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Hot Tweets: Jiri Prochazka’s rise, Dominick Reyes’ fall, and UFC Vegas 26

UFC Fight Night: Reyes v Prochazka Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

It’s a bit of a down week in the world of MMA (at least in the world of the UFC) as everyone gears up for the big card next weekend. So let’s chat about Jiri Prochazka’s sensational performance, Dominick Reyes’ decline, and the card tonight.

Jiri Prochazka, title contender

Does he deserve it? Yes. Will it happen? Probably not.

Prochazka’s performance over Dominick Reyes was the sort of thing that can make him a star. A blood and guts fight over a known commodity that he finished with arguably the KO of the Year. It was a more physically dominant showing over Reyes than Jan Blachowicz offered and it 100 percent deserves a title shot. Unfortunately, things may not line up for that.

Blachowicz is currently scheduled to defend his light heavyweight title against Glover Teixeira in September, and as great as Jiri’s KO was, Teixeira is undeniably the top contender right now, so there should be no talk of Jiri leap-frogging Glover. But that means that if Jiri wants to sit and wait on a title shot, he probably isn’t fighting again this year. That’s another long layoff for Prochazka who, prior to joining the UFC liked to fight several times a year. So the first question would be whether Jiri even wants to wait that long or whether he’d prefer to stay active.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say Prochazka doesn’t mind sitting on the sidelines for a year, would the UFC even want that? As fun as that fight was, Jiri is still far from a well-known commodity to casual fans. Many had forgotten all about him until this weekend, despite his excellent debut over Volkan Oezdemir. Another year on the shelf is maybe not something the UFC wants for their budding star.

I think the most likely scenario is that with UFC 266 still several months away, the UFC likely books Prochazka against Alexander Rakic as the co-main event for Blachowicz vs. Teixeira. That way, if something happens to Teixeira, Jiri can step in. Otherwise, Prochazka vs. Rakic is a clear-cut number one contender bout for the winner of the main event.

The career decline of Dominick Reyes

On the other end of Jiri Prochazka’s incredible showing this past Saturday was the continued fall of Dominick Reyes. After getting ripped off by the judges in his title shot against Jon Jones, Reyes has now been brutally knocked out two fights in a row and there is the legitimate question of where the man thought to be the next champion goes from here. And honestly, it’s pretty simple: Reyes goes home and rests.

“The Devastator” is not at risk of getting his pink slip from the UFC anytime soon but he is at risk of having his career and his health irreparably harmed if he rushes back into action and gets clobbered again. Reyes needs to take an extended break from fighting to let his brain recover. In six months Reyes can start thinking about a return and when he does there will be no shortage of fight options that make sense for him. Basically any person at the bottom of the top-15 would suffice and looking at the names there right now, few of those men would put him at serious risk of another devastating KO loss.

However, if the broader question is not “where does Reyes go from here” but “does Dominick Reyes ever get back to the title” I think the answer is a pretty obvious no. The reality is that though Dominick Reyes absolutely deserved to beat Jon Jones, he is not actually a great fighter.

Seriously, just look at Reyes’ wins. Jeremy Kimball and Joachim Christensen aren’t anything to write home about. Jared Cannonier is a middleweight. Ovince Saint Preux is . . . well he’s Ovince Saint Preux. He then won a split decision over Volkan Oezdemir which is arguably his best win, and then there’s the fight that got Reyes a title shot, a KO over former middleweight champion Chris Weidman. God love Chris Weidman but he was a middleweight making the move to 205 for the first time and who had been knocked out in four of his last five fights coming into that one. Literally none of those wins are what you would describe as “great.” Reyes got a lot of shine because he should have beaten Jon Jones and while that shine is deserved, in hindsight it seems pretty obvious that bout was more instructive of where Jones was and the difficulties of being a dominant champion than it was of how great Reyes is.

Jones got beat up in that fight largely because he fought a very dumb fight (something he did for his last few title defenses truth be told) and consented to a ranged kickboxing contest - literally Jones’ worst skillset and Reyes’ best. Since then, Reyes has not fought people willing to just throw single shots at range and as a result he’s gotten clobbered. Had Jones decided to do literally anything else, he probably would have won that fight cleanly. But that’s the struggle with being a long-reigning champion: you lose your edge and night after night you are facing people who are going to give you their absolute best. Being a long-reigning champion in MMA is among the most difficult accomplishments in sports, far more difficult than winning multiple titles.

Anyway, Reyes isn’t going anywhere in the UFC and he will likely just join the ranks of the solid, career top-10 light heavyweights. There are worse ways to make a living.

UFC Vegas 26

I mean, they weren’t going to cancel the card, and every card has to have a main event, even if it’s only by default. Considering the bout between Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson features the two highest-ranked fighters on the card and Waterson is the second-biggest name on the card, I feel like this was the obvious choice to serve as headliner. Well, the second-most obvious choice. When T.J. Dillashaw fell off the card, I assumed the UFC would go with Donald Cerrone vs. Diego Sanchez as the new main event, given the names and the “retirement” implications there, but then the terrible Sanchez saga happened and so here we are. I think it’s the best of a subpar situation.

As far as getting a title shot goes, I think there is basically a zero percent chance the winner here gets a title shot. Rose Namajunas is almost certainly going to defend her title against the winner of the upcoming Yan Xiaonan-Carla Esparza fight. I think the winner of this fight, regardless of who it is, sets themself up for a title eliminator bout against either Mackenzie Dern or Joanna Jedrzejczyk later this year.

Cowboy Cerrone

I don’t want to spend much time on it because I don’t want to give that vampiric swindler who attached himself to Diego Sanchez any more clout than he’s already getting but before jumping into Cerrone’s change of opponent, let me just say that it is terribly sad that Sanchez’s UFC career has ended like this. A retirement fight against Donald Cerrone was actually a pretty perfect bout to walk away on both from a competitive standpoint and an intrigue standpoint and now instead he may well end up boxing Jake Paul or something like that, perish the thought.

As far as Cerrone, I think he has undeniably gotten a much more difficult fight as a result. Oddsmakers clearly believed Cowboy was going to wallop Sanchez and are much less confident that’s the case against Alex Morono and it’s pretty obvious why. To put it bluntly, Sanchez is washed, and though Cowboy himself may be on the wrong side of the clothesline, Sanchez was much more washed than he. Morono, in contrast, has never been nearly the fighter Cowboy has been but he’s also not faded like an old photograph. This is a much more competitive fight that will basically be determined by how much tread Cowboy has left on the tires. My gut says Cerrone still has enough juice to get the win here, but I was much, much more confident when he was fighting Diego.

Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington II

I remain convinced that Usman will not fight Covington this year, mainly because he has been unequivocal in his disinterest in that rematch until such time as Colby beats someone else (an entirely reasonable position, might I add). My belief is that Usman ends up fighting the winner of Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz, in part because he has basically said as much. However, if the UFC does get their way and Usman rematches Covington, how does it go? I have no goddamn clue.

Look, I dislike Covington as much as the next person - arguably more - but the man can absolutely fight. And I love Kamaru Usman. I think he’s a very enjoyable dork who is tremendous as the business of beating ass, but as good as Usman’s win over Masvidal was last month, I have serious concerns about his longterm future. Usman is almost 34 and has openly admitted to having bad knees, which isn’t great. He also got jawed up by Gilbert Burns, a lightweight, in the first round of their fight, and though everyone only remembers the KO of Masvidal, that first round was not all that great for Usman.

Moreover, I think people have forgotten most of Usman’s first title with Covington because honestly, the champion had a hell of a time with “Chaos”. The two were tied on the score cards heading into the fifth (one judge had it even, two judges were split 3-1 for each fighter). Now, Usman showed championship resolve by finishing the fight in the fifth round and breaking Covington’s jaw and that’s to be commended but would the same thing happen in a rematch? I’m not sure.

A rematch between the two best welterweights in the world (in my eyes) would largely boil down to who has improved the most since their first fight and I genuinely do not know the answer to that. Usman has had some impressive performances since then but he has also shown more vulnerability than ever since then. Meanwhile, Covington has only fought the one time and it was against Tyron Woodley, who is shot. I’m willing to believe any outcome. Hopefully, we will get to see it, eventually.

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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