By In Mixed Martial Arts

No Exaggeration Needed

Hyperbole is so common in this sport that it can be hard to make in-the-moment sense of what we see. This is especially true when commentary and fight promotion tilt us further in the direction of unreality, where every other week there is a new Greatest of All-Time coronation. When the aim of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is to simultaneously appeal to casual sports fans and keep the attention of diehard MMA purists, it isn’t enough to simply say a performance was “great” or that a fighter is “really good.” Fights have to be epic on a near-weekly basis, and fighters have to be not just “once in a lifetime” talents but “once ever in human history.”

Yet at UFC 238 on Saturday in Chicago, three genuinely special performances occurred. In a sport where hyperventilating hyperbole is normal, Tony Ferguson, Valentina Shevchenko and Henry Cejudo were all exceptionally dominant…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Cutting Losses by Cutting Winners

When watching fights is a weekly habit, it can be strange when a weekend arrives and there are no fights to watch. It’s like when you try to quit cigarettes and all those pockets of time spent on smoke breaks suddenly become awkwardly and impatiently idle. If the absence of fights takes you by surprise, it can be hard to kill your newfound time, even though you should be cherishing it and seizing the day. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, which usually occupies its time by showcasing fighters on its roster, kept busy this weekend by removing fighters from it instead.

This usually isn’t newsworthy. Fighters come and go all the time, mostly for reasons that are immediately understandable and reasonable. Wilson Reis, for example, has definitively lost four of his last five fights, three of them by stoppage. Marcelo Golm is on a three-fight losing streak, and Eric Shelton has gone 2-3 across the entirety of his UFC stint thus far. There’s a good chance average fans have no idea who any of them are, unless they tuned in to watch Reis get dismantled in his title fight against Demetrious Johnson two years ago.

Yet Elias Theodorou’s release was somewhat unexpected…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Same But Different

After Sage Northcutt was knocked out in his organizational debut at One Championship “Enter the Dragon” on Friday in Kallang, Singapore, Deadspin covered it with the following headline: “Poor Sage Northcutt Gets Knocked Out 30 Seconds Into Minor League MMA Debut.” This caused a surprising amount of ire in certain segments of the MMA community. Not only does One Championship boast a number of world-class fighters on its roster, but it’s not even a league in the first place.

Of course, calling One a “minor league” was not meant to be a comment on the structural organization of MMA so much as the talent disparity between that promotion and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. That Boolean framework of major league versus minor leagues is immediately understood by most of the general sports-watching audience. In that way, the headline makes sense, especially since a big part of Deadspin’s editorial style is its irreverence. Yet it is, in fact, inaccurate, for both the synonymizing of “league” and “promotion” and, partly, for the underlying assumptions about the differences between One and the UFC. There are clearly significant gaps between the two, but in a lot of ways, they aren’t all that different…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Following Fear

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight titleholder Rose Namajunas had some interesting things to say after her fight at UFC 237 on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That wasn’t surprising, as her honesty and willingness to be vulnerable have often led to interesting sound bites. This time, however, her thoughts were more broadly relevant than they immediately seemed.

“It’s just a huge pressure off my shoulders,” she said during the in-cage interview after her knockout loss to Jessica Andrade. This surprised UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who was sitting cageside on commentary duty. “What’s the pressure?” he wondered aloud. “Not having the belt anymore? Getting rid of fight week? I don’t understand. We work our entire lives to get [the belt], right?” At the post-fight press conference, Namajunas was asked to elaborate: What exactly was the pressure? Fighting generally, or being the champion specifically? “I mean, yes, being the champ, I guess … but honestly, just the fighting itself is a lot. It’s scary. I mean, that’s why I do this. I want to face my fears.”

If they sound like contradictory sentiments, it’s because they are. “Thug Rose” is large; she contains multitudes. Yet there’s an undeniable truth in the tension between wanting to face your fears and being utterly exhausted by them…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

MMA’s End Game

If you haven’t seen “Avengers: Endgame” yet, don’t worry. There are no spoilers here, other than to say it will put you in a mood that lingers with you. Naturally, given the title, you’ll think about endings and how they happen, when they should happen, why they have to happen and if they really happen at all. It’s an internal dialogue that for most of us is no more than existential musing, but for professional fighters, it’s necessary and practical. No one can fight forever…

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