Hot Tweets: Fighters to watch in 2020 and Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s been a rare off-week for the UFC and as such, MMA Fighting reader questions covered a whole mess of topics. So let’s discuss some future fights, a USADA hypothetical, and what 2020 in MMA looks like.


Fighters to watch in 2020

5. Maycee Barber. Barber has barnstormed her way through her MMA career so far and says she wants to be the youngest UFC champion ever. To do that, she needs a big 2020 to set her up for a title shot, which is very possible.

4. Cory Sandhagen. Sandhagen is going to obliterate Frankie Edgar to start the year off and then, probably the best bantamweight prospect in the world will suddenly be known to everyone in MMA and on the short list for a title shot. Plus his inevitable matchup with Petr Yan later next year is going to be awesome.

3. A.J. McKee. McKee is one of the brightest prospects in the sport and, assuming he gets past Derek Campos at the end of this year, next year he’ll have a chance to truly announce himself to the world by winning the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix.

2. Israel Adesanya. He was the Breakout Fighter of the Year last year and only built on that momentum with a title win and Fight of the Year. Izzy is on the cusp of true superstardom if he can navigate the middleweight contenders.

1. Khabib. If Khabib beats Tony, he solidifies himself as the GOAT lightweight and puts himself legitimately in the conversation for best fighter of all time. He also should, in my opinion, move to top P4P fighter. Then if he fights one more time next year and wins that as well, he’s getting close to all those things being indisputable. There’s no one with more to gain next year than Khabib.

Honorable mention to Bo Nickal. The three-time NCAA champion has said he’s going to move to MMA after the 2020 Olympic cycle is over. Unfortunately for him, the weight classes he could compete in are absolutely loaded with talent (similar to how Gregor Gillespie abandoned wrestling because Jordan Burroughs was in his weight class), and it’s unlikely he’ll unseat any of them to earn a spot. So much the better for us though as Nickal will instantly be one of the hottest prospects in the sport.


Ben Askren’s UFC run

Because it wasn’t. I’ve discussed this on Hot Tweets before so you can check that out for a more in-depth dissection of why Askren’s run was actually good despite him winning .5 out of 3 fights in the UFC but it basically boils down to this: the UFC traded an asset they actively disliked and couldn’t figure out how to build around for one that they could – and did – monetize immediately. The UFC never liked Demetrious Johnson and never could figure out hot to promote him so why keep him around? That’s like holding onto an airplane that you can’t fly just because it’s worth a lot. Instead, they traded their jet for a sports car, drove it three times, and got their money’s worth.

On top of that, they also freed up Henry Cejudo to be Triple-C-King-of-Cringe, who is someone they clearly believe can go on to be some kind of a star. Had they kept DJ, they would have almost certainly had to run the trilogy fight, and then DJ would win like he won the other two fights, and they’d be back stuck with a very lovely fighter jet that they have no idea how to turn on and which is getting increasingly expensive just to have sitting in their driveway.

From the UFC’s viewpoint, Askren was a godsend who helped carry them through a year that, without him, would have felt largely stale.


Speaking of Henry Cejudo

Because they don’t care about flyweight, and they think Henry Cejudo is a star, or trending that way. Cejudo is recovering from injury and last I heard, it was looking like he’d be back early next year. Dana has said a number of times that Cejudo will need to defend against Benavidez or vacate but I can’t see that happening. There’s just too many more interesting fights for Cejudo at 135 and it’s a much easier weight cut for him. Ultimately, I think they’ll make Cejudo drop the 125 belt but it won’t be for a while. And then we’ll get Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz or Urijah Faber or MAYBE Jose Aldo.

But yes, letting Triple C stagnate two divisions for a full year is enormously dreadful but something the UFC seems intent on doing. C’est la vie.


USADA Time Machine

I’ll assume that in this thought experiment USADA is free, because the UFC currently pays a considerable sum for USADA and in the late 90’s/early 2000’s they were hemorrhaging money and would never have paid for an extravagance like USADA. And if you want to say USADA was a sanctioning body mandate that the UFC had to pay for, Zuffa would have just cut bait and the sport may well have died, or at least receded to the deep recesses of the internet.

So, USADA is a free service and the UFC avails themselves of it in, let’s call it 1997 for sake of ease (the first year a true champion was crowned). Without making any direct accusations, I think it’s fair to say that there would be a number of former champions who never end up being champions and there’s a none-zero chance that some fighters we think as legitimate all-time greats would not be considered that either.

But even more than that, you’re talking about a fundamental shift in the entirety of the sport. USADA is a massively invasive program from the fighter perspective. Why would you possibly want to fight in the UFC and have to stick to the strictures of that program, when instead you could make similar money, with less complications by fighting in Pride? Or Strikeforce? The UFC would lose some fighters just on the basis of USADA being obnoxious as hell. And then there’s the whole thing that the UFC basically became an overnight sensation because of TUF. With USADA around, does that happen? I’m not willing to say with certainty that things still unfold the same way.

So in short, everything would likely be very different, and I think the UFC should be happy that they didn’t go in on drug testing early.


2020

2016 had four of the top eight PPV events in UFC history – Conor’s two fights with Nate, Conor’s fight with Eddie Alvarez, and Ronda’s return at UFC 207. It also had UFC 200 which did over a million buys. Unless Conor and Khabib decide to fight multiple times, it will be pretty hard to top that year. That being said, you’re absolutely right. The UFC already has tentative plans for many of their biggest stars early in the year so the potential for them to get multiple fights out of those stars next year, along with a smattering of other big events – Miocic-Cormer III, UFC 250, and maybe even a Nate Diaz fight – sets them up for success.

So while it probably won’t be the most profitable year on record, 2020 certainly is shaping up to be a huge one for the organization.


Darren Till, the madman

No, I think Whittaker makes a lot of sense from his perspective. Personally, I’d rather Whittaker face Gastelum instead of Till but that’s neither here nor there. If you’re Till, Whittaker makes the most sense. Till just managed to outpoint Gastelum, arguably a more dangerous and powerful puncher than Whittaker with an undeniably better chin. Also, Whittaker’s chin might be well and truly shot after getting clubbed by Yoel Romero for 50 minutes, so Till has to love the possibilities that would present. Not to mention that Whittaker is the biggest name in the division other than Adesanya, and he isn’t Yoel Romero sooooooo, the call out makes sense.


Lightning Round

People do all the time. Dana has zero interest in a 165 lb division and has said on numerous occasions it will never happen so long as he is president.

In the immortal words of Slim Charles: “Game’s the same. Just got more fierce.” MMA has always been this way. More people are just trying it because they see how it can benefit them financially.

Sadly, no. Champion of our hearts though, certainly.

More than they currently are, less than the UFC does. This weekend (maybe even as you are reading this) Michael Venom Page is fighting Joe the Plumber. MVP is 32 years old. This is just absurd matchmaking. Conversely, making Aaron Pico’s first seven fights against better opposition than MVP has ever faced is a horrible idea. Young prospects need to grow, they need tune-up fights, they need ring time to figure out how to actually fight. Stars coming off a loss can get a softer touch but it doesn’t need to be something completely banal. As with much of life, it’s all about finding the middle ground.

Honestly, no friggin’ clue. It’s plain as day that the fake belt should absolutely be silver to the real belt’s gold. But the UFC wants to keep it all the same. Boring.

Gaethje is sitting out and waiting for his shot at the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson. Only fight he would accept before then is Conor McGregor and there’s next to no chance that Conor takes that fight right now.

Kevin Lee seems fitting. Lee is coming off the best performance of his career with that KO of Gregor Gillespie. A win puts either man right in the thick of the title shot conversation.


Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington

When the fight was originally pitched, I thought Usman would wreck him. He’s a better and more powerful athlete, and Usman’s progression fight-to-fight has been legitimately incredible. In his last four wins he’s thrown 50, 66, 130, and 144 significant strikes – and that’s going against increasingly better opposition. Usman is hitting his stride and he’s a serious problem for absolutely anyone in the division.

That being said, so is Covington. Over Covington’s last four he’s thrown 47, 88. 99, and 179. that’s a similar progression and it is why, setting aside the personalities, this fight is so phenomenal. It’s the two best fighters in the division, coming into the best forms at the same time and throwing down.

In the end I think I still favor Usman because I think he’s the better wrestler and more powerful striker. Covington is probably a better volume striker than Usman but his defense leaves much to be desired – he got hit a lot by K-1 Demian Maia. Plus, Rafael dos Anjos and Dong Hyun Kim were able to score takedowns on him, which means Usman should be able to have more success in that area and thus dictate the fight more. Still though, I’m excited to see it play out.


Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Another excellent matchup to look at here. As the fight gets closer (and, you know, gets officially announced) we’ll talk about it more but in broad strokes, Weili has multiple avenues to win. At range, she has the power to just haul off and lamp Joanna like Rose did but her best bet my be to get inside and crowd JJ. Joanna is a good athlete and strong fighter but Weili mauled Jessica Andrade inside early and can do so against Jedrzejczyk if she gets the chance. Working the body will also be a huge benefit for her. The one thing Weili needs to avoid is letting Joanna dictate the pace. Jedrejczyk is a snowball rolling downhill so you need to hamstring her momentum at every chance you get.

For Joanna, she needs to do what she’s done in every fight ever, stick Weili on the end of her jab and kick the legs. To make her game work, Joanna needs to build momentum with volume early so she can take over later in the fight. Also, against Weili, she’s going to need to be the pressure fighter, to ease off some of Zhang’s power and make her reactive. The one thing she can’t do is let Weili bully her in the clinch. It’s takes away Joanna’s offense and, unlike Gadelha, Zhang may not gas out. Again, it’s a phenomenal fight and I can’t wait to see it.


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.

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