You can sign up for a free seven-day trial of ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC on ESPN+ live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
I’m not sure if the late American poet Wallace Stevens would be a fan of mixed martial arts if he were alive today, but last week would have given him ample reason.
“The Thrill and the Agony” for UFC 236 premiered, and as usual, it depicts the emotions of fight night better than anything outside of being there in-person. You can almost taste the metallic cocktail of blood and sweat and testosterone leaking out of the combatants. The thud of respect as they embrace in the cage pierces through the static roar of the audience like an eye of a blackbird surrounded on all sides by eight snowy mountains. The highlight: The son of a fallen champion, upset to the point of tears, is consoled by the man who defeated his father … and the most dominant center in NBA history. Somehow, it all makes sense.
Fighting is sometimes more memetic than poetic. Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya elected to engage in the Twitter equivalent of the Spiderman meme throughout the week. The similarities aren’t hard to find. Jones was undefeated with an asterisk and needed only eight fights in the UFC to become champion; Adesanya is undefeated without an asterisk and needed only six fights to get a belt around his waist. The anthropometric similarities are obvious, too. Yet it’s still strange to see the greatest 205er of all-time get into it with someone who has never once fought at 205 pounds, especially when he has a title fight of his own on the horizon. Still, if you know “Bones,” it’s not at all a surprise to see him distracted by things that don’t really matter.
Then again, sometimes Jones’ distractedness is undeniably great, like when he complimented Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid on his spinning elbow technique. Even on a basketball court, mixed martial arts is a small part of the pantomime.
At UFC Fight Night 149 on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia, Roxanne Modafferi took a split decision over the substantially favored Antonina Shevchenko. Of course, Shevchenko is the older sister of the current women’s flyweight champion and a muay Thai world champion with a 39-1 record in kickboxing. Modafferi is an awkwardly gangly grappler who had only previously won once in the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- the same as Shevchenko coming into the bout -- and found herself on a six-fight losing streak not long ago. “The Happy Warrior” is known for her ebullience but proved that she is just as deserving of the “warrior” part of her nickname, even if she does not want any part of Cristiane Justino. Kickboxing and takedowns are one. Kickboxing and takedowns and epic sweeps into mount are one.
In the UFC Fight Night 149 main event, Alistair Overeem proved that old dogs, or veterans of 90 fights, don’t need to learn new tricks. Rather, the same tricks that worked for him 20 years ago -- Thai clinch followed by knees till oblivion -- are still just as good. All that’s left for “The Demolition Man” to accomplish in combat sports is a UFC title, but even he knows he hasn’t quite earned another shot. I don’t know which to prefer, the beauty of his clinch game or the beauty of his self-awareness. Actually, never mind. I’ll go with knees from the clinch.
Let’s not forget about Sultan Aliev, who retired after his win in St. Petersburg. The Dagestani ended his career with a win in front of a supportive crowd, and it doesn’t get much better than that. The impetus for his retirement? He has a family … and a job. Yes, the 15-3 professional fighter did this as a side-hustle.
Nearly 5000 miles away from St. Petersburg, Kyoji Horiguchi notched his 12th straight victory against UFC vet Ben Nguyen at Rizin Fighting Federation 15 on Sunday in Yokohama, Japan. Seven of those 12 wins have been finishes, including his first-round knockout of Nguyen. It’s getting harder to deny Horiguchi as one of the best bantamweights in the world, just as it’s getting harder to assume that fighters outside of the UFC are automatically lesser competition. Just ask Eddie Alvarez, Benson Henderson, Gegard Mousasi or Ben Askren.
As the UFC product becomes increasingly sterile and indecipherably similar from one event to the next, Japan is cornering the market on awesomely bizarre MMA. Beyond the ascendance of Rizin Fighting Federation and the emerging presence of One Championship, another edition of Ganryujima -- MMA moat fighting, for the uninitiated -- has been announced. The spirit of “Street Fighter” weirdness lives on in the Land of the Rising Sun.
That’s not to discredit how weird the UFC can be, though. Darren Till, who doesn’t care about his girlfriend or kids, also did not care about his hotel room in the Canary Islands. According to multiple reports, Till and his posse destroyed furniture and emptied out fire extinguishers in his hotel room before stealing a taxi. After his knockout loss to Jorge Masvidal in March, Till said the following: “Few things need refocusing now, feel like I lost me self the past year & haven’t been fully focused to my craft!” If this is indeed the refocused Till, then it looks like his craft is now grand theft auto. Perhaps a tip of the cap to fellow British MMA fighter turned Guy Ritchie character Lee Murray?
Till isn’t the only fighter in a bizarre legal predicament. UFC hall of famer B.J. Penn, who just recently was given a restraining order by his estranged partner, is also under investigation for threatening a man with a machete. Nicknamed “The Prodigy” for his natural abilities and rapid ascendance in the sport, Penn is now truly embodying a meteoric trajectory: a prolonged, disastrous and explosive crash into flames.
Not all MMA news from the 50th state is so depressingly peculiar, however. Some of it is simply peculiar. Dan Ige, a Hawaii native and current UFC featherweight, gave blood samples to a mysterious cadre of intruders last week because he thought they were United States Anti-Doping Agency agents. It’s an understandable mistake given USADA’s habit of early-morning drug tests, but the real question is why anyone would want Ige’s blood in the first place. I, for one, welcome our imminent Ige clone army overlords.
We can only hope that the weirdos responsible for taking Ige’s blood meet the same fate as the man caught furiously red-handed creeping on the photoshoot of amateur fighter Joyce Vieira.
Speaking of low-blows, there was a boxing match on Saturday between undefeated world champion Terence Crawford and former world champion Amir Khan for the WBO welterweight title. Crawford retained the title and his unblemished record with the oldest tactic in human combat: eliminate your opponent’s ability to reproduce. While boxing is indeed the Sweet Science, the clash between two of the sport’s most dynamic and exciting pugilists proved that, when in doubt, all of our survival instincts are pretty similar.
Eric Stinton is a writer and a teacher from Kailua, Hawaii. He has been writing for Sherdog since 2014 and has published fiction, nonfiction and journalism in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Eastlit, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat and Vice, among others. He currently lives with his fiancée and dachshund in Seoul. You can find his work at ericstinton.com.