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Hot Tweets: The Sean Strickland conundrum, fighter pay, and Max Holloway serving as a backup

Chris Unger, Zuffa LLC

Hello, friends! After practically a month of no UFC events, the world’s premiere MMA organization is back in full swing with its third event in as many weekends taking place Saturday night in Las Vegas, N.V. In the main event, top-ranked middleweights Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland face off in a bout that could put the winner on the cusp of a title shot.

Unfortunately, the rest of the card is pretty lackluster, but fortunately, there is no shortage of other things to talk about in the world of MMA, so let’s get to it.

UFC Vegas 47

I’ve got to favor Strickland, but I don’t feel good about it.

Strictly on the merits, Saturday night’s main event is a compelling matchup between two top-10 middleweights. Hermansson is a mainstay of the division, one who brings a crafty and unorthodox style to the cage. Meanwhile, Strickland is on a four-fight tear since returning to the middleweight division and is showing all the promise of a future title challenger. This should be a fight I’m thrilled about — and yet, I can’t get excited, entirely because of Sean Strickland.

Strickland has said a number of horrific things that in any other sport in the world would have him, at the minimum, suspended. The fact that he has not been reprimanded in any fashion is a terrible indictment of the UFC as an organization and the farcical nature of their “Fighter Code of Conduct.” There is no other major sporting organization in the world that would have allowed Strickland’s conduct to go unfettered, nor should they.

Can you imagine what will happen if Strickland did, God forbid, end up killing someone in the cage? I honestly don’t even want to consider it.

It’s not just the terrible optics of the Strickland situation that give me pause though, it’s all the possible future outcomes. Strickland has, bravely, spoken about his traumatic upbringing and how training and fighting gave him purpose and probably saved his life, or at least the lives of others. But for as much as Strickland has been able to recognize what happened to him and what a bad path he was on, he isn’t really reckoning with where he is now. Having earnest feelings about wanting to kill people is incredibly dangerous and warrants legitimate help. The UFC is in the position to get him that help, but they seem disinterested in doing so, which creates a world where maybe a different road rage incident goes wrong and this time someone gets seriously injured.

MMA has no shortage of cautionary tales, and I truly hope Strickland is not another one to be added to the list. But so long as he keeps behaving in the manner he has, I’m going to have serious concerns about watching him fight.

As for his fight Saturday night though, I suspect Strickland will win decisively. For as crafty as Hermansson is, we saw him struggle against Marvin Vettori, who is basically a larger version of Strickland. Strickland isn’t much of a finisher, so Hermansson will likely have the full 25 minutes to try and catch him with his patented guillotine, but I think Strickland is good enough to avoid the danger and simply outwork Hermansson over five rounds.

Strickland by unanimous decision.

Fighter Pay and Francis Ngannou

I wrote last week in these internet pages how the UFC would be best served by giving a little ground to Ngannou in this situation, lest the floodgates truly open.

In short, my argument was (and remains) that keeping your top fighters happy, even if it costs more, is a better business move than holding a hard line that will, eventually, result in fighters coming for their real fair share of revenue. In my head, it’s an entirely logical outcome; however, I’m starting to get the sense that the UFC is not going to be logical here. Come hell or high water, they are going to operate the same way they always have and gamble that fighters are so self-interested that it won’t come back to bite them in the ass. Thus far, that’s been an incredibly profitable bet.

And given how, just yesterday, Jon Jones made a public declaration of his willingness to undercut Ngannou’s negotiating power, it probably will continue to be a good one.

Shortly after Zuffa sold the UFC for $4 billion, I said that if this didn’t get fighters to come together to get their value, nothing would. Well, it’s been over five years now and the fighters are still in the same boat they’ve always been in. I’m not sure that Francis Ngannou and Jake Paul are going to be the ones to get fighters to act in their own self-interest. I forgot that last week, but Jon Jones — a man who has himself decried the UFC’s willingness to pay him — reminded me just this week of how things actually work.

Sean O’Malley

I don’t think so, but he’s certainly going to get some chances to try.

O’Malley is a very good fighter with an elite offensive skill set. That alone makes him a dangerous bantamweight for nearly anyone in the world. He’s also only 27, which means that he still has room to develop. Ultimately though, I don’t think he is a good enough athlete nor self-aware enough to climb to the top of the mountain. O’Malley is good, but he lost to Chito Vera for a legitimate reason. His refusal to own that makes me question his ability to adapt, which is something he will need to do if he hopes to have a prayer of beating Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling.

Because O’Malley is a legitimate star, “Suga” will almost assuredly get at least one chance to claim the bantamweight title, and at the end of the day, that’s all you need: One chance and a good day. But if I’m betting on it, I don’t think O’Malley ever tastes UFC gold.

Khamzat Chimaev

Kamaru Usman. That’s the list.

In the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, I currently have Khamzat ranked as the second-best welterweight in the world, because if you booked him against anyone else at 170, I’m backing Chimaev to get the W. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think I am. That dude is a PROBLEM. And if he does end up facing Gilbert Burns and rolls through him the same way he has everyone else, then I might not even favor Usman. As it stands, the quality of Usman’s resume forces me to respect him in a hypothetical match against Chimaev, but he’s the only one I’ll give that respect to.

Max Holloway AKA Wolverine

On Friday, news broke that Max Holloway has fully recovered from the injury which removed him from his scheduled fight against Alexander Volkanovski and that he would be ready to compete again by April. As such, Holloway has offered to serve as the backup fighter for Volkanovski’s title defense against Chan Sung Jung at UFC 273. And I, for one, hate the idea.

I’m on the record (and I maintain) that moving on from Holloway once he was injured was the correct course of action for Volkanovski. The Korean Zombie is awesome and this presents Volko with a chance to add another quality win to his already stellar résumé. Assuming Volko gets the job done, he and Holloway can have their third fight later this year. But that’s when it should happen, later this year.

Volkanovski and Holloway are the two best featherweights in the world by a wide margin. Hell, they are two of the 10 best fighters in the world, full stop. When those two men compete, it’s as good as fist-fighting can possibly be. And I don’t want that marred by late-replacements and backups. I want a full build for what could be the greatest trilogy in UFC history. I want both men at their absolute peaks and solely focused on one another.

If something happens to Korean Zombie in the next week, sure, run it. But otherwise, let Volko focus on TKZ and have Max sitting cageside for when the two can finally close their rivalry later 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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