UFC 261 took place this past Saturday and it was among the best cards in recent history so let’s talk all about it, plus a fun thought experiment to round things out.
Can you think of a better main card than the one we just witnessed?— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) April 28, 2021
Off the top of my head I’d put UFC 189, UFC 217, and UFC 236 above this past weekend. For those that need a refresher (which is totally understandable) 189 featured Conor McGregor winning his first UFC title, Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald putting on one of the five greatest fights of all time, and TWO flying knee KOs. UFC 217 had Georges St-Pierre dropping and then submitting Michael Bisping to win the middleweight title, T.J. Dillashaw nearly getting KOed and then coming back to stop Cody Garbrandt and reclaim the bantamweight strap, and Rose Namajunas upsetting Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the strawweight title. Finally, UFC 236 was a little less stacked but the main and co-main event - Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway II and Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum - are two of probably the 10 best fights ever so that is really, really damn good.
That being said, UFC 261 is definitely right up there in terms of all-time great main cards which is a hell of an accomplishment. There’s always the risk when the UFC does these triple header title cards that the championship bouts are stinkers. Many a great fight card has been tanked by a dud of a main event and when you have the potential for three 25-minute snoozefests, that’s always a bit of a gamble. Fortunately for the UFC and for all of us, we had nothing to worry about this time. Kamaru Usman and Valentina Shevchenko turned in the most impressive performances of their careers en-route to second-round finishes and Rose Namajunas blew the bricks off Weili Zhang in less than 90 seconds. Honestly, the only unfortunate thing to happen was the two leg injuries in the other bouts, but we’ll get to those later.
All in all, this weekend was nothing short of triumphant for the UFC and the many fans who showed up in Jacksonville, plus the millions watching at home, certainly got their money worth.
Kamaru Usman’s legacy
Should Usman be considered one of the greatest welterweight of all time only behind GSP ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) April 29, 2021
I believe that right now, Usman certainly has a case for the title of second greatest welterweight ever, but it’s not yet set in stone, and he’s still got a long way to go to catch up to GSP.
To start, let’s give Usman all due props: that KO shot of Masvidal is the frontrunner for KO of the Year and it’s the highlight that will probably be the one they first show when inducted him into the Hall of Fame. He is, I believe, undeniably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport and, at worst, the third-greatest welterweight ever. But in our rush to praise Usman we shouldn’t just dismiss the accomplishments of Matt Hughes.
Matt Hughes won the welterweight title twice and held the belt for a combined 1,577 days. He had seven title defenses (should have been eight, had Joe Riggs made weight) and holds the record for most finishes in the welterweight division. He has wins over legitimate MMA icons like GSP, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk, Matt Serra, Carlos Newton, and Frank Trigg. His resume is among the best in the sport, period, and as good as Usman has been and has looked, I think he still has some work to do to overtake Hughes.
So we’re clear, Kamaru Usman would obliterate any version that has ever existed of Matt Hughes but when talking about GOATs, it’s important to remember it isn’t a head to head. It’s a factor of each fighter’s performances and duration at the top plus the level of opposition. Hughes was as dominant as Usman has been but he was so over a longer timeline and, even the common knock in arguments like this - that his opponents sucked - doesn’t really hold water. Would the fighters Hughes beat be top-10 welterweights today? Some of them probably would be and the others wouldn’t be that far off. Welterweight has always been a damn good division and Hughes stood atop it for five years. Usman needs a little more time at the top to surpass him.
As for Georges St-Pierre, I’m sorry but Usman is still not all that close. GSP defended his belt nine times, against a litany of Hall of Famers, all at the peak of their powers. He held the title for 2,204 days total and then, after a four-year layoff, came back and won a second belt. Usman has four title defenses, two of which are against the same dude who may not actually be a truly elite welterweight, and has held the belt for just over two years. It’s just not in the same league of accomplishment yet. But he still has plenty of time left to climb that ladder.
Do you even somewhat agree with Dana's stance on Val v Nunes III that they deserve to have their separate legacies? I feel like we are almost driving Val into taking a 3rd fight when she has no need to at all. If anything having the ? of whether Val won fight II, is enough to me— Dave (@DarthBHM) April 28, 2021
I am of two minds on this topic and which one comes out on top depends on the day. I wrote a compelling case for why the UFC should go ahead and pull the trigger on Nunes-Shevchenk III here that you can read for my full thoughts but the Cliff Notes version is this: those two women are so far ahead of their peers, that fight is the only chance either woman has for a competitive bout. Otherwise these are just state-sanctioned ass-whoopings being handed out every few months.
On the other side of the argument though is what White said and honestly, it has plenty of merit. Both of these women have a weight class that they compete in and that suits their bodies and both have proven to be unbeatable in their domain. That should be more than enough for anyone: unbridled excellence. Think back to the above answer on Usman’s legacy. Whatever your thoughts on any fighter as a person or even as an athlete, you cannot deny the dominance and brilliance of long-reigning champions in this sport.
On top of that, one of the things we enjoy about fighting is the unpredictability of it and while continued to feed sacrificial lambs to the threshing machine that is Valentina Shevchenko certainly has its own sense of inevitability, just saying screw it and having Shevchenko and Nunes fight each other ever year isn’t a good solve for that problem either.
I guess if I had to pick one side to come down on, I’d say that Valentina Shevchenko has earned the right to do whatever the hell she damn well pleases. No one at 125 is going to come close to beating her so if she wants to run up the score and truly clean out her weight class, she should do it. It’s the most impressive thing a fighter can do in the sport. But if she does want one more crack at Nunes, then the UFC should do that as well because both women deserve the chance to actually fight someone worthy of sharing the cage with them.
Chris Weidman’s horrific injury
Should Chris Weidman attempt a comeback or retire?— chucklehuttzz (@chucklehuttzz) April 29, 2021
Similar to the above answer, I’ll start by saying that Chris Weidman should do whatever the hell he wants. He’s more than earned it with what he’s done in his career thus far.
That being said, I believe that Weidman will come back, and I for one hope he does. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I believe Weidman to be well-past his prime but he’s also far from done as a fighter and it would be a crying shame for his career to end with a freak accident like this. The man has plenty left to give the sport plus, it will be a triumphant and spectacular moment when he does finally compete again.
I will also add here that Weidman has been handling this injury with a tremendous amount of grace and humor which is indicative of his character. Similarly, I was super impressed with how Uriah Hall handled the situation afterwards. Just immense class all around for one of the most unpredictable and terrible things that can happen in this sport.
Get well soon, Weidman.
Nick Diaz’s return
Nick Diaz on his return fight against a Chechnian wrestler is a crime against humanity! He should fight Dan Hardy or Robbie Lawler, thoughts?— Jamie O'Keeffe (@Jaydizz7) April 28, 2021
On this week’s Between The Links, Mike Heck teed me up to go off on this one and so I’m going to link that right here because it’s arguably my finest work ever. For those of you not willing watch that, I will sum up my thoughts thusly:
Nick Diaz isn’t coming back. Just stop. Stop getting your hopes up, you will only be let down. Nick is 37, hasn’t fought in six years, and has been “planning a comeback” for almost that entire time. This is just a thing that Nick does sometimes. He gets it in his head that maybe he wants to smack somebody but then he remembers that he has plenty of money and that he absolutely hates all the bullshit that goes along with fighting and so he rips a joint and reconsiders. The man who introduced the MMA world to the phrase “wolf tickets” is the foremost purveyor of those very items so please, save yourself the heartache. He’s not coming back.
However, for the sake of being a good sport, let’s say we’re living in a fantasy world where Nick Diaz actually does fight, Khamzat Chimaev would be the absolute worst possible opponent for him. You know what you shouldn’t do when booking your mercurial star who has a tendency to lose interest quickly? Book him against a dude who has a history of missing fights and is still recovering from a serious bout with COVID! Let’s say you put that together and then Khamzat still has lingering issues and is forced to postpone. Diaz may well just bail. You need a reliable fighter to have any prayer of making this happen, which means it’s one of two dudes: Robbie Lawler or Jorge Masvidal (no one cares about Dan Hardy, including Diaz).
Lawler is a guy who shows up to fight when he signs his name on the paper and there is a built in story with their one fight so many years ago. Masvidal is also a dude who will be there on fight night come hell or high water and he brings the Nate angle, plus a high ranking which, if reports are to be believed, is something Nick is interested in. Either one is a good fight for what the UFC wants to accomplish and both men probably whoop up on the dude who literally hasn’t won a fight in a decade.
If the top 4 MMA organizations had a draft, what would the first few rounds look like? Assuming serpentine style would work best here...— AD (@adubz123) April 30, 2021
In recognition of the NFL draft which is taking place this very weekend, I figured we might as well end with some topical fun. Assuming the top four organizations are the UFC, Bellator, ONE Championship, and PFL, I figured I’d put together a brief mock draft with two small tweaks. First, I’m adding in Fight Circus because I want to and you can’t stop me. Second, I’m only going to do a few rounds and all undrafted fighters will automatically revert to their current org. So with our FIVE major MMA orgs now in the mix, I randomly drew positions and here’s what we’ve got:
Bellator: Conor McGregor. No brainer first pick, the clear-cut Trevor Lawrence of this endeavor.
Fight Circus: Israel Adesanya. A perfect marriage of starpower and whimsy. The creative opportunities would be endless.
UFC: Francis Ngannou. The Baddest Man on the Planet and a guy who has never been ahrd to work with.
ONE: Amanda Nunes. ONE would put a premium on acquiring the GOAT and then find a way for her to lose almost immediately.
PFL: Kamaru Usman. PFL excels at picking up great fighters who maybe aren’t all that beloved by fans.
PFL: Jorge Masvidal. After taking Usman, and with a solid welterweight division already, PFL would double down and try to make 170 the standard bearer.
ONE: Cris Cyborg. ONE also going for the double down here and with the built in rematch now on the table.
UFC: Jon Jones. They’d take the full time before making the decision because Jones has off-the-field issues that have let him fall this far, but ultimately he’s a second-round steal with off the charts potential so they’d grab him.
FC: Deiveson Figueiredo. Another perfect stylistic fight. Fight Circus could do a number of “Figgy Smalls versus a 300 lb man” fights, or pair him up with a novice to take on Adesanya. Limitless opportunity.
Bellator: Nate Diaz. Bellator is gonna go all in on acquiring as much star power as possible and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
Bellator: Max Holloway. See above, plus if they can keep Patricio Pitbull on waivers and or A.J. McKee, then they’re really cooking.
FC: Valentina Shevchenko. They’d be looking for ways to have Shevchenko beat the hell out of dudes.
UFC: Dustin Poirier. Another steal for the UFC. Coming off the Conor win, Poirier is poised to carry the standard for the sport’s marquee division.
ONE: Rose Namajunas. ONE is going all in on the women’s divisions.
PFL: Douglas Lima. PFL is tripling down on welterweight and they’re going to make the best damn tournament we’ve ever seen.
PFL: Khamzat Chimaev. A risky pick with tremendous upside. Classic fourth-rounder.
ONE: Derrick Lewis. Someone has to fight Reug Reug.
UFC: Alexander Volkanovski. Dana sees Coker eyeing Volko and snags him before he loses yet another champion.
FC: Michel Pereira. There is not a fighter better suited for Fight Circus.
Bellator: Bummed at missing out on Volko, Coker snags Petr Yan just to stick it to Dana and leave him with a champion many consider to be paper.
All in all, I’d say everyone comes out ahead here (except, obviously, the UFC). Now someone buy enough Endeavor stock to make this dream a reality.
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.