After a refreshing weekend off from major MMA events, we’re thrust right back into the swing of things with a UFC/Bellator doubleheader. Tonight, Bellator returns with quite possibly the least interesting fight they could have booked for the debut of Yoel Romero and the UFC kicks off a 10-week slate of cards, with Anthony Smith fighting Ryan Spann. That’s right, you’re getting the UFC every weekend from now until Thanksgiving so buckle up kiddos, because there is going to be a lot of fisticuffs heading your way.
But for now, we’ve got the two fight cards tonight to discuss plus a farewell to two of the best to ever step into the cage: Carlos Condit and Joseph Benavidez.
UFC Vegas 37
Who do u think is gonna win between Spann and Smith ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) September 15, 2021
Just kidding. Currently, Anthony Smith is the tenth-ranked light heavyweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and Ryan Spann is sitting just outside the rankings and a win would certainly propel him into the rankings. By definition that makes this fight relevant but man, for a fight that matters, this one sure doesn’t get the dander up. If Smith wins, well, good work. He did his job and it’s time for him to fight another top-10 fighter. If Spann wins, yes he’ll move up the rankings but it’s not going to make anyone think this man is a future title contender. He lost to Johnny Walker this time last year!
That’s the problem with the UFC’s relentless schedule: this is a relevant fight between two fighters who are generally entertaining to watch but there is simple SO MUCH of the UFC going on that it does nothing for anyone. Add in that are 13 fights on before this one even happens and you’re really asking a lot of the fan base to be engaged, especially with college football back. This fight should be the co-main event on a 10-fight Fight Night card and people would be much more excited but alas, gotta fill that ESPN quota.
As for the actual fight, it’s a pretty good one. Smith is the more experienced and ostensibly better fighter but Spann is the superior athlete and matchups fairly well against him. Smith is not a good defensive striker, and for all Spann’s many faults, the dude does hit hard. That might be enough to get it done. But Smith is such a superior grappler and Spann has a terrible tendency to force clinches when he’s met with any resistance and so I have to give the edge to the more well-rounded Smith to probably get a submission in the back half of the fight once Spann has gassed himself out.
Anthony Smith’s future
Do u think Smith will fight for the belt again in the near future or he has no chance against guys like Ankalaev,Rakic,Jiri and of course the Champ Jan ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) September 15, 2021
It seems unlikely but that’s perfectly okay. Anthony Smith has already VASTLY exceeded the expectations for his career that most had. If you had told most MMA fans five years ago that Anthony Smith would be one of the best light heavyweights in the world they would have laughed you out of the room. Let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane:
Smith came up in the Midwest regional circuit, fighting several times a year in smokers in Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska, for promotions like “Cornhusker Fight Club” and “TriState Cage Fights,” where he lost nearly as often as he won. At one point, Smith had a 5-6 professional record. That’s not exactly promising for a young fighter.
But he kept at it, making it to Strikeforce where he alternated wins and losses before having a cup of coffee with the UFC and being cut immediately after his debut, a loss to former lightweight Josh Neer. Smith then hopped around to Bellator, CFFC, and RFA before re-signing with the UFC. Even after re-signing with the UFC though, no one thought much of him. He lost to Cezar Ferreira in his second fight back and then was knocked out authoritatively by Thiago Santos, himself a perennial also-ran. Again, none of this screams “Future Light Heavyweight title challenger.”
But then, as is so often the case with stuff like this, things just broke right for him. He moved up to 205, was booked against two extremely shop-worn former champions (Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua) and blew the doors off them. Then he tapped out a fighter who also had an artificially high ranking based on a couple of good performances at the right time (Volkan Oezdemir) and suddenly, in a weight class cowed under the oppressive dominance of Jon Jones, Smith is new blood for the champion and gets a title shot, and now he’s a staple atop the division. Not to mention he parlayed his in-cage success into work in commentary and media. Don’t get me wrong, Smith is a thoughtful guy and a polished speaker, but he isn’t exactly a font of charisma. No one, and I mean no one, would have bet he’d be where he is today even just a few years ago.
All of this probably comes off a bit demeaning of Smith but it’s truly not meant to be. What Smith has accomplished is borderline impossible. Guys like B.J. Penn and Jon Jones are great in spite of themselves. They were handed the keys to the kingdom and did enough to open several doors, but probably not as many as they should have. On the other side, Anthony Smith - a man who looks like a EA UFC create-a-fighter and has a name slightly less common than John Doe - is now main eventing fight cards and working the analyst desk for ESPN. He has managed to build an extremely good career for himself through sheer force of will. That’s incredibly impressive.
It’s said that luck is really just perseverance masquerading as chance and no one embodies that more than Smith, but at some point that dog won’t hunt anymore. Jiri Prochazka is coming for everyone at 205 and with him a new pile of light heavyweight prospects will be on the rise. Frankly, I don’t like Smith’s chances against most of the top of the division at this point but again, it doesn’t really matter. Smith already grabbed the brass ring. Anything else is extra.
Yoel vs Davis. Who wins and what’s at stake for them? Really seems like there is no clarity at all in that division or in that promotion I should say.— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) September 15, 2021
So there’s a Bellator card on tonight as well and, taking their cue from the UFC I guess, Bellator has seen fit to grace us with 12 fights, four of which feature at least one fighter who has never won an MMA bout before. The No. 2 fight promotion in the world, ladies and gentlemen!
Though there are one or two bright spots on the card (“bright” being a relative term here), this card is really just a vehicle for Bellator to introduce Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero to its audience. Even at 44 years old, Romero remains one of the absolute best middleweights in the world (he’s my pick for number two behind only Israel Adesanya and that’s more a 1A/1B situation). Unfortunately, Romero won’t be competing this weekend at middleweight and instead, Scott Coker and company have chosen the worst possible opponent to match Romero up against: Phil Davis.
To someone with only the vaguest notion of MMA, on paper this might seem like a good fight. “Phil Davis is a legitimately great light heavyweight and Romero is top-three in the division below, a much better division! Romero was an acclaimed international wrestler and Phil Davis was a two-time NCAA champion! People know both of these guys!” Sadly, it’s 2021 and instead of just reading over promotional blurbs on fight posters, there are dozens of videos of both of these men fighting and anyone who has watched just a few of those videos knows this is going to be a disaster.
Yoel Romero’s grand failing as a fighter is that he simply will not do anything at all if you don’t try to do anything to him. He will stand as still as a statue and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, seemingly forever, until an opening presents itself. If it does, he will attack with brutal authority. If it doesn’t, you’re in for a staring contest. And boy does Phil Davis like staring contest! They are his favorite thing. Phil Davis loves nothing more than to stand 10 feet away from his opponents and use his Inspector Gadget reach to periodically kick his foe and then circle away. There is a 90% chance the two men don’t land 50 strikes collectively over the course of the entire fight.
So given that, I’m going to say that Phil Davis will win the worst fight we’ve seen since Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis. As for what’s a stake? For Davis, nothing. Win or lose, he’s not getting a title shot either way and he’s already fought everyone so he’ll rematch Liam McGeary or something. For Romero, a win gets him a title shot and is clearly the best outcome for Bellator, but again, a win for Romero seems incredibly unlikely, so really, all Bellator has done is ruin their newest acquisition in the least fan-friendly way possible. But hey, it is on Showtime where no one watches anyway, so at least they’ve got that going for them.
Why does it feel super quiet ahead of UFC 266, even moreso than the average PPV?— Chad Robinson (@ChadRobbo) September 15, 2021
I mean two title fights and return the return of Nick! Come on!
Because we’ve got UFC VEGAS 37, DUH. Can’t bother with one of the best PPVs of the year when we’ve got Emily Whitmire vs. Hannah Goldy kicking things off in just a few hours!
If Diaz wins vs Lawler, how many fights away are we from him skipping ahead of Leon Edwards for a WW title shot?— ¯¨'*·~-.¸¸,.-~*'¯¤ÐïÐÎë®¤¨'*·~-.¸¸,.-~*' (@DarRobGra) September 16, 2021
IF Nick Diaz were to come back and IF Nick Diaz were to somehow beat up Robbie Friggin Lawler despite having not fought for six years and not having won a fight for a decade, Kamaru Usman would immediately call the man out for a title fight. Hell, he might jump the cage and do it right then and there.
HOWEVER, Nick Diaz isn’t fighting. This is all an elaborate con. Nick Diaz is the number one purveyor of Wolf Tickets in the sport of MMA and I will not believe he is coming back until the cage door closes, he finishes the fight, I go to bed, wake up, and can confirm that I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing. And even then I might still need convincing.
Farewell and God speed
Favorite Joe B and Carlos Condit memories?— Tanner Russ (@TannerRuss7) September 16, 2021
Easily the biggest news to happen this week is that two of the finest fighters ever to lace up gloves, Carlos Condit and Joseph Benavidez, retired from MMA (also, Luke Sanders but that one doesn’t really hit the same chord). Condit is certain to be enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame in the not-too-distant future for his Fight Of The Ever against Robbie Lawler at UFC 195 and Benavidez should make it in eventually, though he may have to wait awhile. Let’s start with Benavidez who was arguably the “better” of the two fighters but certainly the less accomplished and someone I respect the hell out of but was never a huge fan of.
Benavidez is the second-greatest bantamweight of all time. That alone is noteworthy, especially when the man above him is arguably the greatest fighter of all time, full stop. For over a decade, Benavidez was top-five in his weight class, first at bantamweight and then at flyweight. The man was one round away from beating Dominick Cruz for the WEC bantamweight title and some people thought he should have beaten Demetrious Johnson for the UFC’s inaugural flyweight title. Even after losing the rematch, Joe B didn’t fall off. He just went about his business and made it clear he was the best dude in the world not named Mighty Mouse. That is honorable as hell in a world where Demetrious Johnson went into gaming instead of fighting, Joe B would be remember as a true all-timer.
For me, my favorite Joe B moment, I’ll go with his first fight against Jussier Formiga. Duane Ludwig became the head coach of Team Alpha Male shortly after Benavidez’s loss to Johnson the first time and we saw a near immediate improvement in Benavidez’s striking. Against Formiga, it was extremely evident how much better Benavidez was with his hands, and after that fight, many people thought Benavidez was going to crush DJ in the rematch, especially since their first fight was so close. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but the Formiga win was probably the apex of Joe B’s hype.
As for Condit, well, he’s a bit different. While Benavidez spent his career building a legacy as undeniably the second-best fighter in his division, Condit won’t land in anyone’s Mount Rushmore of welterweights. Instead, he built a legacy of being one of the most violent men to ever do the damn thing, regardless of weight class or era. He is one of the very few fighters ever who you could pick a fight of his at random and be guaranteed to be entertained. He was blood and guts and anarchy personified.
But more than being one of the great action fighters of all time, for my money, Condit also had one of the most incredible careers ever. Condit fought in the most wrestling-centric division in the sport, during the time period when it was the most dominated by wrestlers, and the man never could wrestle for shit. He won the WEC title and an interim UFC belt despite not being able to stop a double leg from your average high school state qualifier. And it’s not like this was back in 2000 when wrestlers had no concept of BJJ and you could hit them with a triangle from the back. No, Condit would get taken down and controlled frequently, and then he’d just stand up and do something gnarly. The man nearly unseated the greatest fighter of all time (Georges St-Pierre) while being entirely unable to defend a takedown. That is mind-boggling.
As for my favorite moment, there can only be one answer. In 2016, Condit was one half of, for my money, the greatest fight MMA has ever seen. For five rounds, Condit and Robbie Lawler laid waste to each other in one of the most incredible displays of courage, stupidity, resilience, and destruction that you will ever see. To call it a fight undersells what took place. It was a reckoning and neither man was the same afterwards. They left part of themselves in the cage that night. And the final image of the bout, both men exhausted, side-by-side with their arms draped over the cage after the horn sounded, is my favorite picture in sports history. That Lawler won a (bad) decision is besides the point. MMA has never been better.
Fighter nicknames are often dumb or derivative but “The Natural Born Killer” is one of the most appropriate ones ever, right up there with “The Ax Murderer”. Every day Carlos Condit woke up and chose violence, and we were all made better for 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.