Rose Namajunas, not Joanna Jędrzejczyk, is the one we should compare to Ronda Rousey

Heading into UFC 217, Joanna Jędrzejczyk was a huge favorite. The greatest women’s strawweight in the short history of the UFC division, the polished polish striker was garnering comparisons to Ronda Rousey – the most celebrated women’s MMA fighter to date. Specifically, Jędrzejczyk was close to tying Rousey’s six consecutive title defenses in the UFC. Discussions were had about whether Jędrzejczyk was about to become the greatest female fighter in UFC history – and MMA in general – with a win over underdog title challenger “Thug” Rose Namajunas.

 

But then Namajunas scored the huge upset of Jędrzejczyk, becoming the new UFC strawweight champion and turning those Jędrzejczyk-Rousey comparisons from awed to almost morbid: would the defeated Jędrzejczyk take the first loss of her career as badly as Rousey did? Is this a breaking point for her? It seems that Jędrzejczyk is now eager to prove otherwise, telling the media at the post-UFC 217 press conference: “No no, please don’t compare me to Ronda Rousey and I love her so much and we have very good relationship, but please let’s leave this b******t away.”

 

I understand the urge to look at Rousey and Jędrzejczyk side-by-side, but in my view the strawweight upset at UFC 217 opened up a much more compelling comparison. While Jędrzejczyk and Rousey were looked at for their similarities – undefeated, dominant streak in their divisions, tough-woman personalities, title defenses, a surprising upset KO loss – I find it much more interesting to place Rousey next to Namajunas and examine their differences.

 

Ronda Rousey grew up with a Judo world-champion mother, who encouraged her to start training in the sport. Rousey took to it and eventually reached very near the very top, winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. After that, she used her Judo skills and great athletic gifts to start a career in a whole new sport, having her first professional MMA fight in March 2011.

Rose Namajunas’s road to MMA appears to have been a bit more scattered, with the young Namajunas studying Tae Kwan Do and Karate as a child before starting MMA training during her high school years. She then made her pro debut at Invicta FC 4 when she was 20.

 

Both women received much public attention due to armbar submissions, but in different ways. For Rousey, it was her signature move: she really started to gain a lot of her fame when she was about to fight Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title in March of 2012, and afterwards, when Tate became fighter number 5 to tap to the hold of the soon-to-be superstar. Rousey won her first eight fights by armbar submission, a statistic that symbolized her dominance in the division – not only did she finish all of her opponents, but despite them knowing what Rousey wanted to do, none of them could stop it from happening. Namajunas came into view not by a sustained effort such as that, but by a fantastic one-shot move: hitting a spectacular flying armbar on Kathina Catron at Invicta FC 5 in April 2013, at just 12 seconds of the first round. The video went viral in MMA circles, and hardcore fans got their first glance of the young “Thug” Rose, her entertaining sub and equally entertaining exuberant post-fight celebration.

 

The two have had different career trajectories. Rousey shot to the top quickly, winning the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight championship less than a year after her debut in pro MMA. Her dominance over the women’s bantamweight division, which was absorbed into the UFC in February 2013, looked more and more impressive with every successive win. Building on her athletic ability, charisma, and looks, Rousey eventually became a worldwide celebrity, appearing in high-profile films, on WWE broadcasts (or at least one), on the covers of magazines, and even in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. At her highest point, Rousey fought Brazilian fighter Bethe Correia in Rio, and the usually-very-nationalistic Brazilian crowds actually cheered for Rousey over their fellow countrywoman. But her locomotive of a career – all parts of it, mind you, not just the fighting – came to a halt when Holly Holm beat Rousey via a devastating head kick knockout at UFC 193 in November 2015, in one of the greatest upsets the MMA world has ever seen.

Namajunas’ career, on the other hand, has been a gradual climb so far, and not stumble-free. She lost her third pro fight. She then went on The Ultimate Fighter season 20 – a season that would crown the first women’ strawweight in UFC history – won three fights in impressive fashion, but suffered a dispiriting loss to Carla Esparza in the final. Throughout her career, it seems that Namajunas exemplified a kind of collected and mature attitude. She took the losses, moved on and kept working. She became better and better, and eventually won the title in an impressive upset.

 

After Rousey lost, it looked as if she suffered a deep and profound mental breakdown. Her image in the eyes of the public – and, it seemed, in her own eyes – as the unbeatable titan of women’s MMA was shattered. Rousey avoided the media in the following months, later telling Ellen DeGeneres in a tearful interview that she felt so low after the fight she contemplated suicide.

Namajunas losses came earlier in her career, and she had little fame or hype around her then. That may be one reason why she, unlike Rousey, seemed to take these losses more in stride, moving on with her training, learning and getting better. It’s also worth remembering that, while Namajunas found herself in a UFC title fight in 2014 and lost to Esparza, she was nonetheless in the beginning of her career, still climbing upwards, as opposed to Rousey, who was on top of the world when she first experienced defeat, and thus had a much steeper fall.

 

When Rousey was at the height of her fame she was celebrated not just for her athletic gifts and achievements, but also for her looks. In an understandable and legitimate move, Rousey embraced this kind of attention. If I remember correctly, she actually used it in the beginning of her career to hype up her first fight with Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce championship, and took more opportunities to increase her celebrity status using her physical appearance as she became more famous. What’s curious is not Rousey’s actions in this regard, but rather Namajunas’.

As far as I can tell, it is fair to say that a large portion of the public considers Rose Namajunas to be an attractive woman. When the strawweight championship season of TUF was going on, I remember seeing the inevitable discussions on social media about which contestant was the best looking, and Namajunas’ name was generally written the most often. And yet the fighter herself never seemed to care much for her looks. Namajunas, it appears, never really gave all that much of a hoot about it. When she shaved off her hair shortly before her December 2015 beating of Paige VanZant (another fighter, coincidentally, known for using her beauty to further herself), she published an Instagram post that simply said “It’s a fight not a beauty pageant. S**t’s in my way at practice, cut it off!” and has kept the shaved-head style ever since.

 

Perhaps the most significant difference between Rousey and Namajunas comes down to the message they each espoused as champions. Rousey isn’t remembered as embracing a lot of causes – not many fighters (or sports figures in general) are – but she’ll probably be remembered by many for her famous “Do Nothing B***h” statement. In short, Rousey spoke to a UFC Embedded camera crew ahead of her fight with Bethe Correia, telling them that people sometimes say her body is masculine (since she has a relatively thick, muscular build). She described a type of woman called a “Do Nothing B***h” or DNB, someone whose purpose is simply to look pretty and be taken care of, and said she was raised by her mother not to be this kind of person. So far so good. But then Rousey shared her view that her body was actually the real feminine kind since she developed her body for a purpose, and strongly insinuated that the DNB body type was flawed and at least slightly reprehensible.

Rousey’s “DNB speech” was widely praised as a positive feminist message, its fans apparently missing the fact that Rousey went too far – instead of just saying her looks were not and should not be an issue, she went ahead and demonized another body type, besmirching an entire collection of humans just because of the way they happen to look. How many teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers, military members, EMTs, firefighters, and just generally good, productive, contributing-to-the-world women are there who happen to have a DNB body type just because that’s the genetic predisposition with which they were born? I’d hazard a rough and very conservative guess that it’s at least on the tens of thousands around the world. But according to Rousey, these good people are DNBs, all because they look differently from her. One of the world’s most famous athletes at the time just essentially said your figure is directly connected to your value as a person, so sorry Dr. – I know you’ve dedicated the last 15 years your life to performing life-saving surgery on children with heart problems – but according to Ronda Jean Rousey your body’s only purpose is to f**k millionaires.

Contrast that with what Rose Namajunas said in the moment when the biggest spotlight of her career was on her, after winning the championship at UFC 217. “This belt don’t mean nothing man,” the emotional new champ said, “just be a good person.” Quite a difference. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, she did not later qualify that message by adding that to be a good person you need to look like her.

 

Finally, and this is basically trivial but symbolically interesting: Ronda Rousey and her husband Travis Browne are maybe MMA’s most disliked couple. Browne lost favor with many fans after he was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife. He has denied the allegations, and as far as I know wasn’t even charged, let alone convicted, of the alleged offenses. Nevertheless, many MMA fans haven’t looked at him quite the same since. Some MMA fans are also probably jealous of the fact that he’s now married to the object of their affection. And Rousey herself? Well, besides the fact that she’s maintained a relationship with someone who was accused of domestic abuse (never convicted), her fall from grace seems to have included a certain removal of blinders from many people’s eyes regarding the fact that Rousey, in her public persona, can be kind of a jerk. Specifically, after she beat some of her opponents (Miesha Tate after their second fight and Bethe Correia, for example), she didn’t act very magnanimously.

Rose Namajunas and her fiancé Pat Barry, on the other hand, are perhaps the most beloved pair in MMA. Barry is known for being an exciting striker with a good sense of humor, and has also been open about his struggles with addiction. Rose Namajunas comes off as the sweetest person you’re likely to meet, and she has an exciting fight style and a cool fiancé to boot. In addition, I think Browne and Rousey come off as very distant from the public and fans. This seems natural, considering Rousey’s mainstream celebrity status, but can be alienating. Namajunas and Barry are the opposite – they look like the kind of couple you could meet at the local grocery store, and when you do they’d be super nice.

 

Rousey and Namajunas’ are two kinds of champions, two kinds of people, and have taken two very different paths to the top. Examining both gives us a little glimpse of the diverse pool of fighters MMA attracts, props up, and eventually knocks down. Just as their climbs to the title were different, I suspect the ends of Namajunas and Rousey’s careers will be unlike one another. For Rousey, I’m guessing the end has already come; after her second title fight loss – to Amanda Nunes in December 2016 – no one has really spoken seriously about the prospect of another Rousey comeback. For Namajunas, her future in the sport looks very bright at the moment. Only time will tell.

Advertisements

Bisping vs. GSP is a sham fight, and I’m a little ashamed that I will likely watch it

Georges St. Pierre is one of my favorite fighters ever. He was the Welterweight champ in the UFC when I was getting into watching MMA back in 2008, and his fighting ability, athletic prowess, and charming personality clicked with me. He would soon become the greatest Welterweight – and arguably greatest mixed martial arts fighter regardless of weight class – of all time, albeit a frustrating one.

 

I was sorry to hear it when GSP announced that his 4-year heitus from the sport was coming to an end, as I believe, like many, that his best days in the sport are probably behind him. St. Pierre noticeably declined in physical ability in his last few fights, with his takedowns lacking the usual explosive speed they once had. His last fight with Johny Hendricks ended in a highly controversial split decision going in GSP’s favor, with Hendricks seeming like something the Canadian hadn’t encountered in a while: a physical match.

 

During his break from the sport, GSP suffered another serious knee injury; this, along with his advancing in age, led me to believe that his return would not bode well. I still think this is sadly true, but to my surprise, there is actually a whole new reason I look towards his return fight with anger and disappointment.

 

I am somewhat of a sports purist in MMA, which is not easy to be these days. Since Conor McGregor ushered in the “money era” in mixed martial arts, title shots have been awarded… a little differently than usual. Champions demand more control, and are given seemingly more leeway, to pick the contender that will bring them – and the UFC – more money. And so, instead of fighting the consensus top contenders, some champions have been fighting less-worthy, more profitable challengers.

 

The best example is perhaps current UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. I have sympathy for Bisping, who validated his entire career in MMA by surprising just about everybody and knocking out Luke “I’m as handsome as I am vain” Rockhold at UFC 199 in June 2016 and taking home the title. But even as I sympathize with his attempt to make the most of the title financially, I’m also a bit disgusted by the UFC’s indulgence of him. Not only has the organization let Bisping pick a rematch with longtime rival Dan Henderson (which Bisping won by unanimous decision in October 2016) over a defense against more deserving contenders such as Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Yoel Romero, and Rockhold himself (Gegard Mousasi and Chris Weidman may have also been in the mix at the time), but they the kept denying the rightful challengers an opportunity at the champion by booking him a fight with St. Pierre, a fighter returning after nearly four years on the sidelines.

 

Meanwhile, the current top contenders Rockhold, Romero, and especially current fake (AKA “interim”) UFC middleweight champion Robert “Bobby Knuckles” Whittaker, who had to fight Yoel Romero for the fake belt in July 2017. We’ve now reached a stage where two UFC champions who are healthy have nonetheless avoided defending their belts against deserving fighters (the other being Conor McGregor at lightweight) in 2017, leading to a situation where the fake champion has a stronger claim for the legitimacy of his title – via recent achievements – than the real one (Whittaker at middleweight and Tony Ferguson at lightweight).

 

And yes, I’m still probably going to watch the fight. And hate myself a little bit for indulging this travesty. Because the rest of the UFC 217 fight card is pretty great, and because the Bisping-GSP main event is still an interesting enough fight that I’m not likely to turn away if I’ve already been watching the fights leading up to it. If you’re like me, though, I hope you maintain in your mind the salient fact that what we’re given to watch in this British-Canadian clash is total b**ls**t.

On “cosmetic” injuries that still merit a stoppage

In May 2016, Leslie Smith and Jessica Eye fought in Mexico City, as part of UFC 180. The fight ended in semi-controversial fashion, when Smith’s cauliflower ear essentially exploded, leaving her ear partially detached. After the injury bled quite a bit, the ringside doctor put a stop to the fight.

 

Smith protested the stoppage, claiming that she was able to continue fighting. Following the stoppage, I heard talks of the injury being “cosmetic”, as well as claims that the same injury would not have led to a stoppage had it happened to a man in similar circumstances.

 

First, I’d like to address the gender issue here. There are many ways in which women are treated differently in combat sports, but I can unequivocally say that I am as sure of this as anything else in MMA: that injury would have led to a stoppage even if it happened to the biggest, strongest, most intimidating man on the UFC roster. An ear hanging off one’s skull is justification enough, whether it’s attached to a feminine or a masculine skull.

 

 

Putting that aside, I’m not sure it was just an issue of cosmetics. I imagine a torn ear can bleed a lot. I’m definitely not a medical professional or expert of any kind, but I’d bet the combination of that kind of bleeding combined with receiving fairly heavy blows to the head and body can’t be great for you.

 

But what if the injury really did only affect Smith’s appearance? What if the only thing that was likely to happen was that Smith would walk around for the rest of her life with half of her outer ear, or perhaps all of it, gone? I say there’s still reason to believe the fight should have been stopped in that case.

 

An injury in which one’s ear is (presumably permanently) torn off would leave them with a permanent disfigurement, which would affect their lives – be they man or woman. This disfigurement may have effects on quality of life that go beyond what a fighter may expect in the ring, from strange looks on the street and constant questions about the injury to problems using headphones, and more. A fighter’s view of their injury is not always the most clear, especially during a fight. That’s why we have referees, doctors, corners, and other people around who can speak out and prevent damage to a fighter.

 

Furthermore, there’s the issue of the sport’s image. Yes, there are already examples aplenty of quite violent acts in MMA. Fighter safety is a prime concern, especially in big professional promotions like the UFC, but some fights will still look bad to the uninitiated. That’s something we have to deal with, but even us MMA people have to set a certain line of goriness we would not like to cross.

 

Of course, there could be unending discussions about where that line should be, and it appears I would place in a different place than Ms. Smith. I think, though, that most of us can agree – in general – that we do not want to see a fight get to the point at which a referee has to bend down and pick up a piece of flesh that just visibly flew off one of the combatants. Even if that body part is nonessential. And if that’s the case, we should stop fights where it looks like a punch or two would cause a fighter to resemble a rotting zombie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diaz Wisdom

The Diaz Wisdom

From the way they talk and look, you wouldn’t guess they were even decent fighters. Full of shallow tough-talk and possessing lanky, fairly thin frames, Nicolas Robert (“Nick”) and his younger brother, Nathan Donald (“Nate”) Diaz come off as simple. But then you see them fight, and win much of the time. Okay, you say, they may be knuckleheads, but they can apparently fight well enough.

 

And you see them in the headlines, not just because of their sports success, but because of their defiant attitude – most notably, towards their employer, the UFC. You might listen peripherally, not really paying attention. They sound like two stoners who are just disgruntled. It’s easy to dismiss them, and their fans, as plain-minded. As boring in their thoughtlessness. A gimmick.

 

But eventually, you may cave in and listen. If only to know why others keep tuning in. And once you do, you start to get it.

 

While the Diazes may not be terribly articulate, the substance of what they say is often true, insightful, intelligent and honest. Once you start to pay attention you see that these guy’s are strange, but pretty smart. The Diaz bros are an Autobot who spends most of his time as a mid-2000s Chevy with nunchuck and cannabis leaf decals on the back, but with time you learn that there’s more than meets the ear with these two.

 

And the more you listen, the more you sympathize with the Diazes. You start to have genuine affection for them, your view of them turning from punkish annoyances to lovable weirdoes. And then it takes another step forward.

 

Recently, Nate Diaz said that championship belts are a fairy tale. This statement puts in context the Diaz brothers’ larger attitude towards the sport, especially in recent years. Nick and Nate seem to be determined not to fight unless they have an opportunity to make a lot of money. And they’re sticking to it, not because they’re stubborn, but because their priorities are different from most people’s in MMA, and in competitive sports generally.

 

Sports are built around symbolic achievements. Every championship in virtually every sport is a symbol of excellence being attached to a team or an individual’s name. Being an Olympic gold medalist, a World Series champion, a UEFA Champions League winner, etc. means you are seen as at the top of your field or at least  pretty damn close. And in combat sports the meaning is even more intense, since the implication directly relates to one’s toughness. As I believe MMA journalists Ben Fowlkes and Chad Dundas have said, fighting does fairly directly what other sports do by proxy.

 

These symbols are what attracts fans: we want to see who’s the best, and are willing to invest our time and (sometimes) our money in doing so, not to mention our emotions.

 

But if we look closely enough, you can see through this symbol, just a bit. There isn’t really such a thing as a definitive “best in the world” who stands above everyone else in all circumstances. There are those champions who excel beyond everyone, but so many factors go into their standing – the rules, the available opponents, luck, individual match-ups and their timing, etc. – that you can’t really ignore the possibility that if one of these were to change, everything would go with it.

 

It’s entirely possible that for every seemingly invincible champion out there, there could be a foil. He or she may be in another weight class at the moment, they may be in another promotion, they may be just about to hit their stride. There’s too much uncertainty to be able to say absolutely that the championship belt actually means something rock-solid.

 

The reason we go with these championships is that they seem to be the closest metric we have for an objective metric of greatness, but what if a fighter were to look at this objective metric as irrelevant, and instead embrace their own self-assessment as a measuring stick for their athletic self-esteem?

 

The Diaz brother’s have this kind of attitude, and this makes them, in a way, much more mature than most athletes. Frankly, their attitude resembles a kind of sportsman’s enlightenment. All they need is their opinion of how good they are, and your trophies can go right in the trash. It also indicates that the Diazes see MMA as just a means to an end – that of having a comfortable life – which is contrary to the classic view of MMA fighters as “warriors” whose main identity is related to fighting. This too says something about how evolved Nick and Nate’s worldview is.

 

And now you’ve come see it: the veneer of simple thuggishness hides a surprisingly deep, adult mind. The Diaz brothers have a different approach to being a pro athlete – one that sees beyond regular psychological motivations. Nick and Nate know what their value is, and they’re not letting illusions get in their path towards bettering their own lives. If the money’s there – they will be too, at least until they make enough so that they don’t have to do this fighting stuff anymore. And if the money ain’t right, they’ll stay away, spending their time training, smoking some weed, and doing triathlons representing Stockton 209 mother****er what.

UFC Championships in 2017: Guesses and Hopes

UFC Championships in 2017: Guesses and Hopes
At the start of the year, everybody seemed to be doing this fun guessing game, so why not? Here are my pick for who I am guessing will be UFC champs at the end of 2017, and who I hope will be champions when 2017 comes to a close.

Women’s Strawweight (115 pounds) 
Current champion: Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Who I’m guessing will be champion at the end of the year: Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Who I hope will be champion at the end of the year: don’t really care that much.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk has been quite a dominant champion in the UFC’s best women’s division, with even her closer fights seeming to be non-controversial. She’s a great fighter and I like her attitude a lot. As others have mentioned before, there’s something very appealing about her blunt tough-lady ways. There don’t seem to be many contenders poised to dethrone her in 2017, even though Alexa Grasso, Rose Namajunes, and Michelle Waterson may do so later on.
Note: since writing this, Jessica Andrade has emerged as a contender and possible tough challenge for Jędrzejczyk.

Women’s Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Current: Amanda Nunes
Guess: Valentina Shevchenko
Hope: Juliana Pena
I suspect that number 1 contender Shevchenko, who recently beat Pena at UFC on Fox 23′ could beat Nunes, using her more technical striking and (I think) better cardio to outwork the first-round-heavy champ. I don’t know how each of them has improved since their first fight at UFC 196 since I haven’t seen it, but that’s my guess.
But I hope Pena can mount a comeback, and maybe capture the title by year’s end. I’ve liked the sensitive ass-kicker Pena ever since she was on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 29 and, several times, was predicted to lose to more experienced opposition (and even mocked by her housemates a few times), but kept winning all the way to the end.

Women’s Featherweight (145 Pounds)
Current: Germaine de Randamie
Guess: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino
Hope: Not really important, but why not, Cyborg
The UFC’s newest division began very recently – last night in fact – with de Randamie winning the inaugural title in a highly controversial fight against  former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm. Of course, noticeably absent from this fight was the consensus best women’s featherweight in the world, the woman known as Cris Cyborg, or simply Cyborg. I don’t know if she’ll manage to even get a title fight in 2017, considering her recent trouble with USADA, but if she does I believe she’ll be a favorite to beat any other featherweight on the planet. And I’d like to see the woman who’s been the best in her weight class for years finally reach the coveted title of UFC champion.

Men’s Flyweight (125 pounds)
Current: Demetrious Johnson
Guess: Demetrious Johnson
Hope: Joseph Benavidez
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has basically cleaned out his division, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be very vulnerable in the near future. But the flyweights are a skilled bunch, and we could get a surprise there, just as we did with other little-noticed contenders in recent years (Holm against Rousey, Dillashaw against Barao, etc.). It doesn’t seem likely, but Benavidez has been doing well lately and may just earn his third fight with Johnson this year, especially considering the fact that there aren’t a lot of other options. I like the humorous JoeJitsu master, and would enjoy seeing him rise to the very top.

Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Current: Cody Garbrandt
Guess: TJ Dillashaw
Hope: TJ DIllashaw
Garbrandt surprised almost everyone when he decisively beat former champ Dominick Cruz over five rounds at UFC 207 to win the title. He proved himself to be much more of a strategically sound, technically well-rounded, and disciplined fighter than most of us gave him credit for being. I think he definitely has a chance of winning against the presumed number 1 contender in Dillashaw (who dominantly beat the dangerous John Lineker at UFC 207) and that the match-up is interesting and close. But Dillashaw’s great footwork, his decent power, and his technical ability  make me believe he’s a decent guess in this close-on-paper fight. I like Dillashaw and think he didn’t get enough credit for his super-close fight with Cruz, so I kind of hope he manages to regain the title.

Featherweight (145 pounds)
Current: Jose Aldo
Guess: Max Holloway
Hope: Frankie Edgar
I’m going to combine this one with my next guess and say that Jose Aldo is going to leave the Featherweight division to compete in another, and that in his absence Max Holloway will reign supreme. But I hope that consistent contender Edgar will manage to finally get his second UFC title this year, as I’ve been a fan of his since he showed remarkable heart in his second and third fights with Gray Maynard.

Lightweight 
(155 pounds)
Current: Conor McGregor
Guess: Jose Aldo
Hope: Jose Aldo, Anthony Pettis, or Nate Diaz
I’m playing around with these guesses of course, as there’s no real indication of this happening, all we have are some stories about Aldo, the current 145-pound champ, wanting to go up in weight and avenge his loss to McGregor, and some speculation about how Aldo would do in a match up with Khabib Nurmagomedov. It seems pretty clear right now that McGregor will fight the winner of the upcoming fight between Tony Ferguson and Nurmagomedov for the fake (also known as “interim”) lightweight title. I would love to see Aldo fight McGregor after that. While that’s not necessarily likely if the Irishman loses, since he’ll pretty probably get an immediate rematch, if he wins it’s entirely possible that Aldo will manage to get himself a rematch-superfight. And, since I – like mayn others I’m sure – enjoy seeing greatness realized, I’d love to see Jose Aldo get to fight McGregor again and win. Make no mistake – Aldo’s 13-second knockout loss to McGregor in December 2015 is no necessary indicator of how this one will go a second time. A KO here, while possible, is not something McGregor can count on, especially if Aldo comes in and fights in a defensibly responsible way – which the Brazilian can definitely do.
But if not Aldo, it would be cool to see Nate Diaz or Anthony Pettis somehow end up on top, even though I don’t actually see it happening for various reasons in each case. The world of MMA is more interesting when the Diazs are in it, as I’ll elaborate in the next section, and it’s more exciting when A. Pettis is winning.

Welterweight (170 pounds)
Current: Tyron Woodley
Guess: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson
Hope: Damian Maia Rafael dos Anjos, Nick Diaz or Nate Diaz
I’ve developed sympathy for both Diaz brothers over the years, growing to see them as more and more sympathetic figures – thoughtful and genuine guys who are painted as thuggish and simple because of their weirdness. As others have mentioned before me, when you actually listen to what the Diaz bros have to say rather than fixating on their style of speaking, you find that most of what they’re saying is correct – and even insightful. So having one of them be UFC champion would be pretty great.
I also seem to have sympathy of fighters who are dismissed too curtly by the general MMA public, so I’ve developed an affection for dos Anjos, a fighter who slowly built his skills up to an elite level. I feel that dos Anjos was too readily dismissed in the wake of his two consecutive losses to Eddie Alvarez and Tony Ferguson. I haven’t watched the Ferguson fight yet, but I thought RDA was leading in the Alvarez fight until he was caught with a good shot. Kudos for Alvarez for capitalizing on it, but I still think RDA may be the better fighter out of those two. I’ve also seen some people mock him for his decision to move up to fight at 170 pounds. I’d love to see the affable dos Anjos shut these people up by conquering his new division, although it would be tough for him to do within a year.
And who doesn’t love Damian Maia? One of the best BJJ guys to ever compete in MMA is also one of the most likable fighters ever. To add to that, he’s been consistently defying expectations by taking down and submitting opponents you’d expect to be much tougher matches for him. At 39, Maia’s probably on his last run, and it would be really grand to see him as champion before he retires.
The next title fight here is reportedly a rematch of the UFC 205 draw between Woodley and Wonderboy. Last fight was pretty close, but I could more easily see Thompson making certain changes to his gameplan (ways of avoiding pressure and the clinch, for instance) that would allow him to win than I could see Woodley adding wrinkles that would give him an edge. And after that, Thompson would be a difficult fight for anyone in the division.

Middleweight (185 pounds)
Current: Michael Bisping
Guess: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Hope: Gegard Mousasi or Nick Diaz
Bisping basically vindicated his entire career with his efforts in 2016, beating Luke Rockhold by KO to win the championship no one believed he would ever reach, and then avenging his most painful loss – the Dan Henderson KO at UFC 100 in 2009 – at UFC 204 in his home town of Manchester, UK.
But Bisping is also seen as an underdog against basically all of the top contenders at 185 pounds, and specifically against his next challenger – freak athlete and possible homophobe Yoel Romero. I’m guessing Romero will beat Bisping, but that whoever wins will fight against long-standing contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza after that, and lose to him. If it’s Romero – by close decision, if Bisping – possibly by submission.
My hopes, though, are for the somewhat-resurgent Mousasi to finally realize his potential and win the big one in the UFC. He’ll need to win one or two more regular fights for that, but it seems very possible that he’ll get there by 2017’s end. And, for reasons explained in the previous section, I also wouldn’t mind seeing Nick Diaz win it somehow.

Light Heavyweight (205 pounds)
Current: Daniel Cormier
Guess: Jon Jones
Hope: Daniel Cormier or Alexander Gustafsson
I mentioned vindication last section, and here it is again. There could probably be no greater vindication for any UFC fighter currently than for Daniel Cormier to decisively beat Jon Jones in a title rematch. Since Cormier is one of the sport’s true good guys, and since he’s wrongly maligned by many fans as a lesser champion – since he came into it after Jones was stripped of the title – I’d like to see that happen.
And if not that, I’d love to see the Sweet Swede (you read that nickname here first everybody), currently out with an indefinite back injury, somehow reach the top after having lost two very close decisions to both Jones and Cormier.
However, what I imagine will actually go on is that Cormier will beat Anthony Johnson in their next fight, and then meet Jones in some big pay-per-view (PPV) event. Sadly, I believe the younger, bigger, phenom will again show that while Cormier may be a future hall of famer, Jones is one of the best of all time, and the undoubtable GOAT of the LHW division.

Heavyweight (265 pounds)
Current: Stipe Miocic
Guess: Miocic, Fabricio Werdum, Cain Valasquez, or who the heck knows? It’s Heavyweight
Hope: Stipe Miocic, Junior do Santos, or Fedor Emelianenko
We’ve arrived at the big-men division, folks. Champ Stipe Miocic and former champ dos Santod are scheduled to fight at UFC 211, rematching their bout from UFC on FOX 13 in Deecember 2014. The winner of that fight is quite likely to fight another former champion, Fabricio Werdum, whom both fighters have KO’d in the past. Werdum many pose more of a challenge in a rematch against either, with his loss to dos Santos having taken place years ago and his loss to Miocic coming partially due to unforced errors on Werdum’s part.
While I wouldn’t mind Werdum as champion, I slightly prefer Miocic or dos Santos. both seem like a good dudes (although yeah, Werdum seems cool too).
Finally, there’s always that little flicker of desire in my heart to see the long-past-prime Fedor Emelianenko cement his legacy in MMA by going on one last run and winning the UFC heavyweight championship, thus becoming the only fighter to be both a Pride FC and UFC champion (sorry guys, Minotauro Nogueira’s interim title doesn’t count). I know it’s not going to happen, but hey, we’ve seen less probable career comebacks happen in the past few years – Robbie Lawler and Michael Bisping were thought to be pretty much in their twilights and they came back to win a championship. And this is heavyweight, where someone can mount a huge comeback with just two or three good wins.
And yeah, I know that Fedor almost certainly won’t be signing with the UFC this year (He’s currently scheduled to fight Matt Mitrione at Bellator 172 on February 18, just a few days from when this is posted), let alone fight there. But this is my playful fantasy thing, so let me and my wife Cintia Dicker have this nice moment contemplating a Fedor comeback please.
As to who I think will hold the belt at year’s end… who the f*** knows? This is the chaotic heavyweight division, where I don’t think any fighter has defended the championship more than twice in a row in the promotion’s history. It’s also a division where almost anyone in the top 20 or so could come in as a late injury replacement for a title fight and win. I’d say Miocic, Werdum, and Velasquez are currently the top three  best bets, but this heaviest of UFC weight classes is, ironically, the most up in the air.
So there are my guesses and hopes for 2017 championships. What do you think?

Welcome to Keyboard Cage Fighter

Hi everyone, welcome to this web log, which I started so that I could have a place to publicly write some stuff about my favorite sport, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Most (possibly all) of the stuff will almost certainly be commentary and fun little things rather than interviews or news. I sincerely hope you enjoy it!