Well, things got interesting over the past week.
When we last spoke, Francis Ngannou was contemplating the prospect of losing his title to a former sparring partner, and potentially being done with the UFC. Well, a week later and now only one of those things is true. Ngannou retained his belt as he turned to wrestling (which I said he should do, if we keep score) and then he put all his cards on the table when it came to his future at the UFC – and I have to be honest, things don’t look too hot.
So let’s talk about Ngannou’s future, Jake Paul‘s continued presence in the MMA world, and a handful of other topics on this non-UFC weekend.
Do you think a fighter, Ngannou, in his prime, holding the championship belt, speaking so openly about the unfairness of UFC contracts, could, finally, by chance, actually bring about change? (Did you feel like GSP was walking away, saying it was partly due to the use of PED, bring USADA…?)
— Vik Sahay (@Vik__Sahay) January 27, 2022
If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to go listen to Ngannou’s interview with Ariel Helwani from last week. In it, Ngannou says a number of things about his current status with the UFC, but it basically boils down to: “The UFC has treated me very badly, and if I want to continue working with them, they will have to be better.” You can go into detail about what Ngannou is asking for — the ability to go boxing, more money, a more consistent schedule, that the UFC not directly undermine his title and accomplishments to satisfy strange personal vendettas — but basically it’s that the UFC treats all of its fighters, even its champions, like commodities, and it wants to be treated like a person. It’s an extremely reasonable request and we’ve seen other fighters in recent years come out louder. And if the UFC continues on the path they’ve been on for the past five years, this is one that will become even more common among their roster.
In 2019, the UFC signed a deal with ESPN that gives the company a substantial guaranteed payout each year, as long as they hit their minimum event threshold. That’s why when COVID hit in 2020, Dana White was going to hold events in hell or high tide because they had to hit 42 or lose hundreds of millions of dollars. But while this deal has been great for the UFC, it’s been horrible for the fighters and the fans.
With the UFC no longer having to worry about the quality of the fights, but simply the quantity, the commodification of fighters has accelerated. Stars simply mean less to the UFC than ever before, and so over the past two years we’ve seen well-known and/or great fighters sent packing their bags because they might be replaced by Competitor Series the prospects of making 10s and 10s. In short, the UFC has put profits entirely before corporate culture, and they are beginning to reap what they have sown.
Francis Ngannou is woefully underpaid, but he still makes MUCH more money than 99.99% of UFC fighters. So if he’s upset, think about how other people feel.
Personally, I hope this marks some sort of turning point for the UFC. I’m not naive enough to believe that Ngannou speaking out on this subject will change the business of the UFC wholesale and cause them to abandon a fair distribution of income to fighters, but I hope the volume of bad press resulting from that and Jake Paul will at least get someone at Endeavor to notice and intervene, because the truth is, things that don’t bend eventually break.
The UFC is currently a profit machine for Endeavor based largely on the organization defrauding fighters of revenue that should be theirs. But if the UFC continues to be so stubborn about everything, it will all go wrong and fighters won’t come for a boxing option (WITH UFC CO-PROMOTING, BY THE WAY) or a raise – they will come for the half they deserve.
Will the UFC create another interim belt because Ngannou will sit out for the rest of 2022?
— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) January 27, 2022
Without question. Frankly, they probably haven’t already, because any interim title fight will have to include Jon Jones, and Jones will be just as difficult to negotiate as Ngannou. But the moment it becomes clear to Dana White that the UFC and Ngannou are over, that’s when the UFC will back the money truck to Jones and put an interim belt in his hands. Because as much as White wants to pretend that all is rosy and sunny between the UFC and Ngannou, there’s an extremely real chance the heavyweight champion will leave the UFC at the end of the year, and they’ll want to diminish. this news as much as possible. Getting Jones the heavyweight title would be the easiest route, and then the company can go on with business as usual.
The bad publicity is too much when it begins to materially affect the company’s bottom line, because at that point Dana White officials start getting phone calls they don’t want to deal with. Think back to 2020 when White was going to host shows in California just as COVID hit, but was ultimately delayed as the story expanded. White did not postpone any events because he was ashamed of anything or concerned about safety; he did it when members of the US Congress started calling Disney executives, who in turn told him to shut this shit up. And as suggested above, I think we are once again approaching a similar inflection point.
As to why Bellator hasn’t picked up the slack well, there are many factors I’m sure, but the two simplest are that: 1) Bellator is also not a brilliantly run organization, and, 2) a monopsony is a hell of a thing. In the broader cultural consciousness, MMA is the UFC, and that’s an almost insurmountable advantage, especially when you have a stupid name like “Bellator” and your events are on Showtime.
If Justin Gaethje wins against Oliveria, do you think he will defend the title this year? It looks like he will be another title holder who fights once a year.
— Matt (@Yirkaa) January 27, 2022
OK, enough about Ngannou and the UFC’s ethically questionable negotiation tactics, let’s talk about some other big news that dropped this week: Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje will officially drop for the UFC lightweight title. This is the fight that should happen next, and I’m glad no Conor McGregor shenanigans are interfering here.
As for the fight and its aftermath, I honestly have no idea who will win. If you had asked me last month, I would have definitely answered Gaethje, but Oliveira’s performance against Poirier was so impressive that I’m now 50/50.
If Oliveira can get taken down, he’ll beat Gaethje. But if he gets into a fight with Gaethje, like he did with Poirier, the champion is setting himself up for a coat of wood. And if Gaethje wins, I don’t think you have to worry about his activity. Because Gaethje has been in the hunt for the title for the past few years, that dictated his level of activity to some extent – he had an interim belt and had to wait for the champion and then the split was stalled. But if he wins the belt, I would expect Gaethje to defend his title in the fall or winter and do it against the winner of Islam Makhachev against Beneil Dariush.
What do you remember from the career of Jeremy Stephens in the UFC?
— Zak Kitzler (@KitzlerZak) January 28, 2022
In case you missed it, after a 34-fight stint with the organization, Jeremy Stephens is out of the UFC. It’s not terribly surprising considering he hasn’t won a fight since 2018, but it’s still kind of a bummer. Stephens is fourth all-time in UFC fights, tied for second all-time in UFC knockdowns and tied for eighth all-time in Fight of the Night bonuses. He’s been a fixture in the organization for 15 years and it’s strange to think of a UFC without him.
Career-wise, Stephens had rocks for fists, a heck of a chin and was a badass to everyone, but he was never a true elite fighter – and that’s okay. . Not everyone becomes a champion, and the sport would be a whole lot better with more guys like Stephens, guys who were always looking to fight even when it was a bad idea.
Stephens’ quintessential moment is, unfortunately, that time he tried to pull a Nate Diaz on Conor McGregor only to have his entire career ruined by a quip. But for me, the first thing I will always think about is the Mortal Kombat uppercut he knocked out Rafael dos Anjos with. He throws the thing off his ankles and lays it neatly on a guy who became the UFC lightweight champion of the world. It’s awesome.
What do you think of us seeing Khabib go 30-0 on Eagle FC’s first pay-per-view after his 5 years with the UFC?
—Brandon Abkemeier (@babkemeier) January 28, 2022
No. It will not arrive.
I stated that I believe that by the end of this year Khabib will announce his intention to return to MMA competition, but when he does it will be for the UFC. My reasoning is as follows: Khabib left the sport because of the death of his father, which is completely understandable. But Michael Jordan did the same with basketball and then after some time away and with other guys playing the game, Jordan realized he wanted to come back. I think the same will happen with Khabib, but when he wants to come back it will be to face the best in the world, not Kevin Lee or whoever is at Eagle FC. Khabib’s run at Eagle FC will come several years later when the promotion is floundering and needs a boost. Like Jordan with wizards.
Is it too early to start talking about Adesanya vs Whittaker? I remember being so thrilled with their first fight and Izzy had the iconic walkout followed by his best performance yet?
— Scottish McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) January 28, 2022
Of course not ! UFC 271 is two weeks away and the only major event until then (unless you count Bellator as a major, which, meh) is a Fight Night event that isn’t exactly star-studded. With 270 in the backsight, all eyes are on the Adesanya vs. Whittaker rematch, mine included. In fact, I’m MUCH more excited about the rematch than their first outing.
In their first fight, I had a hard time getting too pumped because I was so certain Adesanya was going to work with Bobby Knuckles. From a stylistic matchup and the way Whittaker spoke, I knew just how the fight was going to go. But this time ? I have no idea. Whittaker has looked amazing since the loss and he’s openly spoken about being in a bad space before their first meeting, and how he’s gotten past it all now. But at the same time, Adesanya seems locked in for this rematch. Anything is possible in this rematch and I’m thrilled.
Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who tweeted! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send me your Hot Tweets, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! It doesn’t matter if they are topical or nonsense. Send them to me and I’ll respond to the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.