UFC 231 brought it all home with a main event performance that will go down in history for more than just fight bonus money: Max Holloway landed such an obscene amount of significant strikes, he set a UFC guinness record.
Like all UFC events, the pie chart was set between good, bad, and ugly. Luckily for fans, the pie chart was predominantly good and just a little bit ugly. The decisions weren’t complete snoozers: Willis vs. Hunt these fights were not. Although the event had very little support from the undercard — which was mostly just a smattering of decent performances, decisions, and one very good slobber knocker in Thiago Santos vs. Jimi Manuwa — the champions on Saturday’s card delivered in big ways.
Holloway is one of the best fighters at sustaining pressure. I’m not talking about how tireless he is, or how much he bites down on his mouthpiece: I’m talking about sequencing a series of attacks with varying intensity to create something violently symphonic. Holloway couldn’t avoid landing his overhand right on Brian Ortega if he tried. Everything about Holloway’s performance was incredible; the way he moved laterally to continue mixing up his punch entries; the way he avoided the ground with ease against an elite grappler; the way his head movement was perfectly aligned with his strategy to give-more-than-take inside the pocket; the photo of his son mean mugging with him inside (and outside) the octagon; but especially the 4th round where he “called it” by switching southpaw to ruin whatever was left of Ortega’s will.
There’s always something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and last night it was a mixture of the UFC’s commentary and the aftermath. It started out innocuously enough: Felder and Rogan in particular were making a big deal about Ortega’s offense — especially in the 3rd round when Ortega found his second wind. This isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. If you follow me on Twitter, I like to poke fun at the commentary, but I fully recognize that having to recount the action live probably involves more intuition and feeling than mathematical analysis. However, then the UFC has Rogan talk to Holloway about Dana White’s comment about Holloway’s troubles to make weight. What in the corn-fed heck? In the choice between picking Holloway’s mind and replaying his brilliant technical display versus when he’s gonna leave the division for greener pastures, the UFC chooses the latter?
I don’t get it, but maybe that’s why I’m eating captain crunch on fried bread from Voodoo donuts in the comfort of my home, and Dana’s out there making millions and going over the speed limit with other people that make millions.
The Case for Holloway Staying at FW
Following #UFC231, Dana White says a fight between featherweight champ Max Holloway and any lightweight in the top five would be a fun fight. Do you want to see @BlessedMMA move up to 155 pounds?— MMAjunkie (@MMAjunkie) December 9, 2018
Read more: https://t.co/OZiRihGTAB pic.twitter.com/Tae1987qje
Listen. I love the idea of Holloway fighting Tony Ferguson, or Khabib, or Conor, or anyone that can make a superfight with Max. He’s earned the Big Payday.
May I offer a counterargument?
Ok, cool. My first point would be that lightweight is already riddled with big fights. If Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t happen anytime soon, Tony Ferguson is already next in line. It’s quite possible he is the line. You also have a solid mix of contenders in Dustin Poirier and Kevin Lee. In other words, lightweight already has some roster tetris to do before it figures out its ideal matchups. Throwing an unknown quantity in there like Holloway would muddle the division unless Holloway just blitzes right through the champ: as fun as it would be find out, it also feels a little risky. Featherweight is cleaned out, with Holloway on top wearing an necklace of skulls. Lightweight is still dirty, with a potential game of rock, paper, scissors on deck.
Second, what’s wrong with featherweight? I want to see the best fight the best as much as anyone else. But I wouldn’t feel slighted if Holloway torched people for the next five years, and retired as the greatest FW of all time who never lost a title defense. Divisions evolve, and in the absence of evolution, we have spectacle. Zabit Magomedsharipov might not be the “next Holloway,” but he poses his own threat. TJ ‘Dolla Dolla-Billa-Who-Came-Up-With-This-Crap’ Dillashaw might not usurp Holloway next, but he poses his own threat. I’d like to see history play out over a longer time line than “two title defenses.”
Brian Ortega: "Doctor stopped it and I agree. Broken nose and a broken thumb I was willing to die in there. Last night was Max's night. I'll be back."https://t.co/aPaAOKP2p9 pic.twitter.com/MuSrCCM5DL— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) December 9, 2018
Despite the OOOHS and AAAHS and SPOOM!’s from the UFC commentary booth in response to Ortega’s sporadic elbows and punches, Ortega was never in the fight. It was a drubbing. A public execution. It was practically Liddell vs. Ortiz 3: just high level and non-arthritic.
That’s not to say that Ortega didn’t have his moments. He was inexplicably quicker in the third round, and consequently landed some pretty big shots. But he never threatened with his grappling, and mostly just absorbed punishment. What’s worrying is that fights like these tend to have lasting effects. That doesn’t mean Ortega can’t come out in the next fight and look spectacular. It doesn’t mean Ortega won’t have a long career. It just means, you can’t take punishment like that and call yourself whole. Maybe you can, but when you’re hit so much even — not hyperbole, since he took a record amount of punishment — that your body stops bleeding in order for your soul to take turns shedding blood...what’s left?
The good news is that Ortega is a smart guy. And entertaining (the fact that they have him react to They Live’s famous fight scene is the absolutely best):
He’s also a gifted grappler, which adds another dimension: namely that his future victories don’t have to cost him repeated blows to the head.
Joe Rogan noted in relation to Thiago Santos that if you get a hammer tattooed on your chest, you mean business.— Luke Thomas (@lthomasnews) December 9, 2018
So, what does it say that Shevchenko has a Glock 19 tattooed on her ribs?
If Valentina Shevchenko had headlined this card, we’d probably talk more openly about what exactly she accomplished. Where Holloway’s performance was a masterclass in action, and pressure, Shevchenko put on a masterclass in patience and precision. Up to this point, Joanna Jedrzejczyk has lost, but never dominated (just to preemptively attack BE readers I appreciate: getting caught is not the same is getting dominated). That is, until Saturday night.
Shevchenko not only ruthlessly kept Joanna at a distance, but she made Jedrzejczyk fully reactive. This wasn’t like the Namajunas rematch where Joanna gradually found her combinations, but was contained with heavy counterstrikes and movement. Shevchenko simply shut her down with clinch takedowns, spinning back kicks, and the threat of attack. Shevchenko did seem to wane a little bit in the later rounds, but it seemed to come more from her output than anything Jedrzejczyk was doing.
It’s hard to imagine anyone beating Shevchenko. Her style could be damn near impenetrable at any weight class against almost any fighter. At woman’s flyweight, that statement is doubly true. And that’s severely understating things.
On to what’s next...
Joanna Jędrzejczyk is the second best fighter in two weight classes. That has to be the most conflicting feeling.— RJ Clifford (@RJcliffordMMA) December 9, 2018
Jedrzejczyk has a tough road ahead. It was only a year ago when we thought she’d be ruling the division like some sort of cagefighting Tom Brady. Now she’s looking like a cagefighting Dan Marino. Still, she’s one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Needlessly to say, I feel bad for her next opponent.