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Hot Tweets: Derrick Lewis vs. Cyril Gane and the future of the UFC’s heavyweight division

Hello, friends! We’re back with another UFC PPV weekend upon us and yet, things feels decidedly low key. Not a lot of buzz for UFC 265 and I think it’s pretty clear why: for as much as we all love Derrick Lewis, he’s the draw here and he’s never been a big one. His title fight against Daniel Cormier only drew 250,000 buys and I suspect we’re in store for something similar this weekend. Hell, no one even asked about the return of the GOAT Jose Aldo Philistines. Anyway, a bunch of other stuff happened this past week in the wonderful world of combat sports, so let’s talk about all of it.

Derrick Lewis vs. Cyril Gane

I’m assuming Cyril Gane wins it but that’s the magic of Derrick Lewis - you just never know.

Lewis is one of my favorite fighters in the sport because he, more so than any other fighter, really challenges our notions about MMA. The MMA community (largely driven by the people who want cage fighting to become this noble sport of kings) have this idea that MMA is a blend of science and art and athleticism and, to some extent, that’s true but it’s also just a fist fight. The goal is to do more damage than you take, and for as much as we want to value well-roundedness and strategic brilliance and technicality, at the end of the day being a big, athletic dude who hits like One Punch Man can totally invalidate all of that.

This is not to bag on Lewis’ skills. I’m well aware that for all he talks about not taking fighting seriously, he does train and he clearly has good ideas about how to fight. But even his most ardent supporters have to acknowledge that his game lacks both depth and finesse (in the immortal words of Count Adhemar, “No style whatsoever - neither has an anvil”). Lewis is all power, toughness, and athleticism. Fortunately, for the history of the world the strongest fighting style has always been those three attributes and even now, those are still the dominant factors to success for any heavyweight fighter.

Unfortunately for Lewis, Gane also seems to have those three key attributes, but on top of he has layers of technical depth that will probably make the difference here. Lewis wins by hitting the shit out of people and Gane excels at not getting hit and controlling range. Every time Lewis has fought someone who could control the range against him, he had a rough evening. Against some of those fighters, like Alexander Volkov and Francis Ngannou, he managed to get wins either because ultimately his opponent couldn’t compete with him athletically (Volkov) or his opponent had one of the most notorious mental meltdowns in recent MMA history (Ngannou refusing to throw any strikes). Gane, though, is unlikely to face either issue and so I see this being much more akin to the Junior dos Santos/Mark Hunt fights for Lewis.

Ultimately though, it could all be for naught. The Puncher’s Chance is the most trite phrase in sports but that makes it no less true and Lewis embodies it more than almost any other fighter. If Gane has a lapse of concentration, or an off night, or even fights perfectly but the stars align for Lewis, it’s game over and then, improbably, Derrick Lewis is a UFC champion. We should all be so lucky.

Heavyweight’s future

We spent most of the last three years embroiled in the Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier trilogy that felt like it would never end and now the heavyweight division finally is on the move again and that’s awesome. For the last three years, contenders have been piling up and now new champion Francis Ngannou has a few clear fights in the pipeline that will keep things feeling fresh, a rarity for heavyweight MMA.

First, barring injury, Ngannou will face the winner of tonight’s main event, probably this fall. Regardless of who wins, that’s a very sellable fight based both on Ngannou being the next big star and the history he has with both men. Then, the winner of that will likely face Stipe Miocic, who excels at sitting out to wait for title shots. While all that is going on, heavyweight actually has a number of rising prospects in it and during that time, guys like Chris Daukaus and Tom Aspinall can continue working their way up the ranks. Maybe by this time next year, one of them is knocking on the door of a title shot, or a guy like Curtis Blaydes or Alexander Volkov have stacked a few wins. Either way, we’re finally getting movement at the top of the heavyweight division again and that’s great.

As for what I’d like to see happen, well, let’s talk about that in the next question.

Stipe Miocic vs. Jon Jones?

Earlier this week, other news sites reported that Dana White said Stipe Miocic has accepted a fight with Jon Jones. Perhaps he did but, as I’ve said many times, White saying something does not make it true (in fact, the inverse is often just as likely). Moreover, in this instance, White is almost assuredly engaging in one of his favorite tactics: attempting to leverage the public against a fighter who is holding out for more money. Jon Jones has been pretty clear about what he wants to fight, the money he feels he deserves and White has been pretty clear that he’s not going to pay Jones that. So instead he’s going to offer Jones fights and then put it out in public that Jones is the problem, not him.

This sucks both as a matter of general principle (MMA fighters are shamefully underpaid while White has half a billion dollars) and because it’s denying fans something we all want to see. Jones competing for the heavyweight title is some of the best this sport can offer us and the only reason we aren’t getting it is because of penny pinching from a man already made obscenely wealthy off the back of labor exploitation. For as much as White says “The UFC makes the fights fans want to see” he sure hasn’t held up to that standard when met with the least bit of resistance.

Jon Jones is not going to fight Stipe Miocic, at least not this year. He doesn’t need to. He can sit and wait until the UFC meets his number, and when they do, it will be for the heavyweight title, not just some fight. Or they won’t and Jones will sit on the sidelines until he needs the money. Should they ever fight though, Jones whips Miocic. He’s probably the easiest fight in the division for Jones. Sadly, we may never see it.

Michael Chandler

ICYMI, Michael Chandler revealed that he will not be fully vaccinated by November 6 and so, given mandates that may be in effect for New York City at that time, he may not be eligible to compete there.

No. It’s a fine fight but it’s no better than putting Justin Gaethje against any other person. Justin Gaethje is the man and him fighting a stuffed animal in the cage would be worth the price of admission. If Michael Chandler wants to be the one who rejects science and reason, we shouldn’t cater to his imbecilic choices. Gaethje can fight someone else and earn his title shot. Someone like . . .

The UFC lightweight division

Well, hopefully he can fight Justin Gaethje, since it appears that the most exciting man in MMA might need a dance partner for this fall. Honestly, Gaethje vs. Beniel Dariush makes more sense than Gaethje-Chandler anyway since the winner of the fight should be getting the next title shot and Chandler getting another title shot after only one win in the UFC would be pretty terrible.

Now, for those of you saying, “What about Islam Makhachev? When he beats Rafael dos Anjos he should get the next title shot!” To you I say, yes, he will beat RDA but no, he doesn’t deserve a title shot. Look, I think Islam probably beats everyone at lightweight right now (other than Gaethje) but the man hasn’t beaten anyone of note! Yes, he has a lot of wins and some of them are quite good but this is lightweight and he has exactly one win over a currently ranked fighter, Thiago Moises whose ranking is fairly specious. Having a win over number 15 and then beating number 7 does not a title shot make. Let Gaethje and Dariush fight for the first crack at Poirier and Islam can face Oliveira once he’s lost the belt.

Olympic Wrestling

No, he’s not even the best wrestler in his own sport. (For those of you unaware, Mijain Lopez won his fourth Greco-Roman gold medal last week).

I’d like to preface this by saying I’m far from an expert, especially on Greco-Roman wrestling, but you don’t have to be an expert to know that Aleksandr Karelin is the greatest Greco wrestler of all time. Three Olympic gold medals, an Olympic silver (that my Americanness won’t allow me to say was crap even though it was obviously crap) 9 world championships, a 13-year undefeated streak and an overall competitive record of 887-2 (with both losses being by a single point) is the kind of stuff that should be comically impossible. He went six years without giving up a point! Karelin basically had the career in wrestling that Rickson Gracie pretended he had in grappling.

This isn’t to denigrate the great Mijain Lopez. Four Olympic golds and five world championships is also functionally impossible and locks him into the second spot on the rankings but the sheer fact that he has three silver medals means he’s not topping Karelin. And in the scheme of all wrestlers, not just Greco? Well, I’m undoubtedly slanted towards freestyle over Greco so I’d put Buvaisar Saitiev and Aleksandr Medved for sure but after that, it gets hazy. Still, being one of the five best wrestlers ever is pretty damn impressive.

Oh, and none of the above will matter soon as Abdulrashid Sadulaev is going to finish his career as the GOAT wrestler. I’m watching him dismantle Kyle Snyder as I write this and what an athlete. Two-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time world champion, two-time Ivan Yarygin winner and he’s only 25 years old! When Snyder beat him for the world championship in 2017, I thought Snyder was going to be this unstoppable force. Then Sadulaev said, “Nah, homie” and just started obliterating everyone, every time out. I have no idea how anyone is going to beat this dude for the next decade.

MMAFighting’s Rankings

MMAFighting has rankings now and people have thoughts. As I have this column, I’m taking it upon myself to speak to the various concerns/criticisms regarding our rankings.

So first, to answer Matty’s many questions:

  1. Because it’s a P4P list and Adesanya has beaten the better competition. Blachowicz is a weight class above Adesanya, him winning that is the expectation (or should be). Had Izzy not chosen to move up, he’d clearly be number two, as it stands, he still is. Jan probably wouldn’t be as high as he is but for the Izzy win if we’re being honest.
  2. That’s not how P4P lists are ranked (at least not how we do it). It’s about wins and losses, quality of competition, and performance, all with a time factor rolled in. Ngannou’s current run has been superb and Poirier has a recent loss (albeit to the LW GOAT). FWIW though, I had Poirier above Ngannou.
  3. Yes he should. Yan lost that fight and there should be no controversy. He did an illegal thing and got DQed. Had he not done the illegal thing, well, maybe it’s a different story. But you play stupid games and you win stupid prizes. Moreover, Yan probably shouldn’t even be ranked P4P. He has one legitimately great win (Jose Aldo) and that’s it. Yan getting a lot of credit for the title he held and a loss to Sterling, in my opinion.

Look, rankings, especially pound-for-pound rankings are terrible as a rule because it’s entirely subjective and so everyone hates them except their own. Plus, they’re impossible in the first place. Fighters don’t compete often enough to really get a true lay of the land for any division for any amount of time. At best you can hope to have a good understanding of the top five guys in a division at any given point. Number 14? Forget about it. It’s all guess work and supposition. But the point of rankings isn’t really to “get it right” anyway. It’s to provide a general guideline for conversations about fighting and, if we’re being honest, to be it’s own conversation. Sometimes it’s fun to just argue about asinine shit so we can all forget for a moment that we are hopelessly in love with a sport that is endlessly exploitative to its workers and will never love us back.

But yeah, our rankings are the one true rankings, and if you disagree, that’s cool. Everyone gets something wrong now and then. You’ll figure it out soon.

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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