Hello friends! A lot happened in the wonderful world of combat sports this past weekend. Jake Paul won a split decision over Tyron Woodley in their long-awaited boxing match, Giga Chikadze announced himself as a legitimate contender in the featherweight division, Kevin Lee did a Kevin Lee thing, and a few major fights were announced. Not to mention that we’ve got ourselves a fight card tonight as well. Wild and wooly times here so let’s talk about all of it.
Why was the woodly Paul fight fixed??— BJJshinobi (@BjJshinobi) September 1, 2021
My assumption here is that BJJShinobi is trolling, however, there were A LOT of people out there who had this thought and were legitimately not trolling. I know this because even my grandfather even texted me the next morning and told me he’d seen the highlights and asked why Tyron Woodley didn’t finish Jake Paul off when he had him on skates (paraphrased). So, given that a lot of people felt something was off, might as well address it, even though I suspect that most of the MMA community knows full well what happened and what happened is this: the fight wasn’t fixed, per se, Tyron Woodley just went full Tyron Woodley.
I’m not going to say that fights are never fixed because that would be categorically wrong. However, in this day and age, the punishments that come down for fight fixing are pretty severe and, more importantly, it’s much harder to get away with it. We live in an information age. Moreover, promoters don’t need to “fix” fights in the traditional sense where they pay someone to deliver an outcome. Instead, they can just create fights that fix themselves and that’s what we got here.
Even at the peak of his career, Woodley was always a man prone to long swaths of maddening inactivity and what we saw on Sunday was nothing more than him doing the same thing he’s done for over a decade, and Jake Paul knew that when he made the fight happen. Yes, there was always the chance Woodley could get him with one good shot, and that nearly happened, but the overwhelming likelihood was that Woodley simply wouldn’t do enough to win the fight, even if he did hurt Paul, and that’s exactly how it played out. If you are good at fight promotion, you don’t have to fix fights and say what you want about Jake Paul (he deserves it all and more) but the man knows fight promotion.
Derek Brunson vs. Darren Till
If Till beats Brunson do u think he will fight the winner of Izzy/Whittaker (which is not announce yet) because he is popular ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) September 1, 2021
If Darren Till wins this weekend, and Israel Adesanya successfully defends his title against Robert Whittaker later this year, I think it’s nearly certain that Till gets the next title shot. Conversely, if Brunson wins and Izzy defends, I think the next title shot probably goes to Jared Cannonier and Brunson has to fight one more time, probably against Paulo Costa or something. And unfortunately for Brunson, things are even worse if Whittaker wins because they almost certainly do a trilogy fight next and then that’s probably a full year before he can get near a title.
The problem for Brunson is that aside from having a style that is not the most enthralling and no one really much caring about him, he also doesn’t have a great resume. Yes, he’s on a good win streak and yes, he’s fought some of the biggest names in the sport, but none of those names are on his current win streak and in fact, he’s lost to all the biggest names that he’s fought. As it stands right now, if Brunson wins tonight he will have wins over three ranked fighters but none of them in the top-5 of the division. That hardly demands a title shot.
Now on the other end of things, Till has an even less impressive resume than Brunson. He has one win over a currently ranked middleweight and that win was dubious, and if you go further back than that, back to his welterweight days, Till only has one “good” win, a decision over Stephen Thompson that most people agree was bogus. That’s not a resume that screams “middleweight title shot,” however, Till heaps of the most important currency in the fight game: perceived relevance. Israel Adesanya wants to fight him, the UFC loves him, and he’s some level of over with the fans which is probably enough to get him a title shot in a division where the champ has beaten most of the top guys and the rest of the division aren’t staking a strong claim for a shot. C’est la vie.
Darren Till, continued.
Will Darren Till continue to fail upward with a loss this weekend?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) September 1, 2021
Totally possible. Given Adesanya’s weird interest in facing Till, this may be one of the first fights in UFC history where the outcome truly doesn’t matter: Till gets a title shot win or lose and Brunson has to fight someone else, win or lose. The Captain and Player-Coach of the Failing Upwards All-Stars continues to shine.
Man, what can I say, I was dead wrong. Going into Giga Chikadze vs. Edson Barboza, I knew that Chikadze was a good and accomplished kickboxer, however, we hadn’t really seen those skills translate fully to MMA. This is a dude who should have lost to Jamall Emmers last year! But damn if he didn’t impress the hell out of me. I thought that at range, Barboza’s power and speed would give him a clear advantage but it was Chikadze who looked to be the faster fighter and he threw much more volume than anticipated. Had he stayed doing that all night, he may well have won on points (though I did think Barboza’s body work was starting to pay dividends) but instead, Giga did something more impressive, he made an adjustment.
Late in the second round, Chikadze realized he didn’t have to stay on the outside and could break Barboza’s rhythm by stepping inside on him. When he did that, Barboza would back up to reset and then Giga figured out that Barboza was entirely defensive off the back foot and so he put the hammer down and buried him. It was high level tactical work from Chikadze and extremely impressive. I still have major questions about his grappling ability but Chikadze has shown he’s a legit threat to almost anyone at 145. I would love to see him fight Max Holloway or Yair Rodriguez next.
What does Lee do now? Serious career cross-roads.— Kneel or Nile? (@nialljclark) August 29, 2021
While I may have missed on the main event of UFC Vegas 35, I was spot on with my Daniel Rodriguez-Kevin Lee prediction. And to head off the inevitable “Kevin Lee is too small for welterweight” comments, no, he’s not. Kevin Lee is no smaller than Gilbert Burns is at welterweight. Kevin Lee’s problems aren’t with size or ability or athleticism, his issues are almost entirely between the ears.
As I see it, Kevin Lee is his own worst enemy because he is both a front-runner and a fearless lunatic. Those two things are direct oppositional forces. Front-runners are best served by beating the tar off people who aren’t as good as they are. Doing so repeatedly builds an outward confidence that people gravitate towards, which in turn propels them upwards as a marketable commodity. Fearless lunatics, on the other hand, have more brains than sense. They’ll fight anyone at any time and when you do that, you will inevitably face some rugged-ass dudes who simply don’t break. For a frontrunner, guys like that are kryptonite and should be avoided at all costs, but Kevin Lee can’t recognize that and he doesn’t have anyone in his corner managing that for him. A person who was legitimately interested in maximizing Kevin Lee’s star potential would have NEVER let him fight a rough-and-tumble dude like Daniel Rodriguez. It was never going to work out for him, and now here’s where we are.
Fortunately for Kevin Lee, it’s probably not going to hurt him too bad. As co-captain of the Failing Upwards All-Stars, Lee is going to get another big opportunity in the not-too-distant future I’m sure. However, if he wants to maximize his potential, he really shouldn’t accept it. I’m firmly convinced that the best thing Kevin Lee could do right now is fight seven unranked dudes in a row, just smashing people and building up both his confidence and the hype around him. Then, in 2023, knuckle down for a real title run. Otherwise, I fear Kevin Lee will continue to do this thing where he gets beat up, changes weight class, gets one win, and then gets beat up again. That’s a bad cycle and not one conducive to a healthy or fulfilling career.
Carla Esparza was f*cking robbed
Once again we get an immediate rematch after welli got smoked in 1 minute last time. What now for Carla Esparza, wait a year? I do believe she’ll lose to either rose or welli but she’s earned her shot.— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) September 3, 2021
During UFC Vegas 35, the UFC announced that Rose Namajunas will be defending her strawweight title against Weili Zhang and I’d like to take the opportunity to say that is some major bullsh*t. I recognize that the UFC is not a meritocracy but this is the most blatant tomfoolery we’ve seen in a long-ass time. Esparza has five wins in a row, all over ranked opposition, and a win over the current champion, a champion who is now set to rematch a woman she clobbered in 78 seconds! THREE MONTHS AGO! The ONLY reason this fight is taking place is because the UFC transparently wants to have a Chinese champion and they’re gonna fires as many bullets as they can to make that happen. It’s a huge crock of sh*t.
Outside of the egregiousness of the matchmaking from a moral standpoint though, it’s also horrendous from a promotional standpoint! Weili’s last two fights were a Fight of the Decade with Joanna Jedrzejczyk where she took 186 significant strikes - most of them to the head - and then a head kick knockout loss. That is a lot of trauma to the brain and running her right back out there with Namajunas is very likely to add more to that. That’s not good for her long-term health or her career prospects! If Weili goes out there and loses to Namajunas again, that’s a wrap for her as a contender. The only thing you can do then is have her kill off other challengers or move up to flyweight to get obliterated by Valentina Shevchenko. Either way, you’ve taken one of your most marketable fighters, the key to the billion dollar Chinese market, and ruined her in the span of a 12 months. It’s unconscionably stupid from every possible angle and infuriating to watch the UFC continue to do the worst possible thing at every point in time. End rant.
Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira
If Diamon beats Olivera end of the year, who does he defend his belt against first or does he take the Nathan Diaz fight?— Jed Keel (@keel_jed) September 1, 2021
On the other end of things, here’s how you do something well! I was critical of the UFC for putting a belt on Oliveira and I still stand by that as no one in their right mind believes he’s the true top lightweight in the world until he beats Poirier, however, in broad strokes the UFC did get it right: Khabib retired so put the four biggest names in the division in a tournament to crown the new champion. Now, we’re finally going to get that and it’s going to be a big deal. Patience, it turns out, is a virtue. If only the UFC could exercise it a little more.
As far as what happens next for Poirier after he wins the belt (I’m extremely confident he beats up Oliveira but I’m excited to see it) the obvious answer for who he defends his title first against is the winner of Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler, AKA, Justin Gaethje. Poirier-Gaethje I was the Fight of the Year and both men have gotten better since then. They are, in my mind, the two clear-cut guys atop the 155-pound division and they are the ones who should’ve fought for the vacant lightweight title in the first place.
However, while I think that will be his first title defense, I don’t think it’s the next fight Poirier takes. Poirier has been pretty open about wanting big fights at this point in his career and really, him facing Oliveira is more about checking the box of getting a title than being a champion. After putting the size-9s to Conor McGregor twice this year, Poirier is now in a new stratosphere or stardom and so, once he has the lightweight belt, I think we see him angle for a shot at the welterweight title. If Usman still has it, that’s a tremendous fight between the top-two P4P fighters in the world, and if Covington manages to take the belt off Usman, there is a built in storyline there.
So yeah, I think Poirier claiming the title is more a pitstop on the way to other things than it is a chance for him to establish a title reign at 155.
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.