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Hot Tweets: The key fights at UFC 262 and where are the future stars of MMA?

UFC 262: Weigh-in
Tony Ferguson and Beneil Dariush
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Another week and another UFC pay-per-view is heading your way and honestly, I don’t have a great feel for how people are receiving this weekend. Perhaps it’s because everyone knows the title fight at the top of the card is for a paper belt, or perhaps it’s because there really isn’t a ton of star power, but this weekend feels like a huge letdown already. Hopefully, the fights themselves won’t be though so let’s talk turkey.

The new UFC lightweight “champion”

First, let me just say that whoever wins on Saturday will be the owner of a belt from the UFC but the real lightweight champion of the world will be down in Florida getting ready to fight a rich Irishman (and this person is not to be confused with the true best lightweight in the world who will be in Dagestan hanging out). However, since I already went in depth into that particular argument, I’ll leave it at that at move on to the main event itself.

As far as a lightweight bout goes, Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler is really, really good stuff and I have no idea what is going to happen. There are so many questions coming into the fight, and despite the fact that both men have been known commodities for a decade, I still feel like we don’t know nearly enough about either one.

Let’s start with Chandler. The three-time Bellator lightweight champion is every bit of what that title implies. He won lightweight gold three times and lost it four times. That’s not the best, right out of the gate. Furthermore, if you look at his record there aren’t a lot of marquee wins on there. His best win by far was the Eddie Alvarez one except he then lost the rematch two years later. Other than that it’s probably Dan Hooker unless you’re really out here stanning for shopworn Benson Henderson. That does not inspire a ton of confidence as he heads into a title fight with ostensibly one of the best 155ers in the world.

Similarly though, Chucky Olives hasn’t exactly been blowing the doors off elite dudes for the past decade. Until last year, the man did not have a win over a single title challenger at either lightweight or featherweight, and if you don’t count interim belts, then he still doesn’t. Like Chandler, Oliveira has mostly spent his career styling on good fighters and losing when he was matched up against the best guys. Of course he is now on this awesome eight-fight winning streak that everyone is so hyped about, but if we’re being honest, there is reason to think some of that could be smoke and mirrors. He only beat two top-shelf lightweights during that time, Tony Ferguson who may well be washed, and Kevin Lee who, well, he’s Kevin Lee. There is every possibility that Oliveira is the same dude who got elbowed into oblivion by Paul Felder a few years ago.

That dynamic though is what makes this fight so incredibly interesting: both men have serious vulnerabilities. Chandler is sort of a paint-by-numbers wrestle boxer without a ton of depth to what he’s doing and on the wrong side of 35. Meanwhile, Oliveira is a more dynamic grappler and varied striker but he still isn’t the most durable man God ever strung a gut through. This may well come down to something as simple as whoever lands first will win, however, gun to my head I’m going to say that Chandler pulls it out tonight for a two reasons. Over the course of his career, Oliveira has consistently struggled with two things: athleticism and power punching. Those happen to be the cornerstones of Chandler’s entire MMA career. I see Oliveira being the better technical fighter but since he will struggle to take Chandler down (where he has the clearest advantage of anyone in the fight) he’ll be forced to strike with Chandler and at some point a lunging right hook is going to clip him and that’s the ball game.

Official prediction: Chandler KOs Oliveira at 2:03 of Round 1.

The Co-Main Event

I am a well-known Tony Ferguson skeptic. To be clear, I believe his run at 155 was excellent and he has a credible claim to call himself the second-greatest lightweight ever (I wouldn’t agree but it’s not absurd), however, I was always extremely confident that Ferguson was not a bad matchup for Khabib at all, and in fact, would have gotten rolled through with ease so people viewed me as a hater (until Chucky Olives Khabib’d the s*it out of Tony and now those fans sure have quieted down about how that fight would’ve gone). But all of that changes this weekend because I’m about to do something I’ve never done before in this space and that’s pick Tony Ferguson to win a fight. These really must be the end times.

One of the critiques I’ve long had of Ferguson’s game is that he is not defensively minded whatsoever and he’s also 37 years old in a division where NO ONE ages well. Blood and guts is great for bonuses but bad for longevity and I think we’ve seen that borne out over Tony’s last two fights. Fortunately for “El Cucuy,” he’s fighting one of the few dudes in the division who also has a total disregard for his own health in Beneil Dariush.

Dariush is a legitimately world-class grappler and we never see it because he allows himself to get sucked into brawls with alarming regularity. If Dariush came in with a focused plan of putting Tony on his ass, he would win this fight handily but you simply cannot be confident he will do that. The more likely scenario given recent history is that Dariush gets drawn into a chaotic storm of violence and that’s not a fight anyone wins against Ferguson. El Cucuy is going to get his hand raised and then we will get Ferguson vs. Islam Makhachev (Thiago Moises will be forgotten about entirely) so the MMA Gods can laugh at us all.

Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo

If Araujo wins a decision over Chookagian, then no, I don’t think she gets a title shot. But if Araujo blows Chookagian’s doors off like Jessica Andrade did, then absolutely.

Flyweight is a broken division right now because the woman at the top, Valentina Shevchenko, is so much better than her peers that the idea of having fights seems almost pointless. This sort of thing happens with divisions from time to time with dominant champions but I actually think this is the worst it has ever been because the division lacks any compelling challengers in their own right. Like, at least Demetrious Johnson beat up Joseph Benavidez who everyone knew was good. But Shevchenko doesn’t have anyone with even a marginal level of clout to vibe off of. Jessica Andrade was supposed to be that and then Shevchenko disposed of her like old trash.

Anyway, given Shevchenko’s dominance the UFC is now going to be forced into a situation where literally anyone who gets a dominant or impressive win is going to just earn a title shot because at least playing a big KO highlight can maybe trick casuals into believing this woman has a chance over the most dominant champion in the sport. But in lieu of big highlights, the UFC will just keep lining up deserving contenders, and in that regard, the winner of the upcoming Lauren Murphy vs. Joanne Calderwood bout has first dibs. So everyone needs to hope Viviane really wows us all tonight or else we’re looking at the first -10,000 betting favorite in UFC history for Shevchenko’s next fight.

Speaking of Shevchenko and dominant champions

Gonna keep this one simple: I don’t think either woman loses. I believe both will retire with all their titles intact. However, if I had to pick who was more likely to lose their belt, the answer is quite obviously Amanda Nunes. For one, Nunes has two belts which means there are far more people who she could have to possibly fight, and for another, I genuinely believe that outside of a freak accident, there is no realistic way for anyone at 125 to beat Valentina Shevchenko.

Seriously, at bantamweight or featherweight there is at least the vain hope that someone lands a huge punch on Nunes and claps her but at flyweight, who in the top-15 of that division has real KO power? If you gave every woman in that division one free shot at the champ, I don’t actually think any of them could drop her, which means someone would need to submit the Shevy Truck to win (I’m completely discounting that any woman in that weight class could win three rounds on two judges’ scorecards against Shevchenko because that is preposterous). Except she’s a better wrestler and grappler than all of them. The only woman who had a slim chance to stop the Bullet train was Jessica Andrade and we all saw how that worked out.

In all seriousness, if you had Shevchenko fight all five women in the top-five of the rankings back-to-back on the same night, with a brief break in between each bout, she would still be the betting favorite to retain her title at the end of the night. That’s how friggin’ good she is. Enjoy her while she lasts.

New generation of stars

We will round things out with one of those questions that gets asked every few years in MMA: where is the new generation of stars? And the answer is “they’re out there.”

First, I’d like to refute the idea that Conor McGregor is towards the end of his career. Sure, Conor is LOADED but if there’s one thing people with money like it’s having more of it. Conor has other endeavors and other avenues to earn money but at the end of the day, the straw that stirs all those other drinks is fighting. He will continue to do it for several more years, in one fashion or another.

More importantly though, though I rarely agree with Dana White on this topic I have always mostly been in lockstep with him: you don’t need to worry about new stars coming along, they always do. At one point it was Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. Then it was Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Then it was Brock Lesnar. And every time a new crop shows up. Nature abhors a vacuum and when Conor McGregor does hang up his gloves, someone else will fill in. Now, I doubt they’ll be as big as Conor is—that level of stardom is rare in any sport—but there will always be plenty of household names in the world of MMA.

Also, if you don’t see the next crop then you may not be watching close enough. Israel Adesanya is very likely to become a good-sized star over the next few years and newly crowned heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou legitimately has the potential to be an enormous draw for the UFC, especially if he becomes the dude to KO Jon Jones. Beyond that, Khamzat Chimaev can have a discount Khabib appeal, Jiri Prochazka can become a darling of everyone, and lightweight is f*cking lightweight - it’s always going to have some stuff cooking there. And that’s not even accounting for some random kid out of, like, Boston that somehow captivates the world overnight. No one saw Conor McGregor coming either and then he reshaped the entire sport in a couple of years.

Don’t worry about the names in the pipeline. Someone will be there to carry the standard when it’s time. Just enjoy the fighters we do have while we have them because you never know when an all-time great may walk away.

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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