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Hot Tweets: The final run of Alistair Overeem and the return of T.J. Dillashaw

Alistair Overeem
Alistair Overeem | ESTHER LIN/SHOWTIME

Welp, we’re back in full UFC swing. Tonight kicks off an eight-week run of events for the UFC, and it’s doing it in style. UFC Vegas 18 is a legitimately better card than the pay-per-view event next weekend, headlined by possibly the final fight of Alistair Overeem’s career (at this point, every next fight might be his last). So let’s talk about The Reem, the lightweights, and end of the year.

One Final Run

For the last year or so, Alistair Overeem has done a really good job of not only putting together wins, but of branding those wins collectively as “one final run” to claim the UFC heavyweight title. Overeem is a legend, and has won titles everywhere he’s competed, but the one belt that has eluded him is the UFC heavyweight title. “One Final Run” is The Reem attempting to author a storybook ending for his career, and I am personally all for it.

But is it a legitimate possibility? That’s going to depend on your definition of “legitimate.”

Overeem is the fifth-ranked heavyweight in the world, riding a win streak, and a legend in the sport. If he wins this weekend, that’s three in a row and a good narrative to catapult him into a possible title shot. And if he gets that title shot, it’s not impossible for him to win. Even at 40 years old, Overeem is still a very good athlete, he’s an accomplished kickboxer and a deceptively effective wrestler and grappler. Crazier things have happened. But is it likely? No.

There are a number of impediments to Overeem’s “One Final Run,” the first of which is that even with a win tonight, he isn’t likely to get a title shot. Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou are rematching next month for the heavyweight title and regardless of who wins, a matchup with Jon Jones seems inevitable. The only chance Overeem really has to get a title shot would be if something happened to Miocic or Ngannou and he could step in on short notice.

Of course, even if that were to happen the second major problem for Overeem is that he is 40 damn years old and has been fighting professionally for 22 years. This is a man that has wins in four different decades. The human body is not meant to do such things, especially not at heavyweight (I recognize that Overeem did not start competing at heavyweight until 2006 but the point stands). There is only so many times you can crash a car before it just stops working and that’s were we are with Overeem. He has been knocked out 14 times! I haven’t cross checked that but that has to be a record for someone to have that many KO losses while remaining an elite fighter. Even if Overeem does sneak his way to a title shot, him pulling off a win would be a pretty major upset.

Finally, the last and possibly biggest thing standing in the way of Overeem (both metaphorically and physically) is Alexander Volkov. Overeem fights Alexander Volkov tonight and it seems unlikely that Overeem will keep his Final Run going. In his prime, I imagine this would be easy work for Reem, however Old Horse Meat doesn’t have the chin to stand up to any heavy artillery anymore. Volkov isn’t much of a power puncher, but he throws with volume and that’s probably good enough at this point. It’s a sad reality but Overeem’s Final Run likely comes to an end tonight.

Overeem will never have been the heavyweight champion but that shouldn’t diminish his legacy. For 20 years, Overeem was a world-class fighter who delivered some of the best fights and performances of all time. From an opposition standpoint, Overeem’s resume is one of the most impressive ever and that’s not even factoring in that he won a K-1 World Grand Prix. Not many people can credibly claim to being among the best of all-time, but Alistair Overeem is absolutely one of them.

The lightweight title picture

Ah, another week goes by and still we have a lightweight title picture that is as clear as mud from the Louisiana bayou. To recap what happened this past week, the UFC tried to book Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler to fight each other next weekend for a non-title bout, ostensibly so they could try and get Chandler another win so they could book him against Dustin Poirier for the vacant lightweight belt. Oliveira wisely declined and now we’re right back to where we started.

I’ve written about this situation many times before, and while originally I was firmly in the “hold a Grand Prix” camp, I’ve now come fully around to “book Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira for the title” camp and here’s why. Previously, I argued that a Grand Prix was the only real way to establish Khabib’s true successor, but now, that’s obviously not true. Poirier is clearly the best lightweight on the planet not named Khabib, and if the UFC wanted to crown him right now, it would be controversial but it wouldn’t be wrong. If they did, the only person who could reasonably argue that the UFC got it wrong would be Charles Oliveira, who is on a sensational run and doesn’t have a loss to Poirier. So given all that, the simplest answer is to have the two guys who can credibly claim to be the best non-Khabib lightweight fight to be officially declared the best non-Khabib lightweight.

As for Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje (the other two guys who cannot really claim to be the best non-Khabib lightweight but are in the title conversation), those two can fight each other. Both men seem to be cool with the idea and the winner can then fight the newly minted champion. This saves us the time and potential pratfalls of a Grand Prix and gets us to the correct result anyway. Easy game.

Conor McGregor

You may have noticed the total absence of Conor McGregor in the above section and that’s because I’m trying to take a page out of McGregor’s book and will things into existence by speaking them, or in this case, but not speaking them. Conor McGregor should not be in the lightweight title picture. He has one win at 155 pounds, it was over four years ago and over a guy no longer in the UFC. Since that time, Conor has mostly embarked on a very lucrative parade of ass-kickings. He needs wins, plural, to get back into the title picture, and though he’s currently talking as if he’d like to be very active this year, no one should believe him.

As the saying goes, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice and I’m a moron. McGregor’s whole “lack of activity” spiel isn’t new. Just last year, McGregor was putting the Khabib loss down to his inconsistent schedule and saying he wanted to compete three times in 2020. That obviously didn’t happen and as easy as it is to blame COVID, the truth is McGregor shares blame. If he wanted to fight, he would have fought. Instead, he “retired” again, flirted with a number of other things, and sat on the sidelines.

To be clear, I don’t blame McGregor for this. He makes tons of money outside of fighting and when he does compete he wants to leverage the UFC for every dime he can get. He should. That’s good business. But doing so, by definition, means he isn’t likely to fight multiple times a year. And if not doing so give him a handy escape hatch should he lose when he does actually fight? All the better for him.

I think we see McGregor fight one more time in 2021, against Nate Diaz later in the year. It’s still probably the most lucrative fight available for him and it’s one he should win more convincingly this time (Nate is looking old these days). After that, he’ll be back on top of the sports world and then he can do what he’s really been trying to set up this whole time, another $100 million boxing match, this time against Manny Pacquiao.

T.J. Dillashaw’s return

My how the time flies! As of last month, former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw is once again legally eligible to fight in the UFC.

In case you’re a new fan or have been living under a rock, Dillashaw popped for EPO in January of 2019 and was suspended for two years. He admitted to the use (they had him dead to rights) and vacated his belt and spent the last two years handling his suspension about as well as anyone has. Now, he’s free to fight again and Dillashaw has wasted no time in saying he wants to get right back in the title mix. And I for one think he should.

Two years is a lifetime in MMA and the bantamweight division in particular has grown tremendously but, for my money, Dillashaw is the greatest bantamweight ever and he never actually lost his title in the cage. Dillashaw’s suspension came from his failed attempt to claim the flyweight title and that’s not the same thing at all. We have no proof that Dillashaw was using PEDs as a bantamweight (not that I’d care even if we did, mind you) and he still has a legitimate claim to being the best 135er on the planet. I have no idea if Dillashaw can still be the guy he was but he’s not that old for the division and his skills, assuming no decay, should place him right among the elite contenders. So let’s take the guess work out of it and see if it’s true or not. Worse comes to worst, either Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling get to put a big scalp on their mantel and add some more legitimacy to their title reigns.

Israel Adesanya vs. Jan Blachowicz

As this fight is still a ways off I won’t get into too much detail right now but the obvious answer is yes, Adesanya has a great chance to win this fight. Oddsmakers currently have Adesanya installed as a -250 favorite or so and it’s easy to see why. He’s an undefeated wunderkind who is the best striker in the sport and he’s taking on a man who until last year was just another guy at light heavyweight. In a strictly striking affair, Adesanya eats Blachowicz alive.

Size has always been one of the most overrated characteristics that fighters obsess over as we have mountains of evidence that weight does not matter much, at least when looking at comparable weight classes. Hell, half of the top lightweights are former featherweights and half of the top welterweights in the world right now are former lightweights and so on. So no, I don’t think Jan’s superior bulk makes a difference here.

That’s not to say I think Adesanya walks away with this. I think Blachowicz is the most difficult fight for Izzy at 205 and absolutely can win this bout. I’m fascinated by this fight and can’t wait to talk about it in more detail as UFC 259 gets closer.

The UFC and apparel

The UFC’s Reebok deal was objectively not in the fighter’s interest, at least not for most of them. There are dozens and dozens of fighters who have outlined the difference in their financials both before and after the deal and that was before the UFC partnered with ESPN! Now that fighters are on the worldwide leader in sports, that material that literally covers their asses is worth a pretty penny and they’re getting crumbs, especially for a guy like Michael Chandler who just made his UFC debut and is getting minimum sponsor money. The Reebok deal was a joke and I will never not believe that.

As far as what we’ve learned, ostensibly nothing. Instead of partnering with Reebok, the UFC is now going to partner with Venum which is an incredibly UFC thing to do but it’s going to look mostly the same. Apparently, the deal will be shorter term and the fighters will get more but the particulars aren’t out yet, and with the UFC’s history of fighter pay, I suspect that “more money” means a price of living increase and not much else.

I have unapologetically hated the Reebok deal and the homogenization of the UFC’s look since Day 1 and I will continue to do so forever. Variety is the spice of life and the UFC is doing its level best to bland the hell out of everything. Every fighter looks the same! Can you imagine if the UFC did this 20 years ago, how shitty that would be? We’d have never gotten Chuck Liddell’s signature Iceman shorts, or B.J. Penn’s blackbelt shorts, or Cro Cop’s Checkers, or dozens of other iconic fight gear! That’s just garbage, man.

I get that the UFC doesn’t want fighters to have “Condom Depot” on the back of their fighters shorts but you can do that without robbing fighters and fans of any semblance of creativity and you can also still afford fighters the opportunity to make money off themselves. Make your deal with Venum one where fighters have more creative control, and give fighters the opportunity to put one personal sponsor on their shorts. Literally, do anything other than trot everyone out there in the same four styles of britches with a generic color scheme. I’m begging you.

Champions at the end of 2021

Since this has gone on for far too long, I’m just hitting you with the picks, no explanations. Feel free to throw these back in my face at the end of the year if I’m not 100% correct, because God knows I’ll do the opposite if I nail them.

125: Deiveson Figueiredo

135: Aljamain Sterling

145: Alexander Volkanovski

155: Dustin Poirier

170: Kamaru Usman

185: Israel Adesanya

205: Israel Adesanya

HW: Francis Ngannou

115: Weili Zhang

W125: Valentina Shevchenko

W135: Valentina Shevchenko

W145: Shuttered.

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.

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