Post UFC 209 Thoughts
Following the most successful year in the UFC’s history things are surely not going according to plan for the company’s new owners WME-IMG. 2017 has been lackluster to say the least. With Conor McGregor on hiatus, Ronda Rousey looking like she’s going to retire, and Jon Jones in the middle of suspension the UFC has been forced to try to turn to other means to create buzz but so far it just isn’t working. They burned through a lot of interesting title fights at the tail end of 2016 and unless you’re Donald Cerrone fighters can’t bounce back fast enough to get back out there a few months later. Even the fights that have looked great on paper have either not lived up to the hype or fallen through for one reason or another. Thats just the sport. You’re going to have highs and lows especially at the highest level that transcends the hardcore audience. Things will pick up again but the first quarter of the year has been disappointing.
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We Really Wanted This Rematch? – Following their co-main event war that ended in a draw on the epic UFC 205 card at Madison Square Garden most people including myself wanted them to run it back right away to determine a winner. Damien Maia was sitting there as the top contender ready to fight the winner and maybe in hindsight they should’ve gave him a title shot before going back to the Wonderboy well. In the first match both guys had great moments, most notably Woodley almost finishing Thompson multiple times but unable to get it done. In the rematch? Not so much. Both guys clearly had made adjustments and decided they would wait for the other to attack so they could counter. When that happens you get what you saw Saturday night, both guys staring at each other and feinting to try and get the other to throw a punch. It was one of the most boring title fights I’ve ever seen, up there with the trilogy of Anderson Silva fights against Maia, Patrick Cote, and Thales Leites in the middle of his run. To top it off it ended with a bad decision that let Woodley keep his belt. He had the biggest moment of the fight almost knocking Thompson out but it came in the final 30 seconds of the fifth round. I had Wonderboy winning rounds one, two, and four pretty clearly. Despite not much happening Thompson controlled the cage and was dictating the action. Woodley clearly won round three with a big takedown and some strikes on the ground and round five but even if you gave him a 10-8 in the final round it should’ve just ended in another draw. I personally don’t see any way that Woodley won three rounds to outright win the fight but at the same time Thompson didn’t do anything to put a stamp on his performance. Its unfortunate but at least we learned one thing – these two should never fight each other again.
So whats next for the welterweight division? Damien Maia should clearly get the next title shot but he just got booked in a fight next month against Jorge Masvidal. Thats a fight he should win but its not a slam dunk and even if he does that would delay the possibility of him fighting Woodley. GSP is booked for a fight against Michael Bisping for the middleweight title (more on that later) and thats not happening until at least July. Looks like ‘The Chosen One’ doesn’t have a choice except to wait. As far as Thompson goes, his stock shouldn’t fall much at all. He has to get back out there and keep winning fights while hoping Woodley loses to someone sooner rather than later. If/when that happens I think he’ll get another crack at the belt. Maybe he can fight Robbie Lawler who also lost to Woodley in his last fight. That would be a hell of a bout but maybe they want to try and set that up for a bigger spot. 170 pounds is a deep division so there are plenty of options. Throw him in there against anyone like Neil Magny, Lorenz Larkin, Donald Cerrone, Carlos Condit, Dong Hyun Kim, etc. and it’ll be a good time. The long term health of welterweight is still strong but in the short term it took a pretty big hit this weekend.
Lightweight Interim Championship Postponed – This was a real kick in the shins. As much as I wanted to see the rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, this was the fight I was most excited to see play out on Saturday night. The main event wouldn’t have been so disappointing if this would’ve went down right before it… Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson were scheduled to fight to determine who would be interim champion at 155 pounds on paper but really for who is the legit top contender to challenge Conor McGregor whenever he decides to stop chasing Floyd Mayweather. Of course he would probably just fight Nate Diaz for a third time instead but this was one of the most interesting stylistic match-ups the UFC could put together. Ferguson is on a nine fight win streak, most recently an incredibly impressive performance against Rafael Dos Anjos in the high altitude of Mexico City, and has won 15 of his last 16 fights. Khabib is undefeated in 24 fights, eight of those coming in the UFC. He recently dominated Michael Johnson for three rounds before getting him to quit with a kimura at UFC 205, the big Madison Square Garden card where Conor knocked out Eddie Alvarez to win his second title. The wrestling dominance that Khabib has displayed was going to be put to the test against the crafty ‘El Cucuy’ who uses high paced unorthodox striking and a great submission game. But we won’t get to see it. At least not as soon as we thought we would. Nurmagomedov’s only weakness he’s shown to date struck again. The guy can’t stay healthy. This is the third time this fight was scheduled to happen only to be taken away. This time it wasn’t an injury but a weight cutting issue where he had to be taken to the hospital.
So what happens with this interim belt that really wasn’t necessary in the first place? Ferguson was offered a fight with Michael Johnson to stay on the card, who was the last person he lost to five years ago, but he declined since it was so last minute and also because it would no longer be for the title and thus would pay him less. Hard to blame him. But this should put him squarely in the number one contender spot regardless of whether he fights Conor McGregor next or not. Conor was already not interested in fighting Khabib because he’s pulled out of so many fights and this just reinforces that. I guess they could schedule Ferguson/Khabib for a fourth time but how can they trust him in such a big spot again? If they did it I don’t think they could put it on a Pay-Per-View. ‘The Eagle’ is going to have to prove himself again. Hes only fought three times over the last three and a half years. The most interesting thing they could do with Ferguson and maybe the division as a whole is have him fight Nate Diaz for the interim title. It would all depend on Nate being interested, hes reportedly turned down every fight offered to him since he lost to Conor, but this would be a fun stylistic match-up. They both have similar strengths on the feet and on the ground. And maybe more importantly for the UFC I think they’re both guys McGregor would want to fight whenever he comes back to the sport.
GSP is Back! At Middleweight? – A few weeks ago the UFC made the big announcement that they had come to an agreement with Georges St. Pierre on a new deal to bring him back in the octagon. The only surprising part of that was that it didn’t happen sooner. There were rumors that he was going to return in time for UFC 206 which took place in Toronto in December. It only makes sense with their biggest money makers on ice with Conor McGregor on sabbatical, Ronda Rousey looking like shes done, and Jon Jones on suspension. So with him finally back in the fold it was only a matter of who he was going to fight and when. He left the sport as the Welterweight champion and never fought in any other division so that seemed like the obvious choice. In that case he could fight the winner of Woodley/Thompson (which we now know would’ve been Tyron Woodley) or maybe top contender Damien Maia. There was even talk about him dropping down to lightweight and fighting Conor McGregor. But what made the least amount of sense but somehow had the most heat was a middleweight title show against Michael Bisping. And that is your winner. Looks like they’re trying to schedule it for International Fight Week in July.
While GSP never fought at 185 pounds there were some moments towards the tail end of his initial run where he hinted at it. There were always talks of a superfight with Anderson Silva (and I guess its once again a possibility) but St. Pierre always said he would need time to properly go up those extra 15 pounds. Well hes had plenty of time to do that in the lead up to this fight. By the time he fights Bisping it’ll be coming up on four years since he last defended his title against Johny Hendricks via controversial split decision. In that time span Hendricks has gone on to win the vacant welterweight belt, lose it en route to a three fight losing streak with a lone victory in between, miss weight a bunch of times, move up to middleweight and win his only fight there so far. The fight between GSP and Bisping itself isn’t bad. Both are guys who’ve been around for a while. Its an interesting test for one of the sports best pound for pound fighters of all time. He could join the latest fad of winning championships in multiple weight classes and try to cement his legacy. But it just leaves a healthy division in shambles for no reason other than its the fight the UFC thinks can make them the most money. Yoel Romero is a clear number one contender, Jacare Souza is not far behind, Luke Rockhold has been dominant other than getting shocked by ‘The Count’. Former champion Chris Weidman is fighting on the rise Gegard Mousasi next month. This is a division that already faced this issue when Dan Henderson jumped to the front of the line undeservedly to rematch his classic bout with Bisping from UFC 100. That was a great fight and this could be a great fight too but where does that leave the other fighters that aren’t getting any younger? I guess you rematch Romero and Jacare since that was a close, disputed decision. Rockhold can fight the winner of Weidman/Mousasi as he gets healthy. But those are championship quality fights, it would be nice if they could actually have championships at stake for them. Regardless, it never hurts to add a top level fighter to any division and a similar predicament would’ve happened no matter what weight class GSP chose to come back to. Welcome back Georges.
Post UFC 208 Thoughts – Despite being the first UFC PPV in almost two months and introducing a brand new weight class to the company there wasn’t much to say coming out of UFC 208. It was one of the weakest Pay-Per-Views the UFC has put on in quite some time. Sometimes these cards that don’t look tremendous on paper deliver the goods once the fights play out in the Octagon (Just look at UFC 206 last December) but there was only one fight on this Brooklyn card that I would say was great. Dustin Poirier and Jim Miller put on a show but outside of that and a quick submission win by Jacare Souza against an overmatched Tim Boetch the rest of the fights were somewhat lackluster decisions. The main event was the first ever women’s featherweight championship and Germaine de Randamie beat Holly Holm by decision in a technical bout where the only real excitement came from when GDR hit Holm with late strikes after the bell in back to back rounds without getting a point taken away. If she had the fight would’ve ended in a draw which would’ve been even more underwhelming than the result we got. This weight class was built for Cris Cyborg who wasn’t even allowed to fight after being suspended a year for a banned substance. Lucky for the UFC she was able to get a retroactive exemption and should be able to take on de Randamie in her first title defense, as much as she may not want to fight the most dominant fighter in women’s MMA history. The other notable fight was Anderson Silva taking on Derek Brunson which ended up looking like a sparring match with neither guy really making a case for the victory. The Spider was given the nod even though most people scored the fight for Brunson but it was far from a robbery. Silva is certainly past his prime but you can tell he just loves to fight. He can fight as long as he wants as far as I’m concerned, I’m always up to watch his fights.
Maybe UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York will right the ship. Its not a stacked card but maybe they try to re-book Ferguson vs. Khabib on there to go along with Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson 2 and Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi. But if not, UFC 211 in Dallas is pretty stacked. We’ll get there sooner or later…