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Hot Tweets: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement, Jon Jones’ tweets, the GOAT debate, and the future of 155

UFC 254: Khabib v GaethjePhoto by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Howdy folks! It seems that the loss of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the loss of Jon Jones’ mind, has left a lot of questions in the minds of the MMAFighting fans. This week received a huge number of questions about all the front and center topics of the day so without further ado, let’s get to it and answer as many of these as we can.

Is Khabib actually retired?

While the question of who is the GOAT came to dominate the headlines following UFC 254, this is the question that was far more interesting to me. MMA retirements are notoriously short-lived. Basically every MMA fighter who has ever retired has also broken that retirement. Hell, Tito Ortiz once said he was retired but would still keep fighting. Even fighters who get out good eventually come back, so the odds are certainly against Khabib here, but I think, as with the rest of MMA, Khabib is the exception to the rule.

No one alive would question Khabib’s reasons for walking away from the sport. They are very clear and very, very respectable. When his father passed away earlier this year, I speculated that he may never fight again, choosing to end his career with the first UFC fight his father was in the corner for. But, given that Gaethje was the interim champion and Khabib had not yet ascended to the top pound-for-pound spot, he had one last piece of unfinished business left. Now, as Khabib said recently, he has none. What more is there for him to accomplish? More money? More defenses? He needs neither of those. By virtue of his accomplishments, Khabib will never want for money again and the only reason he would need more title defenses is if he gave a shit about Jon Jones’ opinion in GOAT debates. And if there’s one thing I’m confident of in this world, it’s that Khabib doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s opinion regarding his GOAT status.

Aside from not needing to fight, why would he want to fight anymore? Fighting is something so intrinsically tied to his father and his relationship with the man, that it is entirely reasonable to want to lay that burden down and move on to the next thing, whatever that may be. Especially when what that may be could be taking up his father’s mantle. Khabib has accomplished a tremendous amount, no doubt, but I think he’d say that his father achieved much more and now the onus falls on Khabib to carry on that legacy, by raising up the next generation of Dagestani talent and lifting up his community and country as best he can. I’m confident that Khabib is not done with the sport – we’ll see him around at events and I can basically guarantee you the next decade will be semi-permanently filled with people asking him when he’s coming back – but I do think he’s done with fighting.

Maybe if we’re lucky, we can get him in some submission grappling tournaments though.

Jon Jones is BIG MAD

ICYMI: Jon Jones, the man who just a few months ago said he wouldn’t argue GOAT cases, he’d leave that to the fans, has gone on a week-long bender about Khabib being called the GOAT and overtaking him in the P4P rankings.

Jon Jones losing his mind about people calling Khabib the GOAT is hilarious because it’s not like Jon is the consensus GOAT anyway. This debate has been going on forever and though Jon is certainly in the conversation, insofar as there is any frontrunner for GOAT, Georges St-Pierre seems to have the most support. But I think there is a pretty obvious answer for why Jon is reacting like he is. Jon Jones is going low-level crazy because he is an incredibly insecure human being and Khabib ascending to GOAT status threatens the one safe haven Jones has.

For all intents and purposes, Jon Jones was the runt of his family’s litter. Jones has two brothers, both of whom played football for Syracuse and then were drafted into the NFL. Jon Jones wrestled at community college for two years and then dropped out. He grew up in family of colossi where he was always the smallest, always the least impressive, always the worst. Even his nickname, “Bones” is a name given to him because he was so slight in high school football. So because he couldn’t go to the NFL like his brothers, instead he got involved in a niche sport that made him feel very tough and important and that he was great at.

Nobody ever gets past the insecurities you pick up in your formative years, you just learn to live better with them (or you don’t and often, those issues manifest themselves in other, more destructive ways, the kind that Jones also has a history with). But Jon’s way of dealing with his insecurities is to wrap himself in accomplishment and machismo and Khabib now threatens both of those because, for all Jon wants to argue, there is no good case against Khabib. He has the most unassailable career in MMA history, the one “flaw” being it was “too short”. Jon cannot say that. Jon f*cked up and lost a fight. Jon f*cked up and has been stripped of three titles. Jon f*cked up and blew a number of drug tests. Jon f*cked up and almost lost his last two fights, and another one back in the day against Gustafsson. Khabib did none of those things. Khabib lost two rounds in his entire MMA career and he did it in the best division in the sport.

Think about it, would a man who is entirely secure in his position in the sport and content with his career spend even one minute of his time focusing on an argument that is impossible to solve? Of course not. Lions don’t concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. But though Jon Jones has always loved the lion iconography, the fact is he has also always been a man who has cared desperately about what people think of him. Right now, he doesn’t like what they think and it’s causing him to get very deep in his feels. Here’s to hoping he gets past this soon so he can go back to calling out another middleweight.

P4P or GOAT?

Absolutely does. Didn’t speak about this above but that’s the most amusing part of Jones’ whole meltdown. I, personally, would rate Khabib’s career over Jones (see below) but if you view it the other way I have no issues with that position. However, Khabib is VERY CLEARLY the best P4P fighter in the sport right now and Jones thinking otherwise is absurd. Not that you should put too much stock in UFC rankings, but in the last two and a half years, Khabib has beaten three other men on the P4P rankings list and he did so in incredibly dominant fashion. Meanwhile, Jones squeaked by the two top contenders in a terrible division. GOAT is the full career resume, P4P is what have you done for me lately and Khabib has unquestionably done more than anyone.

How to GOAT?

That’s the thing about GOAT debates: what is important can be wildly different to different people. The entire concept is extremely subjective. Sure, there are some boundaries (no one can credibly argue that Pat Healy is the GOAT) but there is a lot of room to work with to make all sorts of cases, considering any number of factors.

In general though, everything matters and it’s all important. Level of accomplishment, duration of success, quality of competition, level of dominance, and other intangibles all come into play. Do PEDs matter? Maybe to you they do but to me they don’t. That alone could lead to a massive difference in opinion.

To answer your specific question, in a vacuum I’d say quantity of wins over dominance but the difference between the two is not fixed. Think of it like roulette: if Fighter A won defended his title 10 times but many of his wins were close, we’re talking about a much higher level of luck involved in his career success. Conversely, if Fighter B only defends the belt 5 times but obliterates each of his opponents, then from a mathematical standpoint, his career was better.

All of this is what makes GOAT arguments fun. It’s fun to argue over pointless topics with no set parameters or definitive answers. I myself consistently change my opinion on who the GOAT is depending on my day and mood. But ultimately what I tend to come back to is one simple question: “At the end of the day, whose career would I rather have?” I think that’s the best way, most honest way to frame the GOAT conversation because it gets to the heart of what everyone is trying to say in these talks anyway.

Jon Jones, the GOAT

Depends who is doing the rating, but in broad strokes, yes.

Jon is unquestionably in the GOAT conversation and is quite possible the best fighter we’ve ever seen. But his resume is far from the spotless document he and others portray it to be. And I’m not talking about PEDs. I don’t care at all about PEDs.

While fighters can’t be blamed for the quality of their division, the truth is light heavyweight is the second-worst division in the sport behind heavyweight. For all the talk of Demetrious Johnson lording over a bad division, 205 is ever worse, people just don’t realize it because they have nostalgia blinders on for the heyday of Pride. Not only that, but in the middle of his first title reign, Jones fought four middleweights (or soon to be middleweights) in a row (not to mention the other middleweights he recently fought and his focus on picking a fight with the current middleweight champion – Jones is really making a run at Anderson Silva’s middleweight GOAT status). Jon has fought and beaten everyone that was put in front of him, and at some level, that’s all you can ask, but we also can’t pretend like it’s a murderer’s row. Still one of the four or five best resumes ever though.

155 tournament

It absolutely is!

I wrote about this earlier in the week so I’ll refer you to that for most of my thoughts but to add on just a touch: in the piece I posited a four-man tournament just because I have strong doubts the UFC would ever commit to a serious grand prix but if I had my druthers I’d make at minimum and eight-man tourney with the top seven ranked fighters and Michael Chandler to boot. If the UFC decided to dedicate all of 2021 to that, it would be the most exciting thing in the sport in literal years. There would be a media frenzy covering it, you’d get a half-dozen incredible fights, the attention of the sports world, and most importantly, you’d establish credibility in the lightweight title. If the UFC gives the belt to the winner of Poirier-McGregor II, that will be some level of a paper title, but if instead you make the next champion win it through the crucible of a lightweight gran prix, the new champion will have undeniably earned the right to call himself the best lightweight on the planet. It’s the outcome Khabib, the title, and the fans deserve.

Speaking of lightweight tournament

Both of those men should be in the mix, because both of those men should be in the eight-man gran prix for the belt. But specifically, Do Bronx is the current dark horse of the division and, personally, I think he’s reached his peak. I just don’t see him having too much success against the top guys in the division. Ferguson, on the other hand, obviously was the 1B for a long time, however, he’s probably past his best years now and I’m a well-known Ferguson nonbeliever so I don’t think he’s getting the title either.

Now, if the UFC ends up not making a tournament and just putting two fighters together for the vacant belt, Gaethje and Poirier, as the one and two ranked fighters, deserve to have those honors but if the UFC slid Ferguson in there instead of one of them, I wouldn’t be too upset about it. There’s certainly something to be said for Ferguson’s incredible run through the division.

Khabib vs. Tony

Tony is a better offensive striker and arguably has better cardio. That’s it. That’s the list.

For all the flak he catches, Khabib is actually a pretty good striker. He’s not winning any beauty contests on the feet, certainly, but he’s effective on offense, defensively sound, and his striking compliments his other skills. For God’s sake, the man willingly brawled with Justin Gaethje and came out no worse for wear. That speaks volumes. That said, Ferguson is certainly the more dangerous pure striker. His elbows are a serious weapon and he has a more diverse selection of damaging offense. He is, however, a poor defensive fighter.

As far as cardio, I think Ferguson has the edge there, as Khabib can seem to fade some when met with resistance but if so, Ferguson’s lead isn’t by much.

For everything else, Khabib in a landslide. He’s the better athlete, has better fight I.Q., better wrestling, and better grappling. Seriously, ask anybody who isn’t friends with Tony and they’ll all say the same thing: Khabib is the best MMA grappler we’ve ever seen, bar none. It’s why I’ve always thought this fight was more fun on paper than in real life. Ferguson can’t play with Khabib on the ground because no one can.

Pay structure

I would imagine there is someone who at some point did some data analysis to determine a scale for pay versus profit but I sincerely doubt they use anything like that. Currently the UFC just offers fighters what they’ve historically payed them, which is more than anywhere else, and if the fighter refuses they just replace the fighter with someone of the Contender Series making $10K and $10K. Pretty sweet deal if you can swing it.

What could have been

Well, my default answer here is “if I had wheels, I’d be a wagon” but let’s have some fun.

The fact about Khabib that isn’t talked about that much is that he has steadily improved in every fight. There is good reason to believe Khabib was the best lightweight in the world the night he thrashed Rafael dos Anjos and then he only got better. If Khabib hadn’t gotten hurt, it’s not unreasonable to think he would have gone on to be the guy to demolish Anthony Pettis and take the strap. From there, he beats Cerrone easily and beats Eddie Alvarez (one of his tougher opponents – Khabib maybe loses a round). At that point, I suspect Conor doesn’t try to move up because he can’t really think he’d have a great chance against Khabib, so maybe Khabib rematches RDA or fights Tony Ferguson. Khabib wins either and now we’re synced with the regular timeline, only instead of Al Iaquinta, maybe then Conor does decide to go for immortality. And if Khabib had done all of that, then the man is unquestionably the GOAT. But then again, if I had wheels, I’d be a wagon.

Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tangentially 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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