Mixed Martial Arts
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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Words of War

Suspended Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov and a certain interim Twitter champion did their best last week to fill the void of the first mixed martial artless weekend since January. Not much of a surprise with Artem Lobov making headlines at the Bareknuckle thing. “The Russian Hammer” is our sport’s Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand fists … and the occasional dolly.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware of the timeline: Conor McGregor called Nurmagomedov’s wife a towel — not the first anti-Muslim insult to come out of his team — and “The Eagle” responded by calling McGregor a rapist. McGregor deleted the towel tweet and called for a rematch; Nurmagomedov kept the rape tweet up and warned McGregor that he isn’t safe.

As Sherdog columnist Jordan Breen pointed out, this is in many ways the fight game as usual. Prizefighters often have to take it upon themselves to get a chance to fight for the biggest prize, which has resulted in a long history of line-crossing done in the name of promotion. Yet this latest flareup between McGregor and Nurmagomedov has reached an ugliness that is incommensurate with regular rematch buildup: “Rapist vs. Terrorist for the lightweight championship” doesn’t seem like a promotional angle ESPN will want to throw its weight behind.

We’ve reached a point of liminal darkness, one that stretches beyond bad public relations. A lot of people have compared this to the escalation that led to the murders of Biggie and Tupac, and the comparison fits. There’s a similarly ominous air, a combination of authenticity-driven ego and publicity that prevents cooler heads from prevailing. Opponent’s family members have been weaponized, and the violence has already spilled out of the accepted arena of entertainment.

However, another analogy struck me, one that I haven’t been able to shake…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

What’s Dehydration Got To Do With It?

When Anthony Pettis scored an against-the-fence Superman punch knockout against Stephen Thompson in the UFC Fight Night 148 main event on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee, there was some explaining to do.

“Wonderboy” was a heavy favorite for a reason. He has been a perennial contender in the welterweight division for the last four years. Since 2014, he knocked out current middleweight champ Robert Whittaker and former welterweight champ Johny Hendricks, while also winning dominant decisions over divisional luminaries like Rory MacDonald and Jorge Masvidal. He was painfully close to taking the belt off of then-champion Tyron Woodley — twice. Though his previous fight against Darren Till has gone down in the record book as a loss, most people who watched it thought otherwise. Only the best of the best at 170 pounds had been able to beat Thompson, and they just narrowly edged him out on the scorecards when they did.

Former lightweight champion Pettis, on the other hand, has been inconsistent in that same timeframe. He lost his title to kick off a three-fight losing skid, then seesawed between wins and losses for the next six fights, going 3-6 between 2015 and 2018. He was finished in each of his last three losses, which up until then had never happened before. By most accounts, it seemed as if Pettis’ time as an elite fighter had come and gone.

On top of his recent ups and downs, this was the first time Pettis had fought at welterweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and only the second time in his career, the first being a 2008 win against Gabe Walbridge. Yet after his stunning upset, a lot of people pointed to his divisional debut as a cause of success: He didn’t have to cut nearly as much weight as he had been cutting to get to lightweight or featherweight, and consequently, he authored a vintage performance. While that’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, it’s hard to pinpoint how much weight cuts have to do with wins and losses…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Owning the Narrative

he first time I watched the bout between Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes at UFC Fight Night 147 on Saturday in London, I heard it more than I saw it. The fights aired at a weird hour of the night where I live, so I dozed in and out of sleep while the fight unfolded. When I woke up, I was surprised to see that Reyes had won. Based on what I saw — the first round, basically — and what I heard from the commentators, it sounded like a hard-fought yet clear win for Oezdemir. I figured the judges must have blown it on some level; such is the influence of commentary. Re-watching the fight attentively, however, vindicated the final decision.

The first round clearly belonged to “No Time,” and commentators John Gooden, Dan Hardy and Paul Felder called it accordingly. In the second and third frames, the narrative in the cage started to change, but outside of the cage, it remained the same…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Why Some Careers Resurge and Some Don’t

Lewis, for all his accomplishments and heart, will not have the kind of legacy that dos Santos will, so why were the odds as close as they were? It was a mixture of the specific style matchup and recent history, as “The Black Beast” explained: “He’s not tough like he used to be. I believe he has a glass chin.” He wasn’t wrong to think that. After the legendary run that culminated in a single title defense, dos Santos hit a rough patch. He got brutalized across five rounds by Velasquez in their rematch, then proceeded to teeter-totter between wins and losses for the next five years, suffering three devastating knockout losses along the way. As new heavyweights arrived on the scene, it looked like dos Santos’ tenure as a relevant title contender had ended. In the last three fights, he has reversed this trend, looking like an evolved version of his vintage self in the process. It’s accurate to call this moment a career resurgence for the former champion.

Compare that to former lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn, who is booked for another loss — err fight — against Clay Guida at UFC 237 in May…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Keep It Simple, Stupid

When Cody Garbrandt was a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 25, he confidently proclaimed perhaps the most definitive Garbrandt-esque sentiment imaginable: “[T.J. Dillashaw] said his fight IQ is higher than mine. Don’t matter,” he said, holding up a closed fist. “The right hand is my IQ.” There is an ironic beauty that such a dumb thing could be said about intelligence.

However, that concept isn’t all that uncommon in MMA circles. Most of us remember hearing some version of “take X athlete from their sport, train them in boxing and how to sprawl for six months and you got yourself a UFC heavyweight champ.” Sure, sometimes physical talent is all it takes to win — just ask Johnny Walker — but rarely at the highest levels of the sport. Prove me wrong, Johnny. Garbrandt is proof of that. He’s one of the most athletically gifted fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and he has been knocked out three times in a row since becoming bantamweight champion in 2016. Though the official record states his losses were due to punches and knees, it would be more accurate to list them as “TKO (Fought Like an Idiot).” Garbrandt was right; there’s about as much cognition going on in his hand as there is in his head…

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