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Hot Tweets: Discussing UFC 261, the return of fans, Triller Fight Club, and UFC Africa

UFC 261 Weigh-in Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

After a brief one-week hiatus so I could attend and cover the Triller Fight Club event, Hot Tweets is back and boy do we have a lot to chat about. UFC 261, the return of fans, the aforementioned Triller Fight Club, and a number of other announcements and rumors have been swirling about the last couple of weeks so let’s jump in!

UFC 261

I’d say it’s possible but probably not likely.

Starting from most likely to least: if Jessica Andrade somehow upsets Valentina Shevchenko, that is guaranteed to be an immediate rematch. Shevchenko is a dominant champion, the UFC has invested in her, and there really is no one else in line. That one is a lock.

If Jorge Masvidal upsets Kamaru Usman, the most likely scenario is that they run the trilogy right back because Usman has the one win already, he’s been a dominant champion they’ve been starting to push as maybe the next GOAT, and trilogies are big money. However, this one isn’t guaranteed because if Masvidal wins the title, that opens up some other opportunities, both for the UFC and for himself. Perhaps instead of threematching it with Usman, Masvidal wants to fight Conor McGregor (if McGregor beats Poirier). If that fight is on the table, the UFC is at least going to consider it, regardless of how great Usman has been.

Finally, if Rose Namajunas upsets Weili Zhang, I think it’s slightly more likely that they go somewhere else. In favor of an automatic rematch is that the UFC wants to push Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk already has two losses to Namajunas. Working against the rematch though is third-ranked Yan Xiaonan, who is currently scheduled to face fourth-ranked Carla Esparza next month. If Yan wins, you’d be hard pressed to deny her a title shot and even if she loses, Esparza does have a win over Namajunas and it’s possible the UFC decides that there’s enough juice there to squeeze instead of a transparent ploy to continue making inroads into the Chinese market.

All that being said, the odds of all three titles changing hands tonight are astronomically small. It’s far more likely that no titles change hands and we’re On To The Next One for all parties involved.

The Return of the Fans

No. It is a terrible idea that shouldn’t be happening, and I just hope it doesn’t irreparably harm anyone.

This will be the section that gets people the most riled up because the people who decry “cancel culture” are softer than melted ice cream, but simply put, this DOES NOT NEED TO HAPPEN. We are still in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed millions of people. The pandemic isn’t over. It didn’t go away. It’s still here and thousands of new cases are happening every day. Yes, vaccines have been rolled out and yes, we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel for this hellacious time period in all of our lives, but seeing the end and being at the end are not the same thing. Just because you can see the surface of the water doesn’t mean you can just inhale - you’ll fucking drown.

The UFC is not putting on a full fan event because the world is safe now or because Jacksonville needs it. This is happening for the same two reasons that the UFC continued to hold events when the rest of the world shut down: one man’s ego and the almighty dollar.

The UFC wants to be the first event back with full fan attendance so they can put a flag in the ground and Dr. Dana White can declare the pandemic over in the face of a globe full of medical professionals saying otherwise. That he can do so while raking in buckets of cash is a nice bonus. Again, it’s important to remember that Dana White is paid a percentage of the UFC’s profits.

On top of it being a bad idea in general, the UFC isn’t even pretending to care at this point. The only requirement for fans to enter UFC 261 is for them to fill out a health questionnaire designed to reveal if they may have recently been exposed to the virus and from there fans have the choice about whether or not to wear a mask. It’s the honor system for 15,000 people. There is literally no argument in favor of this that doesn’t boil down to “I don’t care about other people.”

Hopefully, most of the people in attendance for UFC 261 will be vaccinated and hopefully they will be wearing masks but I don’t have a lot of faith in that. COVID-19 killed over half a million people in this country and the United States collectively decided we didn’t care. This is who we are and frankly, that sucks.

Triller Fight Club

Yes, there’s one huge lesson to learn: MMA organizations are objectively terrible at building stars.

Combat sports is a star-driven medium, it always has been and it always will be. Intentionally attempting to injure another human being exists too far out of the main stream for the wider public to gravitate towards consistently. There will always be some people, many people, who love it and dedicate their lives to it, even perhaps when all logic and their families have begged them to pursue other, more lucrative areas of interest, but for the most part, fighting is a passing dalliance dictated by a broader appeal, i.e. star power. Most people don’t want to watch fights every Saturday night, but everyone will watch every once in awhile if the people fighting are culturally important, and that’s where the UFC and Bellator have failed spectacularly over the years.

To be fair though, it’s not entirely their fault. Building stars is really hard and mostly no one is great at it for the most cliche of reasons: you either have it or you don’t. As great a fighter as Demetrious Johnson is, there’s only so much you can make the broader public care about him. Now, the UFC does not maximize their potential in this regard but really, they’re not much trying to. The UFC and Dana White have always been the stars of the show and if your Conor McGregors and Ronda Rousey’s come along, that’s just a nice bonus.

Jake Paul hasn’t done anything unheard of or impossible, he’s merely using a known hack to the system to great success. Paul could make a lot of money doing any number of things, this is just the avenue he chose, and as long as he keeps winning, he’ll keep making a lot of money because people are going to watch.

The Next Welterweight Title Challenger

It’s a decently sized slap in the face. Fortunately, it’s probably not true.

Dana White likes to say things and, as it turns out, often times the things he says end up not being true. Remember when Khabib was going to fight again? Or Brock Lesnar wasn’t coming to the UFC? Or that when the Georges St-Pierre return ship had sailed? Well Khabib retired, Brock fought again, and that ship sailed right back. So from the outset, let’s just take what White said with four daily servings of salt.

Secondly, even if what White said is true right now, it may well not be true come next month. At UFC 262, Leon Edwards is fighting Nate Diaz and if Diaz wins, I guarantee that man gets the next crack at Kamaru Usman, regardless of how much Colby Covington complains. The UFC has shown a consistent willingness to hand Colby Ls for lesser reasons. An Usman-Diaz fight is a great reason to continue that storied tradition and honestly, if Edwards wins that’s probably a good enough reason to pass Colby over again as well.

Of course, that’s small comfort for Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson who find themselves well outside the title conversation right now, but it’s hard to feel too much pity for either man. Burns literally just had a title shot and lost. He needs some wins to get back there. Meanwhile, Wonderboy has had two cracks at the belt and is only on a two-fight win streak right now. I’d love to see him fight Usman but by no means does he have a bullet-proof case for it. Both men need to get to scrapping to get back in there.

Another potential title snub

This is far from certain but if it’s true, this one blows hard.

The rumors running around are that Adesanya’s desired timeline for return doesn’t match up for Whittaker so the UFC is looking at doing Vettori instead and if that does come to pass, it’s some pretty ragged trash. Vettori has been on a good run but he hasn’t beaten nearly the competition Whittaker has and giving him a title shot over Bobby Knuckles feels a little bit like Adesanya just doesn’t want to fight the dude he styled on their first fight. I mean, I guess it’s better than Darren Till randomly getting a title shot but it still stinks to high heaven.

Robert Whittaker has had the best run of any former UFC champion ever. Usually, when champions lose their belt they end up starting a decline, sometime fast sometimes slow, but almost always a decline. They win some, they lose some, maybe they get another title shot but they rarely put together incredible performances back to back to back. Whittaker has done that. He has legitimately looked better than ever and the only fighter I can think of who has done something similar is Frankie Edgar, but his title rebound included a drop to his natural weight class. Whittaker is clearly the second best middleweight in the world (third if you’re counting Yoel Romero) and deserves to be rewarded for putting together a string of sensational performances. I hope the UFC does the right thing.

Upcoming main events

Easily Cory Sandhagen vs. T.J. Dillashaw.

I know most people will pick the lightweight title fight at UFC 262 and that’s fine but I’m still not over the absurdity of that fight being for the belt when the winner quite possibly won’t even be a top-five lightweight in the world. Plus, if Michael Chandler wins that’s gonna suck a big one.

Meanwhile, Sandhagen-Dillashaw has an awesome backstory with tons of intrigue and should be absolutely bonkers. Dillashaw is the greatest bantamweight ever but had to go tooth and nail with Dominick Cruz. Sandhagen is a revamped version of Cruz but has never fought a guy with Dillashaw’s movement. Unless Dillashaw is washed (certainly possible) this should be fireworks in the cage and what it means for the division and both men is captivating. I can’t wait.

UFC Africa

Rumor has it that the UFC is looking to go to Africa in 2022, and while I’m confident that will happen, it is incredibly unrealistic to think all three African UFC champions will be fighting on the card. For one thing, 2022 is a long way away and all three champions have legitimate challenges ahead of them. Depending on how late in the year the card is, it’s possible Kamaru Usman, Israel Adesanya, and Francis Ngannou don’t even have titles.

Actually, not having titles would make the prospect of them all competing on the card much more likely. The UFC rarely does three title fight cards (this weekend being the exception rather than the rule) because it creates downstream problems. That’s less belts for them to have access to for headlining cards and they always want to spread the wealth. And usually when they do put on triple-title cards, one or two of the belts on the card are less important from a numbers perspective. God love Valentina Shevchenko, I think she’s the best fighter in the world compared to her peers, but she’s not doing PPV numbers. For the UFC to put their welterweight, middleweight, and heavyweight belts on the same card, with two of their biggest stars holding those belts, that is A LOT of eggs in one basket.

By far the most likely outcome is the UFC does a title fight double header and the third champion is just in attendance and doing media. It still gives them all a chance to enjoy UFC Africa but it doesn’t restrict the UFC as much and it’s not like this will be a one time thing. Once the UFC opens the doors to Africa, they will be going back, especially with the level of talent that continues to pour in from that continent.

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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