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Lightweight’s Best-Case Scenario

I don’t recommend paying any sort of attention to my fight predictions. I don’t gamble, so my picks are always low-stakes. As such, I tend to make them using one of two criteria. Either I have a strong analytical reason for thinking one fighter will win, or I would simply prefer one fighter to win, even if I don’t think he or she will.

I picked Justin Gaethje to beat Donald Cerrone at UFC Fight Night 158 on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia. He fulfilled both criteria. His penchant for working the body and Cerrone’s history of wilting via body shots made me think he’d finish the fight, and frankly, it was the best-case scenario for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division. That’s not a dig on “Cowboy.” He’s one of the most widely beloved and uniquely intriguing fighters in the sport’s history. He’s not only entertaining but also incredibly skilled. No doubt, he’ll go down as one of the best fighters to never win a championship — emphasis on that last part.

Had Cerrone won, it would have added a new dimension to his already remarkable career. The old dog would have proved that he still had bite, or something. Yet there’s no denying that he’s past the point of being able to compete with the top of the division. He already lost decisively to Tony Ferguson, and it’s not hard to guess what Khabib Nurmagomedov would do to him. Throw in Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, and it’s clear he’s a notch below the best of the best. At 36 years of age, Cerrone’s window for winning a title is almost certainly closed. Beating Gaethje wouldn’t have meant he was ready for the lightweight elite; it just would have meant that Gaethje wasn’t, either. That may be a sad reality to accept, but there’s a bright side: Gaethje won…

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A Different Kind of Dominance

Lightweight has always been one of the most — if not the most — talent-rich divisions. There are way more lightweight-sized athletes in the general population, and a higher percentage of them end up fighting because, especially in America, they’re too small to cut it in the most profitable sports. Heavyweight and lightweight thus have a great deal of parity, albeit on opposite ends of the talent spectrum. Yes, there are other factors at play, such as the prevalence of interim champions at heavyweight and the five-year moratorium of the lightweight division, but those are neither contradictory nor worth the digressions for this space.

At UFC 242 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nurmagomedov notched his second title defense with yet another lopsided mauling. The Dagestani has made outstanding fighters look like warmups and is now one win away from tying the record of three lightweight title defenses. B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson all share that record, but even now, Nurmagomedov has already set himself apart from those three…

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Colby Covington Knows What He’s Doing

Colby Covington is perhaps the greatest Rorschach test in the Ultimate Fighting Championship today. Fans of his see him as a Making America Great Again patriot dunking on the nerds and virgins of the world; detractors see him as a corny caricature who thinks being annoying is the same as being alpha. Some love him for his toughness and tenacity in the cage, while others loathe him for his inability to finish fights. Regardless, people seem to love and hate him for the same reasons, and whatever you think of him probably says a lot more about you than it does about him.

This gives Covington a veneer of complexity, but in reality, he’s one of the most straightforward and simple fighters to understand. He’s an astute observer of what makes fighters successful, both in and out of the cage, and he has dedicated himself to realizing those traits to the fullness of his potential…

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Ingredients of a Rebound

Ideas become cliché for the simple reason that they are, in essence, obvious, so while phrases like “you either win or you learn” or “it’s only a loss if you don’t learn anything” are rightfully met with yawning indifference, they are still basically true. Mistakes and failures are inevitable, whether in the cage or the cubicle. What matters is not avoiding those failures but squeezing them for whatever nuggets of wisdom we can get out of them.

At UFC 240 in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, Cris Cyborg and Max Holloway demonstrated what they learned from their previous fights: A little bit of patience can go a long way…

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What Fast Finishes Really Mean

Bellator MMA’s first event of 2019 went off with a bang. While I usually cringe at cliched sentiments like that, it perfectly describes the main card of Bellator 214: short and sudden. Four of the five fights on Saturday ended in the first round, combining for a total of five minutes and seven seconds of fight time. Our natural instinct is to cheer for such expediency. Finishes tend to be exciting, and fast finishes are almost always surprising. There are few ways for finishes to suck, whereas there are new genres of sucky decisions birthed every year.

Yet not all quick finishes are the same. They can mean vastly different things for different fighters, depending on the career context of the fighters themselves and how the fight was finished. For starters, there is a substantial difference between quick submissions and quick knockouts. Quick subs usually mean one of two things: Someone has a particularly sneaky and tricky one up their sleeve — think the journeyman Cody McKenzie’s strangely lethal guillotine — or one person in the cage is simply that much better than their opponent.

For both Adel Altamimi and Jake Hager, it was clearly the latter… 

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