If Izzy wins this weekend? How big a star can he become? How does he do against Costa, Romero, Cannonier?
— Try harder (@the_hardie) October 3, 2019
ICYMI: Israel Adesanya did indeed win, bending styles all over Robert Whittaker en route to a second-round TKO victory.
This is the million dollar question, for both Adesanya and the UFC. In the aftermath of UFC 243, fans (and especially the media) have been quick to anoint Izzy as the next big thing, with good reason. He’s one of the best fighters on Earth, he has a fan friendly style, and he’s charismatic as hell. He checks all the boxes, including the one that says genuine “It Factor.” But there have been more than a few Conor McGregor comparisons for Adesanya, and while I get it (they both barnstormed the UFC, won interim titles, and unified belts in dominant performances while talking a bit of trash), I think that may be a reach.
Adesanya is a star, and one that could certainly have some crossover appeal. But early UFC McGregor was a force of nature. He almost immediately connected with fans in a way that hasn’t been seen before or since. Israel is the better fighter, but McGregor was a star before winning a title. His title win blew him into the stratosphere, whereas Adesanya’s seems to have just announced him as the next big thing.
Adesanya also won a title much more quickly than McGregor, so it’s possible he will continue to rise. But I think his personality, while tremendous and fun – especially for the MMA media – tends to lend itself more to major star instead of world-bending superstar. For instance, if Adesanya loses, I’m not sure his star power remains unblemished, whereas Conor has been consistently taking Ls for the last three years and his fans don’t seem to mind.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room. The big, overly-inflated balloon elephant in the room. All of this hinges on Adesanya’s ability to continue winning fights and defending his belt, and next up he faces Paulo Costa, the man who may well present the most difficult stylistic challenge to Adesanya in the middleweight division.
Pressure is the way to bother Adesanya. It’s how Gastelum took two rounds off “The Last Stylebender”. Whittaker had a lot of difficulty closing the distance against Adesanya, because he’s never been much of a pressure fighter. But that’s basically all Costa is. A big, pressuring tank of a man who swings heavy. I’m not sure he beats Adesanya, but I’m not sure he doesn’t either. That fight, in my estimation, figures to be the most dangerous for the new champion.
As for the other likely contenders, Romero (the one true middleweight king, flame on comment section) likely loses a decision, though I’d love to see the fight. Romero is so incredibly crafty, he could make things interesting with counters and wrestling. But he’s not active enough, so I think Adesanya outpoints him, especially at this point. And Cannonier? Adesanya is a better striker, but maybe the power of crystals is what you need to unbend styles? Crazier things have happened in this sport.
How do you think Till Vs KG goes? Does KG stay standing? Does Till give him problems with size and length? Does KG show effects from the Izzy fight?
— Try harder (@the_hardie) October 3, 2019
My gut says Kelvin wins handily, especially after this weekend. Consider how much difficulty Gastelum gave Adesanya, and then think about how easy it was for Izzy to style on Whittaker. I think Kelvin might be a way better middleweight than everyone thinks. And even if that weren’t the case, Till is dangerously close to being declared a hype fail. His last two fights were brutal stoppages – granted, against two of the best in the division – but getting caught and hurt twice in two fights is a troubling sign.
Yes, maybe Till’s chin will hold up under better duress, without the massive weight cut. But who knows? That certainly wasn’t the case for Luke Rockhold, and Gastelum definitely hits harder – on a pound-for-pound basis – than Jan Blachowicz.
Look, maybe a move to middleweight is just what Till needs. But he’s facing one of the toughest guys in the division, and we have no real idea how he’ll look. If Darren Till comes out and looks sensational, I won’t be surprised. But if he gets clobbered by Gastelum’s pressure and power, I won’t be surprised either.
How far can Francis Ngannou punch a flyweight?
— Matt Gioia (@gioiabeans) October 4, 2019
Not gonna get a lot of distance punching any person, that’s just physics. But a full-on Tekken uppercut might launch a 125er a good four feet in the air.
I’m sure she’ll return to pro wrestling at some point. There’s a zero percent chance she ever returns to MMA.
Will more refs use body cams?
— Chris Wingate (@wingotti) October 4, 2019
They should because ref cam is a fun way to mix things up, but I highly doubt it. The UFC is averse to any kind of creative fun. I’m stunned they even allowed Adesanya to have a pre-walkout dance routine.
— Ryan Bagnal (@ryanakabagz) October 4, 2019
See the answer above. Of course not. The UFC is the Un Fun Championship. They put together fights, most which are objectively fine, and promote them all the same way. They don’t do tournaments or brackets or things like that, despite the fact that they actually should do tournaments with their low card talent as a way to make people care about unknown guys/fights that don’t have a ton of divisional utility.
How crazy is TJ for asking for a title shot upon his return?
— Blake (@Woolman7242) October 2, 2019
Not crazy at all. He totally should. Squeaky wheel gets the grease. My only issue with it is his contrition about cheating. He should’ve gone full-blown heel mode, and then he’d all but be guaranteed a title shot. Now he’s definitely going to have to win at least one fight.
When you think of the best fights ever. Which three first come to mind?
— Jarv.Dad (@DadJarv) September 25, 2019
So it has come to my attention that last week, I misread a question submitted by Jarv.Dad and incorrectly answered with my list of the top three best fighters ever. Hand up. That one is on me. So this week I’d like to appropriately answer your question Jarv.Dad.
Like GOAT fighters, GOAT fights are incredibly subjective, perhaps even more so than others. While fights can have objectively appealing factors, honestly, most people seem to have favorite fights based on a number of factors. For me, I want the fight to be thrilling, obviously. But my favorite fights tend to be a matter of circumstance as much as the quality of the fight: Where I was, how invested I was in one or both fighters, and what I expected to happen all play a role. I also love a story. Three-round fights tend to be too short to allow a narrative to really take shape, so five-rounders will almost always be my favorite fights. Given that, here’s my top three.
3) Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen I. First and foremost, it’s the greatest comeback in MMA history. That alone makes it a worthy inclusion on any favorite fight list. But for me, this was the first fight I watched with friends. I’ve been an MMA fan since around 2004, but I always watched events by myself because I didn’t have friends who were interested in it. Chael Sonnen changed that. His brand of ersatz pro-wrestling made him a star, and suddenly, friends who didn’t give a crap about MMA wanted to see him finally settle his score with Silva. They knew I was “the MMA guy,” so we got together at my place and watched it.
Of course, I was very dismissive of Sonnen. “He’s been an also-ran his entire career – Anderson is going to expose him,” I confidently proclaimed. And then the fight started, and whoa buddy, did I look like the world’s biggest clown.
Sonnen turned in the performance of a lifetime. I honestly started to consider that he had been sandbagging his entire career for just this moment. Not only was he wrestling Anderson with ease, but he was winning the standup! I spent 20 minutes reckoning with how little I knew. I went through all five phases of grief and had resigned myself to being the laughing stock of my friend group. And then the Hail Mary. From the jaws of victory, Sonnen snatched defeat and salvaged my ego. It was an emotional journey the likes of which I’ve rarely been taken on in my fandom.
2) Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit. For a long time, this stood as my favorite of all time. Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit were made to fight each other. Lawler is obviously a legend , and Condit is one of my favorite fighters of all time, and the prospect of these two fighting had me incredibly excited when it was first announced. Then the fight went ahead and outlived any possible expectations. It was twenty minutes of a back-and-forth battle and then, the legend of fifth-round Lawler cemented itself with a championship-saving barrage. That Condit was able to survive the onslaught was incredible, because there were a number of occasions when it looked like he was done for. Instead, he made it to the final bell, and the image of Lawler and Condit, standing side by side with their arms draped over the cage, completely spent, is perhaps the single most iconic image that is burned into my memory. It was everything I could ever hope to have from a fight, and it was only recently surpassed.
1) Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum. This fight only happened this year, but it has already risen to the top spot in my list. There certainly could be a bit of recency bias here, but more than that, I believe this fight resounded so strongly with me because I was sitting cage side for it, and honestly, I’ll never forget how I felt that evening. I legitimately was stumbling around in shock afterward, and the entirety of press row was drunk off violence at the conclusion.
Fifth-round Adesanya, clubbing Gastelum to the brink of unconsciousness, was the most stunning bit of championship heart I’ve ever seen in person. And Gastelum hanging on by a prayer to survive was inspiring. Seriously, the whole thing was so stunning I could barely even get into the following fight, and that fight was, of course, Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway, which was most likely the second best fight of the year!
There are of course dozens of other fights that make my hair stand up: Pettis-Henderson I, Tate-Holm and Lawler-MacDonald II. But those are the three that stand above the rest to me.
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about 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.