Back Talk: Jason Burgos’ Mailbag

By Jason Burgos Mar 28, 2020

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Welcome to this week’s “Back Talk” dispatch. As I come to you from the COVID-19 Epicenter—formerly known as New York—still healthy (knocks on all kinds of wood) and ready to respond to inquiries from the always-boisterous Sherdog forums. In this installment, topics include Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson in a vacant arena, fantasy booking and the holy trinity of mixed martial arts coaching.

Mcnugget Asks: “Would watching Nurmagomedov and Ferguson fight in an empty gym [or arena] change your enjoyment of the fight?”
Burgos: Not in the least. Like I explained in last week’s edition, this has all the makings to be an epic fight. It is a matchup pitting the two best lightweight fighters on the planet against each other. That’s not hyperbole; those are just facts. Nurmagomedov has faced down every challenge put in front of him over 28 professional fights, while Ferguson hasn’t tasted a loss—not counting television lighting cables—in almost eight years. The style clash is just so riveting, because this bout isn’t like Nurmagomedov’s last two, where he was matched with better strikers and the question was whether or not he could avoid serious damage before the eventual ground-and-pound onslaught. Ferguson offers unorthodox striking, a giant gas tank, high output, extreme durability, a filthy submission game and the kind of unpredictability that could make this melee a site to behold. No matter where this fight happens, be it in a full arena, in an empty arena, in an empty pool, in an alley or in a phone booth, it should still be fantastic. Honestly, an empty arena may add to it, because we all know both of these individuals are not opposed to in-fight trash talk. Imagine that sort of action while being able to clearly hear their back-and-forth banter? Please, take all of my money.

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George Costanza Asks: “On the list of all-time great MMA coaches, who reigns supreme?”
Burgos: It’s difficult to pick just one coach who reigns over them all. There are just so many variables in an answer like that. Instead, I will give you the three that I believe stand above the rest: Greg Jackson, Javier Mendez and Ray Longo.

Jackson is a no-brainer. Having founded the original version of what we all know as the Jackson-Wink MMA academy, Jackson has been a massive part of helping to mold and guide some of the best careers of the last decade. Georges St. Pierre, Donald Cerrone, Diego Sanchez, Carlos Condit and Jon Jones have benefitted immensely from his teachings. When you are a key factory behind St. Pierre and Jones—arguably the two best mixed martial artists of all-time—your resume is pretty bulletproof.

Mendez is also a no-brainer. He has made the American Kickboxing Academy a go-to example when MMA observers list the top gyms in the sport. Why? Because he has helped take Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier to the pinnacle of the industry. However, he did not peak with the hall-of-fame runs enjoyed by Cormier and Velasquez. No, he has also become a key ingredient in Nurmagomedov’s rise to power. The guy is a “manager of champions.”

Longo may not be a name that jumps to the fore for newer fans, but as a fellow New Yorker and a man who has had a few in-depth conversations with the coaching legend, I’m unabashedly partial. However, he has a legitimate case to be made. St. Pierre and Anderson Silva have had two of the most storied careers in the sports history. Yet two of Longo’s charges toppled those men when they were at the top. Matt Serra and Chris Weidman won’t go down in the annals of MMA as two of the most gifted athletes to compete in the sport. Yet Longo managed to help build a skill set and mental fortitude in them to face down those elite talents and succeed where more talented contemporaries failed. Longo’s impact can still be seen today in fighters like Aljamain Sterling, Al Iaquinta and Merab Dvalishvili—athletes whose success at the highest level was based as much as anything on guts and metal fortitude. That is why he joins Mendez and Jackson in the uber-elite class of MMA coaches.

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Fedor5723 Asks: “What matchups would one make if one had a time machine?”
Burgos: Fantasy matchmaking never stops being fun. The more you learn about the sport and the longer you watch, you can’t help but wonder “What if?” about stars from different eras. After some deep thought, three pairings standout as time-machine worthy. The first is 2017-18 Daniel Cormier against Fedor Emelianenko during his heavyweight run in Pride Fighting Championships. I love the booking because both are so evenly matched in terms of their well-rounded skills and physiques. They feel like mirror images as untraditional heavyweights who dominated despite their size disadvantages—height for Cormier and weight for Emelianenko. On the feet, Emelianenko’s hand speed and power represent clear advantages. However, Cormier is more than capable of holding his own against deadly strikers. On the mat, “DC” is an elite-level grappler, but Emelianenko is all kinds of crafty and dangerous off his back. It’s just a straight-up chess match wherever it goes.

My next fantasy booking, if I had a time machine to scoop up talented fighters and drop them in a different era, would be 2017 Demian Maia against 2000 Kazushi Sakuraba. This fight would be absolutely insane. Neither man has seminar-worthy skills, but both are ballsy enough to brawl if it opens up the chance to shoot the shot. When it does hit the mat, you would see a wild grappling onslaught between a shoot wrestler with an unpredictable scrambling game and a world champion grappler who seamlessly blends his Brazilian jiu-jitsu with wrestling. It would be a grappling feast for the eyes to behold.

Finally, I would pit prime Dominick Cruz against prime Frankie Edgar. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Whoa, Burgos. That fight could still happen. That’s not really fantasy.” True, but the chances don’t look too good with “The Dominator” having been inactive since December 2016. Remember, this is a time machine time. Since Cruz has competed at featherweight, let’s have them meet in that middle ground. I know Edgar “plans” to compete at bantamweight, but we still haven’t seen him do it yet and we don’t know how effective he will be at that weight. Give me 2011 Cruz not cutting any weight against 2017 Edgar. How fun would that be? The output level, the cardio, the strategy, the grappling scrambles, the feinting … my word. Since both men have more decision wins than submissions and knockouts combined, we will almost certainly get five full rounds of tactical brilliance. Yes, this fight could still happen and still be quite entertaining, but in a perfect world, we could do far better when using the Sherdog MMA time machine.

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