This weekend is the rare occurrence where the biggest thing happening in MMA isn’t a UFC fight. Bellator 263 has caught the attention of the hardcore MMA fanbase for the sole reason that the main event is one of the most interesting matchups of the year. Patricio Pitbull is the greatest Bellator fighter ever and A.J. McKee looks like the next big thing. So let’s talk about this weekend’s action.
What’s next for McKee if he wins? What about pitbull if he wins? This is most excited I’ve ever been about a bellator fight.— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) July 30, 2021
There’s good reason to be excited for this bout since it’s undeniably one of the most important fights in Bellator history. This is a true dividing line moment for the organization: the old guard vs. the new. Moments like this are rare in MMA in general and especially so in Bellator, and the outcome will dictate much of the next few years for Bellator. So let’s go down these two rabbit holes.
This is the objectively worse outcome for Bellator. Though Pitbull is the crown jewel of Scott Coker’s empire, he’s also beaten almost everyone worth anything on Bellator’s roster. One of the major issues with Scott Coker as a promoter is his insistence on keeping a relatively small roster, meaning the guys at the top fight each other repeatedly. That works if you can create a real sense of rivalry but it’s less effective when one dude just beats the crap out of the other guys. Pitbull currently finds himself as the champion of two divisions and, after McKee, without any challengers that anyone will care about. Sure, if Mads Burnell beats Emmanuel Sanchez, that would be a new name for him but it’s also Mads Burnell. No one will care at all.
There’s also the fact that Pitbull is 34 years old. Fighters don’t age well in the lighter weight classes and Pitbull has city miles on him. At best he’s only got a few more years at the top and while staving that decline off for one more fight is obviously great for his personal legacy, adding an ‘L’ to McKee hurts his overall marketability. Sure, losses don’t make or break a fighter in MMA, but the absence of any losses sure can boost your signal. And since McKee is clearly the future of Bellator, giving him all the extra juice you can is the way to go.
The reality is, McKee is so good that he’s going to get the belt eventually, and so it would be better for Bellator if that happened now instead of later, for a couple of reasons.
First, if McKee wins it sets up a Pitbull rematch immediately. Like this one, that fight is highly marketable and, with the confidence of knowing McKee won already, Bellator can go all in on promoting McKee as the next generational superstar. Whether it’s for the featherweight title again or for the lightweight title this time, Bellator can give the rematch the full court press it deserves and once again steal the MMA media’s attention for a weekend.
Second, unlike with Pitbull, McKee has no shortage of viable contenders to face. Though McKee has beaten some of Bellator’s best on his run to the title, he’s far from cleaned the organization out. McKee as champion injects new blood into a division that has grown somewhat stagnant of late.
Third, it’s much better if McKee wins for the fans because if McKee wins, then Pitbull finally has the chance to pull a Michael Chandler and leave Bellator to try his hand in the UFC. I’ll be straight here, I don’t like his chances against some of the top guys in the UFC, but he’s long claimed that he wants to prove he’s the best and losing to McKee can open up that possibility for him.
Most importantly though, McKee is incredibly marketable. Good looking, charismatic, and exciting in the cage, McKee is a promoter’s dream. If you put a belt on McKee and let him cook, he has a real chance to turn into Bellator’s first actual superstar - one that gets recognition outside of solely the MMA landscape. McKee has all the potential to carry Bellator forward into the next era and really raise their profile.
However things shake out tonight, this is the most important fight for Bellator since Pitbull-Chandler and I’m pretty stoked to see it.
So who is going to win this weekend?— Jed Meshew II (@JedKMeshew) July 31, 2021
No one asked me the most obvious question of all so I was forced to ask myself. For shame, readers.
Unfortunately, given what I wrote above, I think Patricio Pitbull gets his hand raised tonight. McKee is incredibly talented and I would bet my right foot he holds the title one day, however, his game is still a touch unrefined at this point. He has enough power and speed on the feet to be dangerous but he’s not the world’s most composed striker and while his grappling is crafty and full of guile, it’s also a bit frenetic and, at times, feels listless. In short, McKee fights like a young man who is invincible and that sort of style tends to do poorly against disciplined, technical, world-beaters.
If McKee can get takedowns on Pitbull, the dynamics change dramatically, but Pitbull isn’t easy to drag to the floor and I can’t help but think that once Pitbull stuffs a few shots, McKee will start doing more recklessly aggressive things, and play right into Pitbull’s hands. This feels to me like one of those fights McKee has to have to go back to the lab and really refine his game to make one, seamless whole, something Pitbull has had for many years at this point.
If Hall beats Strickland, how many fights removed from a title shot is he? I just don’t see anyone above Hall that I feel stoked about his chances against.— Richard Deubler (@tricky_dick86) July 30, 2021
In other news this weekend, UFC Vegas 33 is going down tonight and though most of the fights on it are not worth talking about, the main event, at least, is. In the main event, Uriah Hall takes on Sean Strickland in a middleweight bout that is surprisingly relevant to the title conversation.
Hall is on the best run of his career right now, having won four in a row, including back-to-back wins over former champions Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman. Unfortunately, those wins came in 2020 and 2021 instead of in 2015 so they’re the kind of wins that look much better on paper than they are in reality. For my money, if Hall beats Strickland tonight, that will be his best win at middleweight ever (outside of the fluke Gegard Mousasi KO that was subsequently avenged). That’s great for Hall, who has said all the right things about finally getting to a place mentally where he can actually take advantage of his tremendous physical gifts, but that still puts him a long way off from a title shot.
If Hall beats Strickland tonight, my guess is that he will leapfrog Darren Till and Jack Hermansson in the rankings and move to number six, and like you, Richard, I don’t love his chances against many of the guys above him. Hall has already lost to Robert Whittaker, Derek Brunson, and Paulo Costa and I see no reason to believe he’s beat any of them in a rematch and I’d also favor Marvin Vettori or Jared Cannonier over him. Hall would need to beat at least one of those guys to earn a title shot and while that’s not impossible, I’m going to call it very unlikely.
Uriah Hall is simply destined to be a good but not great fighter who never truly lived up to the hype he was given, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being one of the ten best people in the world at your profession is really, really damn impressive. If Hall was the 8th-best pole vaulter in the world, no one would sit there and say, “The man just can’t win the big one.” Everyone would just say, “That dude is an Olympian. That is sick.” It’s okay to come up short of being the best in the world and that’s where Uriah Hall is.
After Montaño missed weight badly for her bantamweight debut, does this shed more light on her issues as flyweight champ? Does she get cut if she loses?— ¯¨'*·~-.¸¸,.-~*'¯¤ÐïÐÎë®¤¨'*·~-.¸¸,.-~*' (@DarRobGra) July 30, 2021
I’m going to keep this very short because I don’t know all the intricacies of what’s going on with Montano but I will simply say that history of people in this sport who have missed weight in multiple weight divisions is not very good. The fact that Montano could make weight for 125 all through The Ultimate Fighter but now is blowing 135 - and not by a little, she missed weight by seven pounds! - does not portend great things. Seven pounds isn’t a surprise for a fighter, it’s a choice. You know it’s coming and you let it happen and that’s really concerning. In all honesty, were I a promoter I would not feel comfortable giving Montano a fight right now. and if the UFC lets her go, I’d understand.
Who will be the first mma media member to dip their toe in BKFC platform boxing? What is your asking price and matchup?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) July 28, 2021
I will face any MMA media member who does not already have combat sports experience (I’m not going to box Dan Hardy or whatever) for charity, basically whenever. I’ve had my ass kicked plenty in my life and bare knuckle boxing seems fun as hell for a one-off. In fact, I already pitched this idea to the Fight Circus boys but Jose Youngs refuses to come get this work.
Do u think Conor is officially DONE after breaking his leg or will he back 1 day ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) July 29, 2021
And since I’ve been out for the past couple of weeks, let’s briefly touch on Conor McGregor.
McGregor will certainly be “back” one day insofar as he will almost certainly fight on pay-per-view again. His leg fractures, while no joke, are not as severe as some of the others we’ve seen and my understanding is that he can probably return to action early next year. However, if what you are really asking is will Conor ever return to “old Conor” then the answer is a resounding no.
Conor McGregor, at his peak, had a lot of talent but, given the circumstances, he dramatically overachieved. McGregor had all the raw tools to become an all-time great but he lacked the coaching to do so. A good coach would have reigned Conor in years ago and forced him to develop more than one tool and a bag of tricks to employ it; a good coach would have sanded down some of his rougher edges so he is not so imminently exploitable.; and a good coach would have insisted McGregor stay at 145 pounds, a weight class where the skills he does have are much, much better suited to success.
If you break him down to just the parts, McGregor has a sensational left hand, a myriad of tricks to land the left, and a preternatural feel for striking. That’s his game. The last one is arguably the most important as it allows McGregor to enter every fight ahead until his opponent can find the timing, at which point, McGregor has often already won the bout. Unfortunately, his left hand isn’t as devastating against 155ers and so he can’t just bulldoze over everyone. It’s why he lost to Dustin Poirier twice and why he would lose that fight 10 times out of 10. He’s a Plan A fighter and no one is allowing that to work anymore.
If McGregor wanted to get back to the top, he still has the raw ability to do so. But at this point, it’s clear he lacks the inclination and the humility it would take to reckon with his own shortcomings. That’s why we’re seeing him go off the deep end of ass-hatery with his recent comments, because he knows his time at the top is gone and he can’t quite handle it.
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.