Daniel Cormier: ‘I would get knocked out so fast’ in a boxing match vs. Anthony Joshua

A fan asked Daniel Cormier how he’d fare against Anthony Joshua in a boxing match, and Cormier provided a very honest response. The fantasy of pitting UFC fighters against professional boxers in the boxing ring seems to be the flavor of the month. Conor McGregor is obviously at the forefront with his never-ending quest to box Floyd Mayweather, but there’s also Jimi Manuwa wanting to fight David Haye, along with both Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos expressing interest in boxing current world #1 heavyweight Anthony Joshua.
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was asked on Twitter about how he would do against Joshua in a boxing match, and it’s safe to say that Cormier has a grip on reality and won’t be challenging boxers any time soon.

I would get knocked out so fast!!! All of us would in a BOXING match. We CANT outbox these dudes in straight boxing matches man. https://t.co/Zk8aJx0aPx— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) May 7, 2017

Yes they would get mauled. Conor fights Floyd mma. Floyd doesn’t last 3 minutes https://t.co/YTunXsBujC— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) May 7, 2017

We can’t completely rule out Cormier’s chances against Joshua, who is coming off a dramatic TKO of Wladimir Klitschko. After all, DC is 2-0 against a knockout artist with the initials “AJ,” but I suppose the point falls apart on the grounds that you can’t win a boxing match by rear-naked choke.
Circling back to MMA, a sport where Cormier has proven to be one of the best in the world for years, he is expected to defend his belt in a rematch vs. Jon Jones at UFC 214 on July 29th.

Source: bloody

Even with value of titles diminishing, middleweight division can’t wait for GSP

Georges St-Pierre’s statement earlier this week that he would be ready to fight after October is just the latest in what has to be a frustrating period for those waiting for the kind of big fights that propel the UFC into mainstream consciousness.

After two straight banner years, in particular a 2016 that saw a record for any sport of five different shows doing 1 million buys on pay-per-view, we are in early May and UFC’s combined pay-per-view buys for the year are closer to 800,000.

But unlike 2014, when UFC business took a hit due to a high rate of injuries, this year has been very different.

This year the culprit has included retirements of big names like Dan Henderson, Brock Lesnar (after a failed drug test), Urijah Faber, Miesha Tate and — while not official — in all likelihood Ronda Rousey.

The other, even more significant culprit is that the biggest active names aren’t fighting. Conor McGregor is chasing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and holding up a lightweight division filled with talent. Jon Jones is still suspended, although looks to be returning in late July. St-Pierre’s return — which at first people hoped would come in late 2016, and then for July for what would have been the year’s first true marquee money fight with Michael Bisping for the welterweight title — is now sounding realistically like November.

Nate Diaz is fighting in the media back-and-forth with Dana White. Neither he nor brother Nick are fighting. CM Punk helped draw a solid buy rate last year at UFC 203, and he’s had nothing new scheduled, with the flip side of the problem. UFC probably feels they can’t viably use him because he’s not a good enough fighter, but doesn’t want to release him because he would likely draw well for Bellator.

And the biggest issue of all is the inherent problem with an individual sport where business and sport contradict each other due to the fan base.

While it’s an argument that has raged from the beginning of time in combat sports, the UFC’s big successes and occasional failures in recent years has taught us that what is a key aspect of every major sport — the quest for the championships — matters little to the majority of MMA fans. Sure, the most vocal hardcore base is cares about the meritocracy, but they can’t pay the bills for a company that has gigantic interest payments due to the enormity of debt in the $4 billion purchase price. The UFC needs fights that big scores of people are willing to pay to see, and the promotion needs to draw ratings that keep the television industry pumping huge money back.

In a nutshell, the comparison of two specific fighters gives you the issue.

Demetrious Johnson may be the best fighter currently in the sport, and — as far as not having any discernible major weaknesses — he and Jon Jones are likely the two best fighters MMA has ever seen. Leading up to his April 15 title defense against Wilson Reis, Johnson was talked of as being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He was attempting to tie one of the sport’s most important records against Reis by recording his tenth title defense, a record held by Anderson Silva.

Johnson had already run through almost every top contender in his division. In a terrain where dominant athletes usually thrive, the general public hasn’t much cared. Johnson never gets into trouble. As champion, Johnson has never had his Fedor scary moment like with Kazuyuki Fujita where he was almost beaten in his prime via knockout, nor his Jon Jones moment with Alexander Gustafsson where the dominant champion squeaked by in a close decision, nor his Anderson Silva moment with Chael Sonnen where he needed a late submission to avoid what was going to be a one-sided decision loss at UFC 117.

He just dominates the flyweight division.

The result in his historic fight with Reis was the second lowest rated FOX special in history. It would have been the lowest had it not been for a FOX broadcast last August, Carlos Condit vs. Demian Maia, that was preempted in 15 key markets for NFL preseason football.

Johnson, when called on to headline pay-per-view shows, has usually drawn just over 100,000 buys.

Meanwhile, Nate Diaz has a 19-11 record, has never held a championship, and his lone title shot against then-champion Benson Henderson was not even competitive. Yet he and McGregor have drawn the two biggest pay-per-view numbers in UFC history, both garnering over 1.3 million buys. He’s made so much money during those fights he doesn’t have to compete again. Even though he’s done little to truly deserve it, Diaz probably could walk in and get a title shot at welterweight tomorrow. And if McGregor ever comes back to defend the lightweight title, Diaz — even if he were to lose at welterweight — could walk right back and get that shot at well.

And none of that seems to matter to him. Given the current climate, it’s hard to argue where he’s wrong in his thinking.

When the UFC exploded in 2005 and 2006, there were four total championships: Heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight. Lightweight didn’t return until late 2006. In those days it seemed like every fan knew every champion. If there was a title at stake, it seemed like a lock that there would be 300,000 or more buys on pay-per-view. While the right personality mix meant more than a championship, the title belts and being champion were a draw on their own.

Today, with 11 divisions — and the tease of a possible twelfth with women’s flyweight — along with constant teases of interim titles, only the fans who follow the sport closely can name the champions and the top contenders. We have very real contenders like Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Edson Barboza and Luke Rockhold all waiting for shots. On the flip side, we’ve had non-contenders like Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm thrust into a PPV main event (UFC 208) to create a title in a nearly nonexistent division (women’s featherweight) because UFC simply had no championship fight they could put on early in the year.

But in the big picture, it’s increasingly no longer about championships primarily, it’s about big personalities. Unfortunately, the lessons of this year are that the big personalities don’t care enough about championships. And the casual fan, the one that makes the difference between a struggling and flourishing company, doesn’t care unless it’s the big personalities in championship fights. The big personalities make so much money that they don’t need to fight. And even if they win a title, they aren’t quick to defend them. More and more commonly if they do, they’re looking for big personalities as opponents rather than the top contenders.

McGregor won two titles, was stripped of one, and right now there’s no telling when he’ll defend the other. St-Pierre voluntarily vacated his belt as a champion, was gifted a title fight in a different weight class for his comeback, and has delayed it to the point it’s holding up one of the sport’s most interesting divisions. Daniel Cormier won a title, but was never truly accepted by the public as champion. On whole, people still believe Jones is the best while the prime of his career has been derailed by a suspension and legal matters.

Fighters are paid by the box office, so it makes all the sense in the world why a Bisping would prefer to fight St-Pierre instead of Romero, because it’s an enormous difference in pay. But from a sports standpoint, the middleweight division — with the legitimate contenders possibly now having to wait until 2018 before any of them gets a shot — drops the already declining value of the championship belt.

The UFC has tried, without success, to put together a fight to create an interim lightweight championship, with Ferguson against either Nurmagomedov or Nate Diaz. Given McGregor’s situation, this is a time with a unique circumstance, where an interim belt makes sense.

Whereas in the middleweight division, the UFC needs to get Bisping to defend against Romero or Whittaker. November is too long to wait for a St-Pierre fight. There will always be an opponent somewhere out there, whether it be Bisping, Tyron Woodley, Anderson Silva, or one of the Diaz Brothers, who St-Pierre can draw big with when he’s ready. But it’s not right to put a division on hold until that day comes.

Source: mmafighting

Jimmie Rivera vs. Thomas Almeida set for UFC on FOX 25 on Long Island

Jimmie Rivera got his wish.

The top bantamweight was hoping for a matchup with Thomas Almeida at UFC on FOX 25 on July 22 on Long Island — and that’s the exact fight that will happen, UFC officials confirmed with MMA Fighting on Tuesday. Newsday’s Mark La Monica was the first to report the news.

Rivera told MMA Fighting last month that he was targeting a bout with Almeida for Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. Rivera is a New Jersey native, owns a Tiger Schulmann’s MMA gym in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn.

“I think that’s a nice next step,” Rivera said.

Almeida told MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz in a recent interview that he, too, was interested in facing Rivera.

“I think it would be a great fight for the fans and for us,” Almeida said. “This fight makes sense. I’d love it. He’s a great athlete and is coming off a win over [Urijah] Faber, so he made a name for himself with that win. He likes to stand and trade like me, so it would be a great fight.”

Rivera (20-1) defeated Faber by unanimous decision at UFC 203 last September. He’s a perfect 4-0 in the UFC and has not lost a fight since 2008, his second pro outing. Rivera, 27, is a former King of the Cage and Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder.

Almeida (22-1) is coming off a second-round TKO of Albert Morales last November. The Brazilian’s lone loss in the UFC came to current champion Cody Garbrandt. Almeida, 25, is one of the most exciting strikers in all of MMA.

UFC on FOX 25 does not yet have an official headliner. The card will also feature a light heavyweight bout pitting Gian Villante and Patrick Cummins.

Source: mmafighting

Check out the official poster for UFC 212: Aldo vs. Holloway

The official UFC 212 poster has been released. In just under a month, official featherweight champion Jose Aldo will take on interim featherweight champion Max Holloway in a title unification bout at UFC 212.
The official poster was released on Monday; check it out below.

Aldo, 30, is ranked at No. 4 in the pound-for-pound rankings and was reinstated as the official 145-pound champ after Conor McGregor was stripped of the title last year.
The Brazilian is one of the greatest champions in the sport and has defended his title against the likes of Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, and Kenny Florian. ‘Scarface’ is a terrific striker with arguably the best take down defense in MMA.
His opponent, 25-year-old phenom Max Holloway, has the longest featherweight win streak in UFC history (10) and is the No. 12 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The proud Hawaiian beat former WEC and UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis to win the interim title last year, becoming the first man to stop ‘Showtime’ with strikes.
UFC 212 also features a pivotal women’s strawweight bout between Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the co-main event, as well as Vitor Belfort’s last ever fight against Nate Marquardt.
The pay-per-view is scheduled to take place on June 3 at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Source: bloody

Nate Diaz responds to Dana White: I ain’t interested in fighting for a ‘fake title’

Diaz fires back at Dana White and claims that he isn’t returning to the UFC for a ‘fake’ title fight. Most fighters would snap up the opportunity to fight for a UFC interim title, but not Stockton’s own Nate Diaz.
Diaz, 32, was reportedly offered a lightweight championship bout against the No. 2 ranked Tony Ferguson at UFC 213, but the Californian turned it down because he doesn’t want to cut weight or fight for a ‘fake’, interim belt.
“If you’re trying to pull me out of a normal life right now, I’m not doing it for a fake title at 155 pounds,” Diaz told Brett Okamoto of ESPN in a recent interview. “I told them I’d take the fight at 165 pounds, no belt. I’m not interested in losing a bunch of weight for no reason.”
Diaz made mega money in last year’s blockbuster rematch against Conor McGregor, banking $2 million at UFC 202, but is not expecting to make the same amount in his next fight. According to Diaz, he never got to financial negotiations with the UFC and is annoyed about being asked to pull out of his normal life to fight for a worthless title.
“We never talked after that,” he said. “It’s really not a problem for me, though. You’re trying to call me out of my life. I didn’t call you begging for a fight. I’m fine with taking a fight, but I’m telling you what it’s going to take.”
UFC president Dana White told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports that Diaz ‘isn’t in a position’ for pay-per-view money and questioned his financial worth without McGregor, but the fan favorite knows his true worth and claims White is ‘making stuff up’.
“He’s making stuff up because that’s what he needs to do. He’s trying to get me to argue with him, but there’s no argument necessary. It’s cool. If I’m not worth s—, why am I all over the news with people trying to figure out what’s what, when I’m not fighting?”
Diaz said that if he’s offered another ‘nonsense’ interim title fight, his minimum demand is $20 million.
“If they call me with a nonsense fight, my number is $20 million,” Diaz said. “You call me with a fight that won’t do me any good, you need to pay me $20 million just to hear that bulls—.
“I have a contract, but that’s only for when I want to fight. That’s how that works, right? Right now, I don’t want to fight nobody.”
Diaz is the only fighter under the UFC banner to beat McGregor, choking the Irishman out at UFC 196 but losing in the rematch at UFC 202, and is considered one of the top draws in MMA. The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt holds wins over the likes of McGregor, Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson, Jim Miller, and Gray Maynard.

Source: bloody

Brazilian sports court: Kelvin Gastelum changed his version about failed test

Kelvin Gastelum has been issued a 90-day suspension and a 20 percent fine by the Brazilian MMA Sports Court (STJDMMA) after failing a drug test for marijuana on the day of his UFC fight Vitor Belfort in March, but the court is now saying that Gastelum has changed his version of the facts.

STJDMMA and Gastelum entered into a plea agreement, the court confirmed to MMA Fighting on Sunday. Hours later, the UFC fighter vowed to never fight in Brazil because “all they want is $$$$.”

On Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Gastelum said he stopped smoking marijuana three weeks before the fight, like he usually do for every fight, yet still failed the drug test.

STJDMMA president Marcelo Sedlmayer released a statement to MMA Fighting on Monday night, saying that Gastelum told the court in his plea agreement that he tested positive for Carboxy-THC because he was using a medication that had substance in it.

1. (Gastelum) initially told CABMMA and STJD that he used a medication that had THC – in other words, for medicinal use only.

2. Today (Monday), he changes his version and says he smoked.

3. He claims that he has a license to use marijuana in California, however, he NEVER presented that license to CABMMA and STJD.

4. His license is only valid in California, since each state and country has its laws.

5. In addition to not submitting his license, he never informed the name of the medication, the dosage (medical prescription) and name/information of the doctor and why it would be necessary for him to use the substance.

Finally, there are innumerable arguments that he manifests that have no foundation and are supported by lies. To make it worse, he claims that he smoked three weeks before the fight. That dosage far superior denies that thesis.

It sounds weird an athlete to seek for a plea agreement, sign it, agree with everything, and then go to the media to complain only about the fine.

Professional athletes have the power and duty to be an example. Fans can’t be fans of bad examples. Thousands of people, including children, might have as a reference or incentive to use drugs associated to sports, as something beneficial or to succeed.

Sedlmayer said that Gastelum’s 90-day suspension won’t change despite the alterations in his version of the facts.

Gastelum (14-2, 1 NC) will be free to compete on June 11. The California-native, who had his first-round knockout win over VBelfort overturned to a no-contest, was pulled from a UFC 212 fight with former champion Anderson Silva in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 3.

Gastelum is now expected to come back in action in July.

Source: mmafighting

Tyson Nam: Ali Bagautinov win ‘was almost like déjà vu for me’

Tyson Nam discusses his upset knockout win over Ali Bagautinov in the Fight Nights Global 64 main event on April 28, the fact that the bout was not only three rounds, déjà vu, his multi-fight deal with the organization, turning down a WSOF title fight in favor of the Russia bout, and more. Tyson Nam didn’t have a good start against Ali Bagautinov at Fight Nights Global 64 on April 28, but his spectacular head-kick knockout win didn’t actually come at the very last second of the bout.
Most media outlets and fans were under the assumption the flyweight headliner was only three rounds, but it was in fact a five-round bout, according to Nam and his manager, Jason House. So even if Nam did not stop the former UFC title challenger at the end of the third round, he would have had 10 more minutes to try to earn a win.
But that doesn’t take away from his stunning stoppage, which occurred right as the bell rang to signify the end of the third round — it is still one of the most vicious knockouts all year.
Nam on Twitter made a point to let people know he still had two rounds to get the job done, but he doesn’t care that reports were inaccurate.
“I don’t mind it at all,” Nam told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “It doesn’t matter if you win with one second left or two rounds left; I still won, right? It doesn’t bother me at all. But when I do see information out there that’s not correct, I’ll correct people and tell people I did have two rounds to still finish the fight.”
Some spectators experienced déjà vu when Nam finished the highly-touted Bagautinov. And so did Nam. He walked into enemy territory — Russia — as a large unofficial underdog against one of the best flyweights on the planet, and scored a huge knockout win. Sound familiar (besides the weight class)? It should, if you’ve seen Nam’s 2012 win over current Bellator MMA bantamweight champ Eduardo Dantas. In that fight, the Hawaiian competed in his opponent’s homeland — Brazil — was far from favored to win, and won by knockout.
“I felt like I was in a Rocky IV movie. I was gonna go up there into hostile territory, but I think after my performance on Friday, I think we won over some of the fans,” Nam said. “It was almost like déjà vu for me. It was just like back in 2012, when I went over to Brazil and I knocked out Eduardo Dantas. And I think he was ranked No. 6 in the world at that time. It was nothing new to me. It was something that I’ve already experienced.”
Nam’s prediction was almost bang on. He called the head-kick knockout, but certainly didn’t count on landing it with one second left in a round.
“I already had it in my mind that I was going to finish the fight with a head kick. It wasn’t necessarily surprising that’s the way I finished it, but whenever you finish a fight, whether you predicted it or not, you’re excited as hell,” he said. “I feel like if I go to a decision — win, lose or draw — I lost. Even with milliseconds leading up to the end of the round, I’m always looking to put you to sleep.”
Not all fighters enjoy fighting in Russia, but Nam said he had a better experience than expected fighting in the foreign country for the first time. Lucky for him, because he’ll be back in Russia in the foreseeable future; ahead of the Bagautinov bout, he signed a multi-fight deal with Fight Nights Global.
“I’m very excited and eager to go back over and knock somebody else out,” Nam said.
“That’s what my manager told me to do,” he said when asked why he signed immediately signed a multi-fight deal with the organization. “For me as a fighter, I leave all of the stress and business up to my manager. All I do is sign my name and fight whoever they put in front of me.
“It definitely seemed like it was a very good deal. I don’t think that the fight would have happened any other way, so every thing played out, I feel, accordingly — just the way we wanted it.”
Nam looked at the Bagautinov bout as a massive opportunity and was very high on his opponent going into the fight. He even turned down a shot at WSOF gold in favor of the high-profile fight overseas.
Just hours before he was offered the Fight Nights Global 64 matchup, WSOF president Ray Sefo called Nam to offer him a bantamweight title shot. The organization’s 135-pound champ, Marlon Moraes, had just become a free agent and vacated the title. But after receiving a call from his management regarding the Russia fight, he opted to accept the Bagautinov matchup instead.
“Weighing out the options, definitely a fight with Ali, it was a no-brainer,” Nam said. “He was top 10 in the world, he fought against Demetrious Johnson, he had a long run in the UFC, and that’s the guy I wanted to fight. And 125 is actually my weight class. I’ve always fought at 135, but I’ve always had the size disadvantage.”
Source: bloody

Kelvin Gastelum ‘devastated’ to have missed out on Anderson Silva bout, vows to never fight Brazil again

Kelvin Gastelum has had a rough few weeks following his failed marijuana test at UFC Fight Night 106.

The 25-year-old fighter was suspended by the Brazilian MMA Sports Court for three months after testing positive for cannabis in a sample collected on the day of his main event bout with Vitor Belfort on March 11 in Fortaleza, Brazil. As a consequence of the failed drug test, Gastelum’s impressive finish over Belfort was converted into a “no contest” and he was also docked 20 percent of his purse, which he says cost him nearly $100,000.

To top all that off, the UFC was forced to pull Gastelum from the biggest opportunity of his young, promising fighting career: a scheduled bout with MMA superstar and legend Anderson Silva at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro on June 3. That’s the news that truly hurt.

“I was devastated,” Gastelum said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I was devastated, and I still am devastated because it was a huge opportunity that I missed. I was dumbfounded, I was in shock, I was so devastated, that’s the only word I can think of and I’m still thinking about it.”

Gastelum, who has a medical marijuana license in his home state of California, says he has always smoked marijuana in the lead up to his fights and has never had issues with drug tests, as he usually stops smoking in time for competition.

“Well, I always stop consuming a few weeks before the fight,” Gastelum explained. “I always have in all my fights, and I didn’t do anything different, so you know, I went into the fight thinking nothing was wrong.

“I’ve found that it helps with pain and really just pain and sleeping. We train so much, I pretty much hurt myself everyday, I’m in pain pretty much everyday, so it’s good to relax the muscles a little bit.”

Despite loving the country of Brazil, the Kings MMA product vows to never fight there again, as he feels the Brazilian commission didn’t handle the situation properly.

“It was a big headache going back and forth with the Brazilian commission,” he said. “And on top of what was already taken from me, they wanted to fine me 20 percent on top of that, and I just think it was really unfair and I was really angry towards the commission. I want to make that clear, because I hope my Brazilian fans don’t get mad, I was mad at the commission, it’s been a headache dealing with the commission and trying to fight this battle. That’s why I would never fight in Brazil.

“I hope I can get past this and just learn from it, it’s been a hard few weeks. Personally, I’ve had a few problems with my family, I’ve had problems with the commission, my employer, I’ve been talking to Dana White and he’s pissed as well, so it’s caused me a lot of headaches and I’m just ready to move past it.”

Gastelum’s suspension will be over in June, as it was retroactive from the day the sample was collected, and according to him, he already has a middleweight fight booked. To his chagrin, though, it’s not against Silva.

“It’s a shame that I’m not allowed to fight [Silva], but you know, I already resolved the issue,” Gastelum said. “Hopefully this is something I learn from and it’s something that we grow from, but you know, I just don’t know what they base off their THC level off of. This is just a learning experience, I’m going to move on, I’m going to learn from it and — I’m not going to say who or when — but I already got something lined up and I’m just waiting to announce it.”

Source: mmafighting

Justin Gaethje is finally in the UFC; now what?

Should the UFC build former WSOF champ Justin Gaethje up slowly, or should he immediately fight one of the best fighters lightweight has to offer? And who? Justin Gaethje is finally a UFC fighter.
The lightweight slugger has long been on the radar of hardcore fans. In a division so stacked, it’s difficult to stand out. But Gaethje has succeeded in doing so without even being part of the UFC roster. His ferocity, finishing ability and demeanor inside the cage has made him one of the most appealing and entertaining 155-pound fighters on the planet.
He recently became one of the hottest free agents on the market after the conclusion of his contract with WSOF, where he was the longtime lightweight champion and a face of the company. And the news the entire mixed martial arts community has been waiting so long for finally arrived: Gaethje signed the dotted line and is now signed with the UFC.
The first step — getting Gaethje to the UFC — is over. Now it’s time to schedule his debut fight. With the lightweight division being the deepest division the UFC has ever seen, it won’t be easy for UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby to single out an ideal opponent for the undefeated fighter’s long-awaited debut.
Because Gaethje is praised and thought to be an elite lightweight by most, it seems likely the organization will waste no time in lining the 28-year-old up against a top tier fighter and, ideally, getting him into the official rankings.
But sometimes the UFC goes a different route and chooses to build its blockbuster signees up slowly. What if they do that with Gaethje? Would that be their best option?
Usually, I’d probably say yes. It gives fans more time to familiarize themselves with the fighter, it allows the fighter to shake off any Octagon jitters he or her may have when the stakes aren’t too high, and it gives its matchmakers an idea of where the fighter sits in his or her respective division. More often than not, it seems, when the UFC rushes a new fighter into a big fight, it doesn’t work out. The fighter falls short and never reaches his or her expectations — or, at the very least, has a long ladder to climb from there.
But Gaethje is different. He has already proved he deserves a noteworthy fight immediately. He shouldn’t have to “sell himself” to the UFC. He has a perfect professional record at 17-0, charisma, a thrilling and scrappy style. What more can you ask for? Also, as WSOF lightweight champion, he drew quite well. He headlined the organization’s two big NBC cards, both of which were its two most-watched cards — its debut in New York City’s Madison Square Garden this past December (951,000 viewers) and 2014’s WSOF 11 (741,000 viewers).
There is the problem of fans who only follow the UFC not knowing who Gaethje is, of course. But that’s a problem that can be solved very quickly. It won’t be difficult to familiarize casual fans with Gaethje; it’ll take one fight and that’s it. They will remember him, guaranteed. And he’ll gain fans instantly.
Also, pitting Gaethje against an unranked lightweight is actually a big risk. Gaethje puts on back-and-forth wars, but sometimes he leaves himself open and takes a considerable amount of damage. Though Gaethje has successfully relied on his chin in some situations, that chin won’t hold up forever. If Gaethje fights a somewhat unknown fighter and gets clocked, the UFC’s plans to build Gaethje up into a future star could be ruined in a heart beat (Note: I can’t say for sure the UFC expects Gaethje to be a future contender and star, but I suspect they do). It’d be a loss on Gaethje’s pro record, but also a failure on the UFC’s behalf. The UFC needs to take advantage by giving Gaethje a big fight right off the bat before something goes wrong, and before it’s too late. Gaethje won’t be around forever.
Now, the fun part: who should have the honor of welcoming “The Highlight” to the Octagon?
That’s a tough question to answer, because there are so many options at 155 pounds. From Eddie Alvarez, to Dustin Poirier, to Al Iaquinta, Shelby can pair Gaethje up with just about anyone listed in the official 155-pound standings and I’d be more than happy. Let me make this clear: there are only a few bad choices for Gaethje’s debut. Gaethje vs. the majority of ranked UFC lightweights is an exciting matchup sure to deliver fireworks. But just like in most scenarios, there is indeed a best choice for Gaethje’s debut opponent.
And that best choice is Edson Barboza. I don’t think that’s an unpopular opinion, but nonetheless, let me tell you why.
Firstly, Barboza vs. Gaethje is probably the most exciting matchup involving Gaethje on paper the UFC can make. It would be an all-out war on the feet. Gaethje, of course, excels in the striking department. Barboza also does. Both fighters would be willing to engage and walk forward, both would throw everything they have, and both would leave everything inside the cage.
Barboza, who has a lengthy list of highlight-reel finishes, is arguably the best technical striker in the lightweight division, while Gaethje is a brawler. It would be extremely interesting to see how the two different types of standup fighters fare against each other.
A grappler — say, Michael Chiesa or Beneil Dariush — is not who the UFC wants to match Gaethje up against first. That could — and possibly would — derail his hype so, so quick. Barboza is certainly not known for his submissions. There would be absolutely no threat of a takedown from the Brazilian, who, again, would be more than willing to stand and trade with the newcomer. That’s exactly the type of fighter the UFC should match Gaethje up against (for obvious reasons).
Barboza is a tough fighter to top — few manage to do it — but in order to do so, it takes a solid pressure game. Barboza has been mostly perfect in recent memory, only falling to Tony Ferguson in the past two years, but a fighter needs to press the action when facing him if they want to come out victorious. A prime example of this is Michael Johnson’s February 2015 win over Barboza. In what was entirely a kickboxing battle, Johnson walked nowhere but forward, while Barboza struggled to inflict offense through three rounds and was on the back pedal for the majority of the bout. If Gaethje does what Gaethje does — throw hands and pressure his opponent — Barboza is a winnable fight, and arguably a favorable matchup, for him.
Finally, Gaethje has already publicly stated he wants to fight Barboza in his debut, which he seems to not believe is the smartest choice. In an interview with MMAjunkie.com, he called himself an “idiot” for wanting to fight “the most dangerous motherf-cker on the planet.” He’s sticking to his word, though; Barboza’s his first choice.
At this point, Gaethje vs. Barboza seems almost inevitable. I can’t see Barboza turning that fight down, and Gaethje’s already in. Gaethje’s immediate future is in the hands of matchmaker Shelby — book the fight, Sean, and everyone’s happy.
All of that said, even if it doesn’t happen immediately, or at all, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Though Gaethje vs. Barboza is stylistically fantastic, I have no doubt Gaethje vs. literally any lightweight in the UFC would be thrilling. I wouldn’t necessarily 100-percent agree with a different matchup or path the UFC takes with Gaethje, but I’d still support it. I’m just glad to see Gaethje finally in the UFC.
The mixed martial arts gods don’t always get things right, from particular superfights not happening to landmark cards falling apart. But they sure got this one right, big fight or not, Barboza or not. A notable, elite action-fighter joining the UFC roster. Whether we admit it or not, we all love violence, and that’s what we’re going to get when Gaethje steps into the Octagon for the first time. You can’t get much better than that.
Source: bloody