So, UFC 263 took place last weekend and the three key fights from it certainly delivered storylines, even if some of them were lacking in the action department. So let’s discuss the aftermath of UFC 263 and where we go from here.
Nate Diaz’s moral victory
So like Mr Leon punches Mr Nate 300 times, Nate punches Leon once; and peeps are all like “Nate could have won.” Why are peeps like that?
— Wolverina (@Blades_Beauty) June 17, 2021
Simply put, because the punches Nate landed at the end were the most effective strikes of the entire fight. Don’t get me wrong, Leon Edwards won that fight. He kicked Nate Diaz’s ass for four and a half rounds. But for the two minutes of the fight that Nate kicked Leon’s ass, he did nearly as much damage as Leon did in the preceding 23.
Heading into this fight, the matchmaking made sense. Diaz is a star who couldn’t credibly be given a title shot since he didn’t have a single worthwhile win in the division. Conversely, Edwards has many worthwhile wins and an enormous unbeaten streak, but no one outside of Birmingham (and even a good number of people in Birmingham) gives a single crap about him. So you match the two men up and the winner has all the necessary ingredients for a marketable title challenger! Except everyone forgot the most important thing: this exact outcome was inevitable.
For as good as Leon Edwards is, the man does not finish any fight ever and he always fights in a highly risk-averse style. Meanwhile, Diaz is actually not all that great of a fighter anymore but he’s tough as nails. When you factor in Leon’s uncanny ability to shoot himself in the foot, a tepid decision win where he comes off looking worse than before was practically a certainty. Especially since he was an enormous favorite in the first place. Again, Edwards totally deserved to be a huge favorite in this fight, but there was NO WORLD in which he would put on the kind of performance that fans associate with massive favorites. He was always going to win a lukewarm decision.
A part of me feels for Leon Edwards in this situation. He’s a very good fighter who deserves a title shot but there is almost no way he gets one now. That sucks. But at the same time, it’s not like he has had nothing to do with why he’s not getting a title shot. He wins technically sufficient but remarkably uninteresting fights and he has done nothing to garner fan interest outside the cage. If either of those things weren’t true, “Rocky” would have himself a title shot already.
The UFC is not a meritocracy and it never has been so continuing to win and expecting that to lift you up is foolish in the extreme. Colby Covington learned that lesson and adapted. Edwards needs to do the same. I’m not saying he should create an entirely fictitious persona that is the worst human alive, but I mean, hell, do something. The Birmingham accent alone should be enough to get people to like you, Leon! Go full Peaky Blinders and get people engaged with you! Or else you’re doomed to do a cursory interview every few months where you repeat “I deserve it, I’m going to wait” as you watch Jorge Masvidal got a third crack at Kamaru Usman because he threw a milkshake at him or something. It’s your career, Leon, you can do what you want. But you’re not making things easy on yourself.
Do you think MMA needs more than 5 rounds to bring the best out of fighters like Nate Diaz and truly test the altheltisism and cardio of other fighters who gas out fast?
— Shemaiah Sam (@_shemaiahsam) June 17, 2021
Arguably the least talked about but most important story of the past weekend was that the Leon Edwards-Nate Diaz fight was the first five-round non-main event, non-title fight in UFC history. That’s a big damn deal because it opens the doors for the UFC to do more of these, which is good because they are long overdue.
15 minutes is a very short time and it’s entirely ridiculous that elite, world-class professionals ever fight for that short a time. There’s not really any time for major tactical adjustments or an ebb and flow to develop in the fight because by the time those things could start to materialize, the fight is almost over. Think of it this way, in boxing the four-round matches (12 minutes) are largely reserved for the inexperienced and/or bad fighters and six rounds (18 minutes) is for solid mid-tier folk. Now, I understand the sports are different but still, in broad strokes the default contest for all fighters in the UFC is falling between bad and or mediocre fighters by this metric. That’s absurd.
Carrying this analogy through, it is fairly ridiculous that championship fights are only five rounds. Yes, that’s a long ass time to fight someone for but in boxing you get 12-rounders and you used to get 15. Seven rounds (35 minutes) is entirely reasonable and something I’ve been arguing in support of for years. Would every title fight be better as a result? No. You’re gonna get stuck watching Marvin Vettori fruitlessly cling to the hips of Israel Adesanya for a half hour occasionally. But for every one of those, you’re also going to get to watch Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum beat years off each other, or maybe, get a definitive outcome instead. That’s well worth it.
And then there’s the one other benefit to adopting more five-round fights that no one acknowledges – by having more longer fights, the UFC could make fight cards with fewer fighters. This would both, theoretically, make the viewing experience more enjoyable as you watch fewer curtain jerkers between people you’ve never heard of, and it would, in theory create a wider talent pool for non-UFC organizations to be able to cultivate because no longer would ever 4-0 young prospect be salivating to go on the Contender Series so they can make $10K/$10K.
Look, this is all very simple: title fights should all be 7 rounds – it makes them very special, which they are. Fights between two-ranked fighters should be five rounds. It gives the rankings actual purpose and gives world-class fighters more opportunities to showcase themselves. Hopefully this past weekend was the first step towards that.
Do u think Adesanya will become the GOAT of the MW division one day ?
— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) June 17, 2021
If you had asked me a few months ago I’d have said, “Unlikely but possible.” Now it’s just a flat no.
First off, let’s take a moment to remember Anderson Silva’s many accomplishments. He had 10 successful middleweight title defenses (really 11 as it’s not his fault Travis Lutter blew weight). He has the longest title reign in UFC history (2457 days, nearly 7 years). He has the longest win streak in UFC history (16). He has the most finishes in UFC title fights (9). He has the most knockdowns in UFC history (18). He has 14 post-fight bonuses. He holds a slew of other UFC and divisional records. Not to mention that, by my reckoning, Silva has wins over a handful of future Hall of Famers. In short, Anderson Silva’s career was a goddamn marvel and as good as Israel Adesanya has proven to be, he’s still about 5 years and A LOT of dope stuff away from sniffing Anderson in this argument.
This is no disrespect to Adesanya, who I adore. It’s just that Anderson Silva’s career is one of the most incredible in UFC history. Had Silva retired before facing Weidman the first time, something he was rumored to be considering, he would be remember far differently than he currently is. For one, there would be no PEDs tainting his legacy (something that I, personally, don’t care about) but for another, it’s hard for people to disassociate an old fighter from that fighter at their peak. It’s why people continue to get FREAKING STOKED to watch Mike Tyson box even those he’s 50 and not good. They can’t separate what was with what is. And so despite the fact that Anderson’s prime ended almost a decade ago (arguably further back than that, honestly) what people see when he gets carted off against Uriah Hall is a guy who isn’t a guy who has no business being there still do remarkably well given the limitations, they just see a guy who is supposed to be great lose to Uriah Hall. That sucks.
On top of all the greatness about Silva, there’s another aspect to my view here which is that I don’t think Adesanya has too much time left atop the middleweight division. Adesanya is exceptionally good at fighting and as it sits right now, there aren’t any middleweights I would pick to upset him but there are a few lighter weight fighters I think could do it. The fight would never happen but I would favor Kamaru Usman to beat up Adesanya and Colby Covington too. Hell, even though he’s retired I feel the same about Khabib Nurmagomedov (sidebar: how insane is it that it’s not completely ridiculous that the UFC middleweight champ could lose to a lightweight? What an absolute freak that man was). Fighters are starting to figure Izzy out and eventually that’s going to burn him. Vettori succeeded in roughly 80% of his game plan, he just didn’t have the physical tools/fight I.Q. to do the rest. Other fighters will and then there goes the neighborhood.
Again, none of this is to bag on Adesanya who I believe should be considered the second-best P4P fighter today behind only Usman. But he’s almost 32 and has been fighting professionally for his entire life. You can only do this game for so long and I have a sneaking suspicion that Izzy’s time is running out sooner rather than later.
African UFC champions
Out of the 3 African champions in the UFC, who do you see losing their title first?
— Yves the Hardcore Casual (@CasualYves) June 17, 2021
Adesanya posted a Tweet the other day saying that less than 30 UFC fighters are African and yet the continent has produced three current UFC champions. That is an incredible and awesome stat. However, as cool as that is, it may not be that way for long.
Despite everything I said above, I don’t actually believe Adesanya will be the first to lose his belt (though it probably happens in the next two or three years). From a statistical standpoint, the smart money has to be on Francis Ngannou as he’s the heavyweight champion and every heavyweight title fight is a roll of the dice. With the big boys, it only takes one and that’s a large reason why the division has seen such turnover for its entire history. Moreover, Ngannou will ostensibly fight Jon Jones at some point in the near future and when one of the guys in this tontine has to face off with the best fighter the world has ever seen, it’s probably smart to pick him to be the first man out.
HOWEVER, I’m going for a curveball. I think Kamaru Usman is the first African champion to lost his title, and unfortunately, it’s probably going to happen to Colby Freaking Covington.
Usman is a tremendous fighter and either the second or third-best welterweight ever if you have even a cursory knowledge of MMA. But, Usman is also 34 years old and he’s showing clear signs of deterioration in his last few fights. Gilbert Burns nearly clobbered him February and he didn’t look particularly great against Jorge Masvidal in April until he landed that sensational knockout blow. Sure, in both instances, Usman got an impressive stoppage but that’s what all-time greats do – they get the job done even when they lose their fastball. But eventually if you can’t throw 95 miles and hour anymore, someone is going to take you deep and I think Usman is trending in that direction. Colby Covington gave him hell and more when they fought two years ago and I believe there is a very good chance Colby takes the rematch when it happens this year.
Oh god, we’re going to live in a world where Colby Covington is UFC champion. Can you even imagine how awful that is going to be? I need to go lay down now.
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things 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.