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By In Mixed Martial Arts

If ‘The Eagle’ Ever Loses, It Will Be At UFC 254

It’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to be an undefeated Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder. Almost everyone suffers an early defeat that serves as a valuable learning experience, partly because there are just so many ways to lose in mixed martial arts. You can get knocked out by kicks or punches or slams, submitted in any number of ways or suffer stranger fates, like losing via injury stoppage or horrible decision. If you fight at the highest level for long enough, you lose. That’s true of virtually everyone in every weight class.

There is less overall talent at light heavyweight and heavyweight, which may seem like a favorable environment for undefeated dominance, but whatever is lacked in depth is more than made up for in average power; it’s simply easier to get knocked out in heavier weight classes. Still, being undefeated is especially difficult in the stacked divisions between featherweight and welterweight. Those tend to be the best divisions top to bottom because there are more people in the world who are in those height and weight ranges, and there aren’t as many competitive alternatives for the best 145- to 170-pound athletes in the world. The already small population of heavyweight-sized athletes is further diluted by other, often more lucrative competitive options.

That is why current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 28-fight winning spree—12 of those victories have come in the UFC—is one of the most impressive runs any fighter has had in this sport’s short history…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Safe Space for Racists

There were few surprises in the UFC Fight Night 178 main event between rivals Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Woodley, a former welterweight champion who had looked like a husk of himself in back-to-back losses to Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns, looked exactly as bad as he did in those two drubbings. As it turned out, Woodley’s habit of backing into the fence and barely throwing any punches did not work out too well against Covington, a former interim champion who wins via relentless pressure and high-volume offense.

It was also not much of a surprise when Covington got on the microphone after the fight and trotted out his tried-and-true MAGA schtick, nor was it unexpected when that schtick careened into unvarnished racism. To Covington, a renowned economics expert educated by a variety of Facebook memes, Woodley is a communist and a Marxist, and Breonna Taylor—who was killed by police in Kentucky in a botched raid while she was sleeping in her apartment—is a “lifelong criminal.”

Surely it was pure coincidence when Covington later attempted to insult Usman, a Nigerian-American, by asking if the champion’s “little tribe” sent smoke signals to congratulate him. Yes, that backwater country of Nigeria which—let me check my notes here—has only suffered 1,100 COVID-19 deaths in a population of nearly 200 million people. Nothing like 200,000 patriotic body bags to Keep America Great…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Gray Area Between Cheating and Savvy

As much as we try to quantify and categorize combat, there will always be things that evade scoring but still influence the result of the fight. When a fight goes to the judges, it is not just effective striking, grappling and cage control being scored. No judge sees everything, so the perception of who is winning is just that—a perception, as innately limited as any other human endeavor.

It should be noted that this is not a criticism of judging or any particular judge, rather a plain assessment of an inherently complex task. Attentively watching a fight unfold from a fixed position and rendering a score in the whirlwind of the moment is incredibly easy to do poorly, and everyone notices when that happens. Fighters and their coaches also know this, and often actively employ tricks to capitalize on it…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

What It Means to be the Best

Consider this a hot take if you must, but know that it is still a sincere one. The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to immodestly propose that Alistair Overeem as the greatest heavyweight ever in mixed martial arts.

Hear me out.

Accusations of recency bias are expected—and valid. MMA pundits are notorious for being overeager in anointing the latest greatest fighter, and Overeem didn’t even make the Top 10 cut when I analyzed the greatest heavyweights four years ago. Surely beating Augusto Sakai—a solid heavyweight with a bright future but by no means a career high—at UFC Fight Night 176 doesn’t suddenly vault him into the all-time elite, let alone definitively place him ahead of Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum or Stipe Miocic.

Beating Sakai is far from Overeem’s best or most notable win. Unless Sakai goes on to become a champion, the win probably won’t even stand out all that much. What it did, however, was make me reassess what greatness means and what it looks like…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

There’s No Going Back

In the run-up to UFC Fight Night 174 on Aug. 8, Chris Weidman kept his expectations reasonable, if not a little vague. “I’m going to go out there and put a dominating fight on and make a statement and show that the ‘All-American’ is back,” he said in the pre-fight promo video. Whatever it meant for the former champion to be “back,” whether it was to find a vintage finish or to get back into the title picture, it at least required a win over Omari Akhmedov. The uncertainty of that result was an indication of the distance between where Weidman is now and where he used to be.

It’s strange to think that it had been three years since Weidman’s last win in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a submission of soon-to-be title challenger Kelvin Gastelum in July 2017, which was itself more than two years removed from the previous win before it. It wasn’t that long ago when he was the undefeated champ with back-to-back stoppages against the sport’s most incredible champion. Now we’re impressed that he toughed out a decision victory against a former welterweight in Akhmedov, a solid fighter who would have been on Weidman’s highlight reel circa 2012…

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