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Hot Tweets: Putting a bow on Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski, plus UFC tournaments!

Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski
Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

We’re now a week removed from UFC 284, and while a litany of horrific takes emerged during that time, things seem to have cooled off for most now, which is good. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other things to talk about this week as UFC Vegas 69 is... underwhelming. So, let’s put a bow on UFC 284, and then get to a mixed bag of questions.

Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski

Both! We don’t have to choose, we can appreciate both things! And this has been one of the more frustrating things coming out of UFC 284’s main event: how much the narratives has been contorted.

Heading into UFC 284, many people (myself include) thought Makhachev was going to smash Volkanovski, but every single one of them issued the caveat: “Islam is going to kill him, but if Volk can somehow stop the takedowns, then Islam is in real big trouble.” And for whatever reason (I have some thoughts), very few people remember that second part. All the praise has been heaped on Volkanovski for defending takedowns, and not just defending takedown but largely nullifying the grappling. Makhachev scored takedowns at a 45 percent clip. That’s outstanding! But he wasn’t able to accomplish much other than positionally, and that’s a testament to Volkanovski.

BUT, for as good as he was in the grappling exchanges, Volkanovski got beat up on the feet. Makhachev repeatedly caught Volk blitzing in, landing clean counters that snapped Volk’s head back, and he always limited the exchanges to prevent Volk’s combinations from taking over. Volkanovski had success with leg kicks at the end of exchanges, and found some good body shots in there, but realistically, he was losing every round on the feet, until the fifth when he dropped Islam. NO ONE would have predicted that going into the fight, and so while Volkanovski deserves his flowers, Makhachev does as well.

For this man’s first title defense, he chose to go into the top pound-for-pound fighter’s backyard, and handed that man his first loss in almost a decade. Did he have a size advantage? Undoubtedly. But that’s still damn impressive, and the way he did it makes it all the more so.


I’ll do you one better: I’ll explain how he won four.

As is talked about all the time on this fine website, stats are not a brilliant way to score fights because “significant strikes” covers a wide range of possibilities. In the stat-keeping world, a Francis Ngannou uppercut counts for the same as a Parker Porter jab. Those two things are not the same in nearly any other context. That being said, here are the stats for the main event.

You’ll notice that the first four rounds are nearly identical in overall significant strike count, and in rounds one and four, Makhachev has a considerable advantage in control time. Even Volkanovski doesn’t argue that he lost those two rounds, because he’s not a moron. He did lose them, and everyone who isn’t pushing an agenda recognizes that. Similarly, round five is undeniably a Volkanovski round, no one disputes it. That leaves rounds two and three as the potential swing rounds.

Now if you believe Volkanovski edged those two rounds, then you have it 3-2 Volkanovski, which is a defensible score card (though I would say it’s wrong), but if you much more reasonably just kind of split the difference between the two, then 3-2 Makhachev, and that’s what we mostly got. Here’s where I differ though: if you entirely remove the “Volkanovski is going to get crushed narrative” I favor Makhachev’s work in rounds two and three. They landed about equally, but Makhachev’s shots are the ones that land cleaner, snapping Volkanovski’s head back and at various points earning an acknowledgment from Volkanovski that he got tagged. Or, you know, dropping the dude to a knee and making him retreat.

In the simplest terms possible: they landed about the same, but Makhachev landed better shots. That’s why I think he won four rounds. But if you score it 3-2 for Volkanovski, that’s not egregious. It was a close fight. Sometimes that’s how things go.

The lightweight title picture

No. And frankly, if I’m Islam, I don’t know why I would possibly agree.

I’ve long been on the record of hating immediate rematches in any context, save for a robbery. This isn’t the NBA, you don’t get a seven-game series to establish who is the best. You have one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted. Make it happen or go back to the start of the line, because other guys deserve their shot. Lightweight is the deepest division in the sport and this was not a title fight we had to have at the time. Now that it’s played out and one guy won, without controversy, we need it even less. And if Makhachev had lost I’d be saying the same thing.

Add in the fact that Yair Rodriguez damn sure deserves his crack at Volkanovski, and if Arnold Allen beats Max Holloway he will deserve his own shot at the champ, and the fact is, both men have other business to attend to for now. If Volkanovski wants a lightweight title shot, drop the featherweight belt, and beat a top 5 lightweight. Then, no one can deny you.

Except, if I’m Makhachev, I would absolutely deny him. Think about this: Makhachev chose to put his lightweight title on the line in Volkanovski’s home country and did so in part because the title of top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport was on the line. Volkanovski himself said it! And then, after Islam beat him, Volkanovski walks back the pound-for-pound talk and his team lobs entirely unsubstantiated accusations of cheating at him. Why the hell would you do him any favors at this point?

Makhachev and Volkanovski both have other things to do right now. But if they both defend their belts twice, maybe we can run this one back in 2024, when it would be entirely deserved and that much bigger of a matchup.

Success in defeat

I mean, Volkanovski is probably the right answer at this point. He exceeded my expectations, even if I thought he lost 4-1. And to do that against the guy I thought was the best fighter in the world going into it, well, that’s incredible.

And the other contenders are all going to be in similar boats, right? Yair Rodriguez’s loss to Max Holloway was sensational (and may prove to be a turning point in that young man’s career), Alexander Gustafsson in the first fight with Jon Jones, Johny Hendricks to Georges St-Pierre, and Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya 2, you know, stuff like that.

The one I think about the most though is probably Dominick Reyes against Jon Jones, because of how sharp he fell off afterwards. We’re talking a Cody Garbrandt-esque collapse, for a guy who should have beaten the best fighter in the sport. The margins at the top are impossibly thin. It’s one of the things that makes this sport so fascinating.

Jack Della Maddalena

Because he hates people who bet JDM by KO in Round 1, apparently. Still, that young man is showing some promise, huh? Dude is destined to fight for a belt one day.


Yeah, man. Khabib Nurmagomedov never gets the credit he deserves for being a supreme athlete. That was the secret sauce to his game. Y’all remember that right hand that sat Conor down? Wooo buddy. It’s why, for me, Islam can never really catch Khabib. Islam is already a more technically proficient striker, but he’s 80 percent the athlete Khabib is and that limits him. Still makes him better than every other lightweight alive, but it gives me pause about his chances up a weight class. Whereas I always like Khabib’s shot at welterweight and frankly, even middleweight. But I digress.

I’m not sure Khabib is top 5 all-time in terms of athleticism, but he certainly was during his run. If I’m making an all-time list it starts with three names: Yoel Romero, Kevin Randleman, and Brock Lesnar. Those men are unquestionably the top names in terms of athleticism. Just absolute superhumans.

Jose Aldo makes the top 5 as well. Even at 36 the man still moved different. And I’ll go with Daniel Cormier to round it out. But really, there are a ton of good candidates. Volkanovski, Khamzat Chimaev, Jon Jones, Francis Ngannou, all of those guys are incredible physical specimens, and I am probably forgetting some people. But the list starts with Romero, Randleman, and Brock.


Pretty well. So would Patchy Mix, and the rest of the Bellator bantamweight division. 135 pounds is super deep, and on any given day, any of those guys could hand anyone in the UFC a loss.


For years I have been saying the UFC should do more Grand Prix events. Not with the top fighters in the weight class — they come with too many inherent issues, especially if a belt is on the line — but with the mid-tier guys. Lightweight is always my go-to division for this because it’s so deep and the top is so stagnant, that breaking in can be difficult. So imagine this for an eight-man grand, 2023 Lightweight Grand Prix:

Terrance McKinney, Jamie Mullarkey, Michael Johnson, Jai Herbert, Claudio Puelles, Drakkar Klose, Diego Ferreira, and Nasrat Haqparast.

That’s eight of the top 40 or so lightweights in the world. Guys who are very good, but will struggle to make headway at lightweight because you have to have an eight-fight winning streak to get anywhere. More importantly, most of those dudes are exciting, and we’ve just put them all into a year long event with a $500,000 prize at stake (the UFC would never front $1 million). Think of all the things the UFC gains from this!

  1. Long-term star building. The UFC is terrible at star-making. The can capture natural stars, but can’t really make their own. The only way they’ve even sort of been able to do that has been through The Ultimate Fighter which is what? A tournament! Only these are some of the best guys in the world. We don’t need to see them living in a house together. Just run the tournaments and have the natural, linear story-telling of one man beating out seven others, do the work. Then, forever more, Bruce Buffer can announce Jamie Mullarkey as “The 2023 UFC Lightweight Grand Prix winner!” That in itself is valuable.
  2. Ready-made main events. Let’s be honest, the UFC is spoon-feeding us some garbage Fight Night cards these days. *cough* Saturday *cough*. They are contractually obligated to provide 42 events a year for ESPN and they simply do not have enough main events to go around. And while Nasrat Haqparast vs. Jai Herbert would not normally rate as a quality main or co-main event, if the event is simply, 2023 Lightweight Grand Prix Round 1, that would go over much smoother. Look at some of the old PRIDE opening rounds, most of the matchups didn’t blow your doors off. But it was building to something cool.
  3. The crescendo. Say you run a few of Grand Prixs per year, in different weight classes, aside from all the ready-made, easily promotable fights you get in between, do you know what you get at the end? A Super Bowl! Love or hate the PFL, every year, the PFL championships are a legitimately fun and meaningful event. You have the culmination of multiple storylines, huge stakes, and fun matchups. Six weight classes is too many, but if you did three or four? That’s magic. Imagine how fun and interesting it would be to see one of those eight names, build themselves into a serious commodity over the course of the year, and at the end, get a trophy or a crown or something. Something to make them standout from the endless mass of monochromatic uniforms the UFC rolls out every week.

There’s really no downside and they already do something similar, only instead of tying up marquee fighters to coach and putting 40 minutes of trashy drivel before it, you can just cut all that s*** out and mainline the good parts.

You’re welcome, UFC.

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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