featherweight than he is at lightweight (he clearly doesn’t have the same power), and at this point the book is out on him. He’s a glass cannon and if you can make it through an early onslaught, he will fold, and unfortunately for McGregor, the top of the lightweight division is filled with battle-tested badasses. He’s gonna play hell putting together a pair of wins against any of them. So yeah, he’s not getting the title back.

Fight Circus

In tragic news, Fight Circus III: Fisting 4 Dollars, which was supposed to happen this past Friday, was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Full Metal Dojo guys have already said they’re looking to bring it back ASAP so that’s good news but in the interim, I figured we might as well end with an homage to the best organization in combat sports by answering this question. And the answer is very easy: Francis Ngannou vs. Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan.

I know everyone’s inclination is going to go to Ngannou vs. Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, but there are a couple of reasons why I think that choice is inferior. First off, I actually think Ngannou would win that fight so I think we should weight the scales a little more evenly. But more importantly, think of the dynamics at play if you teamed Aljo and Yan up! Those guys friggin’ hate each other. Could they work together to formulate a game plan? Would Aljo act like he was on board with Yan and then let Yan run headlong into Ngannou to get clobbered as revenge? Would Yan wait for Aljo to shoot on Ngannou and then just knee Aljo in the head again? So many questions! I would easily pay $500 to watch this. It’s a shame it will never happen.

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.