Sure, the Derrick Lewis-Francis Ngannou fight wasn’t the best in the world, but I think it’s safe to say you enjoyed UFC 226 on Saturday in Las Vegas. Maybe you even learned something from it.
If not, that’s what I’m here for. Daniel Cormier-Stipe Miocic was a fight for the ages, something that will factor into how we all talk about heavyweight MMA history for the rest of time. However, does that really make “DC” the best, and what about this Brock Lesnar character?
Also, let’s not forget we lost maybe the “Fight of the Year” between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega just hours out from the card. What’s the deal with that?
Is Anthony Pettis back? Is there even a real purpose to have International Fight Week now? Can we all say a psalm for Raphael Assuncao? Let’s figure it out and learn five lessons from UFC 226:
Is “DC” the Greatest? It’s Really Not the Question
Is Cormier the greatest heavyweight ever? Maybe you say yes, maybe you say no. I tend to think that’s not really the question at hand.
Since making his MMA debut back in 2009, Cormier has dominated every soul he has ever fought other than Jon Jones, although, there was that moment where Alexander Gustafsson collapsed him with a kneecap. That notwithstanding, the entire Cormier-Miocic fight was couched as the fight to determine the identity of the all-time greatest heavyweight. I don’t think it’s that simple. The fact of the matter is that heavyweight is a fickle, fractured division. Heavyweights are mercurial; no division in this sport gives us more variable and unpredictable outcomes; just look at the Lewis-Ngannou horror show. Maybe you prefer Fedor Emelianenko’s seven-year reign of terror. Perhaps you’re more kind to Fabricio Werdum’s steady collection of scalps, having beaten nearly all the biggest hitters in the history of the division. Of course, let’s not forget, not only did Miocic have probably the best six-fight winning streak in the history of the weight class, but he’s the first man to actually defend the UFC heavyweight title three times, a feat which took over 20 years to happen.
None of this matters. In this particular argument, Cormier is cursed by the fact that he got into MMA at nearly 31 years old and spent nearly half of his career at 205 pounds, chasing around and being tormented by Jones, the sport’s ultimate ne’er-do-well. Sure, he’s 14-0 as a heavyweight, but we’re in an era of weight-class jumping and superfights; while it may be nice to hold down your division like Demetrious Johnson, the ultimate measure of any fighter in the current era of MMA is simply this: “Who did you beat and how did you beat them?” Few fighters, regardless of weight class, have ever done it better than Cormier. The question should not be whether he is the greatest heavyweight ever; it should simply ask, “Is and was Cormier one of the greatest?”
I think you know the answer.
The UFC Will Never Quit Lesnar
I don’t imagine Cormier ever really dreamt of a showdown with Lesnar, of all folks. Though he is a professional wrestling fan and a pro fighter -- that is to say, I’m sure he wants to get paid -- I imagine when he puts his head on a pillow, he more romanticizes a scenario where he plunges his right hand into Jones’ skull. Nonetheless, here we are, with “DC” calling out the World Wrestling Entertainment star, and Lesnar, dressed like he is going to a party thrown by Jay Gatsby, calling him a “mother [expletive].”
What a time to be alive.
Combat sports is like a rollercoaster. One minute, “The Ultimate Fighter” is giving you the ability to essentially print money, and the next minute, all of a sudden, you can barely hit 200,000 buys on pay-per-view with a title doubleheader. This is just how prizefighting goes. It is also a reminder of why promoters are so willing to go back to the same well-plumbed wells to which they’ve gone before. It may be disgusting and unnerving to consider the amount of coinage the UFC is willing to throw at Lesnar and that he may be Cormier’s final career opponent, but to borrow a Dana White-ism, he’s a needle mover. When I woke up on Sunday, my next-door neighbor did not ask me what I thought of Cormier’s performance; he asked me if I thought he could beat Lesnar.
Frankly, I’ve got to tip my hat to him. He’s just a guy from a dairy farm in Webster, South Dakota, and he’s somehow tricked both the biggest wrasslin’ promoter and biggest MMA promoter in the world into pay him bazillions of dollars just to show up whenever he wants to. His employers exclusively put him positions of prominence, while essentially sanctioning him to do all the steroids he wants. Really, Lesnar is the American dream.
International Fight Week is Dead
Remember UFC 73? Remember “Stacked”? Remember when “stacking” an MMA card was even a concept? Yeah? Well, that’s dead.
“International Fight Week” is a moribund concept. Seven years ago, when the promotion first conceived it, the conceit made sense. The UFC was making dollars hand over fist, had a much smaller and controlled roster and could essentially put together an annual supercard for Independence Day weekend at its creative disposal. Now? Well, we’ve got the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, stringent weigh-in policies and fighters are starting to recognize their worth. This scheme is broken.
In 2015, we had the epic dissolution of the Conor McGregor-Jose Aldo fight where White buried his own champion and called him a liar. In 2016, we had the McGregor-Nate Diaz rematch fall apart and, more infamously, Jones popping hot for clomiphene and letrozole and delaying his rematch with Cormier. Even Bruce Buffer nearly killed himself rocking out too hard while doing karaoke. Last year? The T.J. Dillashaw-Cody Garbrandt showdown got scrapped, and Amanda Nunes-Valentina Shevchenko was delayed for months. This time around, we lost what might have been the “Fight of the Year” in Holloway-Ortega.
We can argue until the cows come home about whether or not the UFC’s relationship with USADA is a good idea, when weigh-ins should happen and how the company treats and negotiates with its roster, but the fact of the matter is that all of these factors have coalesced in a way that makes throwing a multi-card party on Independence Day weekend a lost and silly idea. It behooves the promotion to cut the act, too: With every further instance of an anticipated fight falling apart or a major card being damaged, the UFC only ruins its reputation and purchase with fans and consumers. At this point, it’s only the smartest business move.
‘Showtime’ is Still Alive
Reports of Pettis’ death have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, Pettis is 3-5 over his last eight fights, and yes, his opponent, Michael Chiesa, was two and a half pounds overweight, but there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes, it’s been almost seven years since Pettis leaped off the cage at World Extreme Cagefighting 53 and kicked Benson Henderson in the face -- literally the most electrifying moment in the history of MMA -- but we shouldn’t abandon the man yet.
No, he is not going to sniff a UFC lightweight title again, and his featherweight cut was ill-conceived and silly. Even then, this man has a predilection for offensive thrills and chills, someone who on the turn of a dime can execute a striking or grappling technique that will knock your socks off. The Chiesa fight was the first time in over three years that “Showtime” actually looked alive. The saddest part about Pettis’ doldrums has been watching a man who at one point looked like the most exciting offensive MMA fighter alive outside of Anderson Silva look like a corpse in the cage. Against Chiesa, even if his foe may have already been dead to rites by blowing weight and looking like a zombie, he made you remember what it was like when he was on top of the 155-pound heap. As Marty Schottenheimer would say, the man had the “gleam.”
No, Pettis is never going to be UFC lightweight champion again. However, he is one of the most uniquely gifted offensive fighters we’ve ever had in the game. All we can ask for is that he gives us a few more “Sportscenter” highlights before he is done. In the combined history of UFC, Pride Fighting Championships, Strikeforce and the WEC, no man has ever authored more submission victories -- seven, by the way -- off his back than Pettis; and that’s to say nothing of his ability to leap off a fence, in the words of Stephan Bonnar, “like a ninja,” and do damage. In my books, that’s good enough to stick around on a roster. If the UFC doesn’t feel so inclined, I’m sure I can think of another promoter that would gladly take him off its hands. I think his name rhymes with “Cot Soaker.”
Assuncao Doesn’t Even Exist
Have you ever felt overlooked? Passed over? Forgotten? Well, great. Even then, I’m not sure you can imagine how Assuncao feels.
I know for a fact that UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby doesn’t have any serious animus toward the Brazilian, but your heart can’t help but break for this guy. It’s literally gotten to a point where he is pleading his case, not for the classic “Let me fight for the title!” schtick on the microphone but just to have anyone take notice of him. He’s 11-1 in his last 12 fights. He has beaten Dillashaw, even if I think it was a bogus decision. His only loss in that period? The rematch with Dillashaw.
Assuncao is MMA’s great forgotten fighter. He slugs on the feet. He improves his striking in every matchup. He is a ferocious guard passer. He is an awesome submission specialist with elite back control. He is never boring. Yet, he has just completely slipped through the cracks of this sport and his promotion. If this man was a heavyweight, he would have fought for the UFC title twice by now. Yet we prize and purchase the thrill of seeing two former Team Alpha Male teammates fight one another into oblivion.
Sure, maybe some folks just want to fight in a cage to make a decent living. I mean, Assuncao made $130,000 for his win over Rob Font at UFC 226. However, you can’t put a price on being forgotten and disrespected.