Hot Tweets: Derrick Lewis, UFC Vegas 20, and the state of the heavyweight division
We are in full swing of the UFC’s two-month long festival of fight cards and as such, there is a lot going on in MMA right now. So much so that even though I was late to asking for questions this week. We had a ton of questions covering a wide range of topics so without further ado, I’m going to try and answer as many as I can. Let’s go!
Absolutely! At this stage of the year, Lewis’ KO is AT WORST No. 2 on the list behind only Cory Sandhagen. Granted, it’s early in the year but I would be fairly surprised if that wasn’t making lists comes December.
That being said, I don’t believe Lewis flattening Curtis Blaydes is going to actually win KO of the Year honors. There are too many factors working against it. First, it happened in February and recency bias is always a real thing. Second, ultimately the stakes were low. Lewis isn’t getting a title shot off the KO so that takes some shine off it. And lastly, at the end of the day, as spectacular as it was, it was just an uppercut. It wasn’t a flying knee or a ninja kick or something crazy. Lewis timed a beautiful uppercut on a guy ducking his head in. That’s elite fighting but it’s not something unimaginable and when it comes to the flying knees of the world, it will get lost in the shuffle.
Did you guys know that the fourth-ranked and seventh-ranked heavyweights in the world are fighting tonight? No seriously, it’s true! For a fight that basically guarantees something violent and awesome, it feels like this event is flying under the radar as everyone is looking ahead to UFC 259 and the three title fights next weekend, and that’s a shame because this is going to be dope.
Ciryl Gane is the best heavyweight prospect since… Francis Ngannou? Honestly, it’s hard to judge because heavyweight so rarely has prospects but Gane is one of the best kickboxers in the division and has shown an aptitude for the grapples as well. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik burst onto the scene in Ngannou-like fashion only to come back to Earth when he had to face Ngannou himself. Ultimately I favor Gane in this fight because I do think he’s the better kickboxer but anything could happen here and the outcome will be awesome regardless.
As for who they fight next? Alexander Volkov, of course. The heavyweight division is a Meereenese knot inside of a logjam due largely to the fact that the last three years have been entirely held up by the Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier trilogy. Unless Gane punches Rozenstruik so hard that he opens a wormhole, travels through space-time, and explodes Jon Jones in the process, the winner of this fight will not get a title shot. They will need AT LEAST one more win to get a title shot and maybe even two. That means that the winner tonight will either face Volkov or Lewis and given Lewis’ impressive win, I’d say he’s likely set to face the loser of Stipe vs. Ngannou II, leaving Volkov without a dance partner.
Speaking of logjams, the UFC sure seems to have a lot of them lately. That’s what happens when your divisions are good and you have one title defense a year. The problem gets exacerbated when you have multi-division champions too so don’t expect it to go away anytime soon, but also don’t expect them to do tournaments. Like Dominic Toretto, they’ll die before the go back.
Tournaments are fun for fans and a great way to tell a linear story to an uninformed audience. They are also operationally complex, fraught with points of failure, and ultimately cumbersome. For a company like the UFC, using well-known fighters in a Grand Prix offers little in the way of value (their viewership will remain fairly steady, regardless) while removing flexibility. There’s just no gain.
In my mind, the tournament structure makes sense for the UFC in only three scenarios:
Crowning a new champion when another champion vacates the belt (giving the necessary credibility to the new champion).
As a promotional device to elevate undercard talent who aren’t well-known (a “2021 Lightweight Grand Prix” comprised of non-ranked lightweights fighting to an “Intercontinental” belt or something like that).
A once-a-year (maybe every other year), one-night tournament for each division in the sport, calling back to the UFC’s roots and engaging the fans in a different way.
The first one functionally happens with some regularity, even if the UFC doesn’t explicitly state it. The second is something the UFC absolutely should do and perhaps might one day. The third will never happen because the UFC is creatively bankrupt and hates fun.
Figueiredo, unquestionably. Figgy Smalls is the first flyweight champion the UFC has actually liked and spent a considerable amount of energy marketing. Furthermore, he was the 2020 Fighter of the Year! This dude has a ton of momentum and, given his fighting style, a ton of star potential whereas Moreno is fairly low on both. Moreno winning isn’t one of those things that will crater the whole division, but it would definitely set it back. The UFC wants Figgy Smalls to blow up Moreno and then get back to booking the Cody Garbrandt fight as soon as possible.
Honestly, no. Barboza is a guy who probably doesn’t get enough credit because he seemed to always find a way to lose when it really mattered, but at his peak he was a sublimely gifted offensive force. That being said, he’s now 35, past his prime, and cutting to compete in a weight class despite not needing to do so. Barboza’s issues at lightweight were not that he was too small. His issue was that he never really developed a way to deal with relentless pressure. If you allowed Barboza to play his game, you got got and if you didn’t you didn’t But not a single person who beat him at lightweight did so because he was too small.
Barboza still has gas in the tank and the tools to get good wins but he also still has his same fatal flaw and now he’s competing in a division where he has a minimal track record (and underrated aspect to fighting, at lightweight if Dan Hooker goes on a run, Barboza can perhaps leverage his KO win there to get a shot up the rankings), is compromising his body to make the drop, and is competing against generally faster guys who pressure. The chances of him putting together the necessary win streak to get to a title shot is extremely low at this point.
It would entirely depend on the fighter in question. If it’s Conor McGregor, he would get paid ALL THE MONEY because Scott Coker might in fact sell his liver for the chance to promote McGregor. He’d give Conor half of Bellator and maybe some of Viacom too. Just all the money.
For someone else? Probably better than MMA fighters currently make out but still a far cry from Lopez. Ultimately, the UFC might lose the occasional fighter but they’d keep the bulk of them because their brand is the strongest. For instance, if the CFL suddenly started paying a few football players premium money, the NFL still won’t lose market share because unless it’s like Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady, it’s not going to make that big a difference. There’s safety in numbers and currently, the UFC has an overwhelming majority of the numbers.