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Hot Tweets: Who is the middleweight GOAT, trading Robert Whittaker to Bellator, and UFC Vegas 48

UFC 271: Adesanya v Whittaker 2 Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Hello friends!

Look, I’m gonna level with you: though we have a great number of fights this weekend, most of them aren’t good and even fewer are interesting. As a result, most of the questions were about UFC 271. I already jotted down some thoughts about the event here but let’s hit a few more questions there and then, sure, some UFC Vegas 48 talk.

Israel Adesanya and the case for GOAT status

At UFC 271, Israel Adesanya successfully defended his UFC middleweight title for a fourth time, winning a unanimous decision over Robert Whittaker. While it was not the most exciting fight, it was certainly a good performance from Adesanya and reasserted his position atop the 185-pound division. It also, unfortunately, added fuel to a fire that had been sparked in the build up to UFC 271: whether or not Adesanya has surpassed Anderson Silva for the title of middleweight GOAT. So let’s start there. No, he has not.

Adesanya has held the belt for 866 days and defended his title four times. Silva held the belt for 2,457 days and defended his belt 10 times. The only possible arguments against Silva are that 1) Adesanya beat Silva when they fought that Silva was busted for banned substances. The former is absurd because Silva was already past his prime and the latter is dumb for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that Silva never failed a test during his title reign. But if you’re the type of person view any PED usage as disqualifying, I can’t stop you. Go right ahead, but you’re not getting a ton of traction with the broader public, at least not in this instance.

Which brings us to the actual questions asked: should we adjust for difficulty of era? Like with the topic of PEDs, ultimately if you choose to do so, I can’t stop you. GOAT arguments are entirely subjective so whatever your criteria are, that’s what it is. But I am reticent to make that a major factor in my assessments for a couple of reasons.

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, I don’t think you can make such a determination. Because things get better over time, fighters overall get better, but in all seriousness, I am not at all sure that Marvin Vettoris and Paulo Costas of today beat up the Rich Franklins and Dan Hendersons of the mid-2000s. Like, Jan Blachowicz gave Izzy hell, would it really be that shocking if prime Forrest Griffin was a tough out for the champ?

Moreover, adjusting for competition “scale” is intrinsically unfair to previous generations. Champions can only fight the people put in front of them and when those people are among the best in the world, that’s literally all that can be asked of a fighter and so docking them for that based on nebulous ideas about quality is not something I’m interested in doing. Greatest of All Time is not the same as the title of Best Fighter Ever and, to me, Greatness is measured by one’s accomplishments over their peers. Yes, at some point there is probably going to be some nitpicking over quality of opposition, but I view that point the same way judges are supposed to view “octagon control”: relevant only when everything else is identical. Adesanya still has a lot of work to do to make me think about grading him on a curve.

The future for Robert Whittaker

With the loss this past Saturday, Robert Whittaker is now 0-2 against Adesanya and firmly entrenched in the Rich Franklin Zone (RFZ). Unfortunately for Bobby Knuckles, there are only two known ways to escape the RFZ and neither of them are all that likely.

First, Whittaker could change weight classes and pursue a belt in another division. But Whittaker is objectively too small for light heavyweight and doesn’t have any interest in attempting to make 170.

Second, Whittaker can hang around the division and stack up wins and hope that Adesanya either leaves the division or drops the belt to someone else. This is a much more viable option and one that Whittaker appears to be prepared to avail himself of. However, the issue here is that if Adesanya leaves, then welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is almost certainly bumping to 185, and if Adesanya loses, well, that’s probably not great for Whittaker’s chances to reclaim the title either.

There is, however, a third option. One that Whittaker should do everything in his power to make happen: Whittaker should ask to be traded.

MMA trades are among the rarest things in all of sports, basically having happened one time in modern MMA — when the UFC traded Demetrious Johnson to ONE FC for Ben Askren — but it’s high time we had another one. Whittaker is locked into the RFZ with no viable means of escape, but he’s still only 31 years old and beloved among the hardcore fans. In the UFC, he’s going to spend his next few years wallowing in the middle where he will likely do more harm than good by picking off rising contenders. Instead, let’s kill two birds with one stone and let Whittaker become the face of another organization while getting back someone of potentially huge value. I’m thinking Robert Whittaker to Bellator in exchange for A.J. McKee.

McKee is the new face of Bellator, but the reality is, he’s not long for Scott Coker’s world. He’s 26 years old and has all the trappings of a legitimate star, but he’s not going to be able to make that happen. McKee is already short on contenders to face, and though his father doesn’t appear to be huge fans of the UFC or Dana White, ultimately he knows that’s where his son will end up. Bellator can expedite this process while getting back someone of extreme value in Whittaker. Hell, we can even through Andre Arlovski in the deal too. Arlovski has fought for every other MMA promotion besides Bellator, he could maybe win their heavyweight title, and you can do Arlovski vs. Fedor Emelianenko II for Fedor’s retirement fight.

I doubt this will happen but it’s honestly the best possible outcome for everyone and it’s now the thing I’ll be rooting for the most this year. Shouts to this week’s Between the Links where we sussed this all out.

UFC Vegas 48 Main Event

Fine, we can talk about UFC Vegas 48 briefly. Or at least, the main event.

On Saturday night, Johnny Walker takes on Jamahal Hill and it may well be a make or break fight for him. Though we think of Walker as this hyper-exciting fighter based on his string of Performance bonuses to start his UFC run, the fact is that over the last three years, Walker has either lost, looked terrible, or done both. And while the UFC tends to give fighters a pretty long rope if they are losing while swanging and banging, if Walker puts on another performance like he did against Thiago Santos, that feels like they’re going to cut bait.

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be the case. Earlier this week, Walker talked about some of the various factors in his fight with Santos that led to it being so underwhelming and I don’t think those will be a huge issue here. Even if Walker is perhaps a little tentative to start, Hill is going to force the action. So while the rest of this card is a little short on name value (though has many well-made fights on it) the main event should at least deliver some fireworks.

UFC Vegas 48 Low-key Banger

Honestly, slim pickings this week. Though I think there are several well-made fights on the card, many of them aren’t necessarily “bangers,” so I’m going to cheat: The most exciting fight of the weekend is, undoubtedly, Joaquin Buckley vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan. Both of those gentleman look like they’ve been chiseled from stone and they throw more bolos than the Hammer Bros. There are almost no way this fight isn’t ridiculously fun for however long it lasts, and if this thing goes to the scorecards, I’ll eat my hat.

Islam Makhachev vs. Bobby Green

In case you missed it, Beneil Dariush was injured and now Bobby Green has stepped in on short notice to face Islam Makhachev next weekend.

First of all, let’s just acknowledge that Bobby Green is a badass both in general and for taking this fight. After beating Nasrat Haqparast this past weekend, Green is turning around on two weeks’ notice to fight arguably the best lightweight in the world in a five-round main event. I have said for years that Green is like if Jorge Masvidal never had his epiphany: a tremendous fighter with a marketable personality who hasn’t managed to breakthrough due to a combination of poor performances and poor timing. If Green wants his Nate Diaz moment to suddenly become the most talked about fighter in the sport, winning this is how he gets it done.

Sadly, I don’t think he’ll be able to. Even with a full camp, Makhachev is simply too good for Green or for anyone at 155. I’ve said it before in this column but I think Makhachev is basically 80 percent of the fighter Khabib was (that difference is base athleticism, Khabib was a mutant while Islam is simply a plus athlete) but 80% of Khabib is still better than everyone else in the world. And when Islam does win, he will still be announced as the next challenger for the lightweight title, after Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje settle up.

It’s not Islam’s fault that Dariush got hurt, he’ll be on a 10-fight winning streak in the division, and he will be the obvious next man up. Khabib should’ve gotten a title shot three years before he did but timing screwed it all up. The UFC won’t do that again. Makhachev challenges for the title in the fall of this year.

Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat 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. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.

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