It is once again a UFC weekend, but unlike some of their recent offerings, UFC 266 is an exceptional card on paper. We’ve got two title fights, the return of Nick Diaz and all the ensuing craziness that comes with that, and a host of other great fights taking place just a few short hours from now. Unfortunately, all of that was overshadowed by Jon Jones’ latest legal problem that arose yesterday. So let’s address the 255-pound elephant in the room and then move on to happier subjects.
Is Jon Jones getting arrested literal hours after stating that he "wants to do more legally controversial outbursts" the most Jon Jones thing ever?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) September 24, 2021
It really is.
In case you somehow got this far and still hadn’t heard about it, on Friday, Jon Jones was arrested and charged with battery domestic violence. This came less than 24 hours after the UFC Hall of Fame ceremony where Jones’ fight with Alexander Gustafsson was inducted into the Fight Wing, and on the red carpet, Jones told reporters he would be fighting next year and he would “try to do more legally controversial sh*t” to drum up interest in his fights. Needless to say, the joke did not age well.
First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that at this point, Jones hasn’t been convicted of anything. That being said, the crime Jones is accused of, and his previous repeated legal issues, are cause for serious concern. This is the fourth time Jones has been arrested while under UFC contract, each for serious offenses. Thus far Jones has managed to avoid doing any actual jail time but you can only play with fire for so long. Should the charges on this one prove to have merit, Jones will almost certainly do a real stint in prison.
Again, it’s entirely possible that Jones is ultimately exonerated of these charges. I hope that’s the case. But if he is convicted of the charges, I expect the UFC will terminate his contract with them. While they can hand-wave Greg Hardy’s past away (still repugnant), it will be much tougher for them to continue to employ a convicted domestic abuser. But the sad fact is, the already should have done something. 10,000 people die every year from alcohol-related driving incidents. If Jones were less lucky, he could have become a terrible statistic.
More details are sure to emerge about the incident in the coming days, and at some point, Jones or a representative will make a statement. Until then, there’s really one thing that continues to dominate my thoughts about Jones: There’s an old saying that if you wake up and run into an a**hole, well, you met an a**hole. But if you wake up and run into a**holes all day, you’re the a**hole. Jon Jones keeps running into a**holes, as it were, and at some point, he and the UFC are going to need to reckon with why that is, in a substantive way.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
Do u think Volkanovski will reign as Featherweight Champion for a very long time if he beats Ortega this Saturday ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) September 22, 2021
Yes. I don’t see any featherweight in the world who can, on the balance, beat Volkanovski. I’m extremely confident that Volkanovski is going to win tonight for many reasons, but the main one is this: Volkanovski may actually be the best fighter in the world right now (though Kamaru Usman, Francis Ngannou, and Israel Adesanya are justifiably ranked above him in the pound-for-pound rankings) and Brian Ortega is not very good.
That statement right there lost a lot of you, and I understand. “It doesn’t make sense! Ortega is the fourth-ranked featherweight in the world!” But you know what else doesn’t make sense? Ortega’s ability to win fights. Aside from his last bout against the Korean Zombie and a quick finish over Frankie Edgar, Ortega has gotten his ass kicked in every single fight he’s been in before staging a miraculous comeback finish! It’s astonishing and it flies in the face of traditional understandings of how to be successful in the fight game. He’s like a smaller, substantially less athletic Yoel Romero.
Volkanovski is the exact opposite. Volkanovski never has One Violent Outburst and instead slowly exerts his will on opponents over the course of 25 minutes. Volkanovski has some of the best Fight I.Q. in the game and a deep well of skills that allow him to adjust to anything thrown at him. I often compare Volkanovski to a casino: he has small edges everywhere and so, on a long enough timeline, the house always wins. Max Holloway found that out first hand. For their rematch, Holloway came in with an entirely different game plan: he adjusted his stance, mitigated Volkanovski’s leg kicks, and was active in controlling the range. And it worked! Volkanovski had trouble with the fight-to-fight adjustments Max made . . . for about two rounds. However, after the second, Volkanovski realized what was happening and that he was losing and countered Max’s adjustments. Whether you think Max did enough early to win, unquestionably Volkanovski won the back half of the fight and would have won a rounds 6 and 7 were those a thing. Because the house always wins if you play their game.
But that’s why Ortega is a such a fascinating opponent for Volkanovski. The way to beat the house is betting big on the right hand and flipping the odds on their heads and Ortega can do that. The man can’t win rounds against a faded Cub Swanson, he’s damn sure not going to do it against the premier round-winner in the sport. But he can pull a guillotine out of his ass and sell out to finish it. If Volkanovski gets careless, Ortega is a threat.
That being said, I heavily favor Volkanovski because he doesn’t get careless. That’s his whole thing. His defense is pristine and his approach to the game is exact. He’s not going to go scrambling with Ortega. He’s going to slowly press his game onto Ortega and erode the challenger’s best laid plans, winning comfortably on the scorecards.
Pressure on the main event
Is Ortega under more pressure than Volk? How many guys get more than 2 title shots in the same weight class?— Dee J (@DtosiaC) September 25, 2021
Both men are under a lot of pressure because this is a world title fight. Featherweight is one of the best divisions in MMA and so any time you’re fighting for a title, whether it’s to retain it or win it, it means something.
On the other side of that coin, I also don’t know that there is much specific pressure on either man here. Volkanovski is already the champion. If his career ended tomorrow, sure it might not be all he wanted but he forever gets to call himself champ. You can’t take that one away.
And for Ortega, yes the list of people who have gotten three title shots in the UFC is pretty low, but Ortega actually fits the profile of the people who do get those sorts of opportunities: he’s young, he’s well-known to fans, and the UFC loves him. If we’re being honest, Ortega doesn’t deserve a title shot right now. He has one win over a currently ranked featherweight, his last one against Korean Zombie, and he goes absolutely demolished in his fight before that one. That’s not a resume that demands a title shot but because the UFC likes him and there isn’t anyone else, here we are. After Ortega loses tonight, he’ll still have plenty more opportunities to work himself back into contention.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
After Valentina mauls Murphy what is left for her? She is so ahead of everyone at 125 that I am surprised she finds motivation to keep going. Besides the nunes fight what else is out there for her?— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) September 24, 2021
What’s left? Defending her title, in perpetuity.
I understand that with fans there is an urge to see something compelling and in the most direct way, Valentina Shevchenko fights are not compelling. Her wins are an inevitability and about half the time they aren’t even fun to watch. But just because Shevchenko can be a bit boring from time to time and her fights are entirely uncompetitive, doesn’t take away from exactly what she is accomplishing. Tonight, Shevchenko will tie the record for most title defenses in a single women’s division with six. The only fighters in UFC history who will have more title defenses than her will be Amanda Nunes, Jose Aldo, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson, and Georges St-Pierre. That is basically the list of GOAT contenders. That alone is worth celebrating.
The most difficult thing to do in MMA is to defend a title year after year. Each title defense gets exponentially harder. You have the target on your back. You’re always getting the absolute best of every opponent you face because this is their moment. And for you, it’s just another day in the office. And you’re not getting the best that some random can from a midwestern smoker has to offer, you’re getting the A game from one of the top fighters in the world. Time after time after time. And the more of them you have, the more you win and win and win, the more fans stop appreciating that what you are doing is ridiculous and that more people have walked on the moon than have done what you’re doing. It has to be exhausting. And yet, Shevchenko seems to be entirely in love with the process of it. She’s open about wanting to fight until she’s 50 and continue defending her belt, and the woman may be crazy enough to pull it off. I certainly wouldn’t bet against her, and I will happily tune in every time she fights because what she’s doing only happens a few times a generation.
Lauren Murphy is an excellent fighter and a deserving challenger and she’s going to get demolished in a few hours time because Valentina Shevchenko is one of the best, most dominant fighters we have ever seen, full stop. Enjoy her while you can.
Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
It’s not the interview that has me feeling that NickDiaz mayn’t be ready to fight (though if he’s truly only doing this for money, and he’s actually miserable that’s not good); it’s the ‘weight’ + not looking great in shadow-boxing footage. Ya, just awkward promo stuff, but…— Vik Sahay (@Vik__Sahay) September 23, 2021
…but we’ve seen fighters look like that, and dismiss it as ‘promo’ or ‘rehearsal’, as t’were, and it turn bad in the octagon/ring. What’re your feelings on all this?— Vik Sahay (@Vik__Sahay) September 23, 2021
I feel extremely not great about it.
Heading into this week, I was ready to pick Nick Diaz in this fight, partly because I legitimately think the style matchup favors him (assuming he’s even remotely what he used to be) and partly because it’s more fun to live in a world where Nick Diaz takes six years off and comes back still near the top of the game. But basically every Diaz interaction this week has not only changed my mind about who will win but it’s also made me wish this wasn’t happening.
Nick has always been open about not really enjoying fighting so that is nothing new, but something feels different about him now. Previously when he would talk about his complicated relationship with MMA, you knew he was being brutally honest, but there was also a sense that part of him did enjoy it, and saw the value. Now, I’m not sure why Nick decided to come back but, to me, it’s feels distinctly like his heart isn’t in it, and I don’t agree with Dana White on much but I do agree with him that if you don’t really want to be fighting, you super should not be fighting.
Along those lines, the weight fiasco is easily the most concerning part of all this. Last year, Diaz’s management made a big deal of the fact that Diaz was doing a trial weight-cut since it had been so long since he last fought and he reportedly made it down to the 175 range. Now on the week of the fight he wants it at 185 suddenly? The most obvious reason is that he knew he wasn’t going to make weight, which then raises questions of how much he trained for this fight. Add in that he did not look good on the scale, and his pre-fight promo of him shadow-boxing was among the worst we’ve ever seen and a lot of signs are pointing towards a very disappointing outcome here.
I hope I’m wrong and that all of this is just Nick Diaz working his way back through the circus and finding his footing again, but I’m getting some distinct B.J. Penn vs. Frankie Edgar III vibes at this point. That’s the fight where Penn looked like he was going to cry during the walkout and then stood awkwardly straight-up before getting obliterated in short order. If that’s the case for Nick tonight, well, Robbie Lawler hits a hell of a lot harder than Frankie Edgar does and I’d rather not see Nick take an unnecessary beating.
Understanding that ranking fighters as all-time greats is both silly and inescapable, who has the better overall career between Diaz and Lawler? And can the outcome of their upcoming fight change that?— Eric Stinton (@TombstoneStint) September 23, 2021
Lawler by a comfortable margin.
Like his brother, Nick Diaz exists outside the normal constructs of MMA stardom and so it’s hard to view his career through the lens of “better”. In a traditional sense, Nick’s career was worse than many other fighters’, however, Nick is also more beloved than almost anyone else in the history of the sport. That’s why, even though he hasn’t won a fight in nearly a decade, he’s still the biggest thing happening this weekend on a fight card with two title fights. That stardom, the ability to make people love you, could in many instances sway arguments for his career being “better” than other obviously more accomplished fighters. But the problem here is that Lawler is also a fan favorite. Not to the degree that Diaz is but still, everyone loves Robbie Lawler, and for good reason.
So given that both Lawler and Diaz are pivotal, beloved characters in the history of MMA, a determination of “better” ultimately does come down largely to resume and in that, Lawler far surpasses anything Diaz can offer. Diaz won the WEC and Strikeforce titles; Lawler won the UFC belt (and EliteXC, and Icon). Diaz had memorable fights with Takanori Gomi, Evangelista Cyborg, and B.J. Penn; Lawler had the Fight of the Year in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Diaz is a cult figure, Lawler was the Fighter of the Year in 2014. There’s really no comparison. If you offered every fighter the option of whose career they’d choose, 10 out of 10 are going to take Robbie Lawler, and a win tonight for Diaz (seemingly very unlikely) won’t change that.
How many ppv's for UFC 266? Will it exceed 650,000 buys?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) September 24, 2021
The last time Nick Diaz fought, he faced Anderson Silva and they sold 650,000 PPVs. That is a lot, given the circumstances, and I’d be pretty surprised if this card did that well, even with two title fights on top of Nick’s return. I’m betting right around the cool half a million mark.
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.