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Editorial: 2021 New year’s fight resolutions - UFC Featherweight edition

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What can we expect from Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega? What can we expect from Yair Rodriguez’s alarm clock? They’re all mysteries, but at least 2021 will solve them.

Alex Volkanovski Media Opportunity Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Featherweight feels a lot like heavyweight these days, minus the blubbering. Over the last five years, the division has seen four different belt holders. Granted, that doesn’t imply instability. After all, we’re talking about tenured fighters like Jose Aldo and Max Holloway. And fighters so volatile, there’s a stability there in and of itself (Conor McGregor). Fittingly, the the belt now resides in the hands of a — and the UFC commentary booth is happy to remind you of rugby’s special, fight imbuement powers — former rugby player.

I personally don’t think Alexander Volkanovski won that rematch against Max Holloway. I’m kind of still baffled as to how Volk could be determined the winner outside of some lameduck cliches informing the potential mindset that ‘to beat the champ you have to cut off all his limbs instead of beating him via the same rules and point system that was used to validate the championship to begin with.’ But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. It was a close fight. If I disagree with the decision, it’s not because I think it was wrong. I just hate the notion that ‘To Be the Champ You Have to Beat the Champ’ might still have legs with judges.

Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega or bust

The title fight is already set. So this section speaks for itself. But I still want to talk about it. Volkanovski has proven himself a true champion. But I’m a little skeptical of Volk’s run, so I’m gonna explain myself with more Magic: The Gathering analogies. In Magic, you typically have a predetermined set of strategies: aggro (attack early for the quick kill), combo (arrange a strict series of pieces for the deterministic win), and control (stabilize early and win late). There is a lesser-used strategy called midrange. In midrange, you’re taking tactics from other strategies (usually elements of aggro and combo), and creating a casserole out of it to do a bit of everything: to institute a balance between reactive and proactive lines of play. Why bring this up?

To me, Volkanovski is a midrange fighter in an aggro/combo meta. I question whether this nickel-and-dime style of fighting can keep him upright as the champ for long. Yet he’s doing just fine. Ortega has become something of a combo fighter lately. Rather than drag fights out on the feet (as he did against Renato Moicano), or aggressively lean on his opponent (as he did against Edgar), his fight against Chan Sung Jung proved Ortega could more of a combo player: using his patience as a resource, and his combinations as a midrange counterpunching synergy.

Give Holloway his trilogy if Volk beats Ortega: there, I said it

I know. “Boriiiing!” But hear me out. For one, I was just as disgusted as everyone else for having to experience a third fight between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. It was a cynical cashgrab. Actually, it was a dumb cashgrab: 100% gravy for brains. But I don’t like the idea of being distracted by the superficiality of official records. If the stats don’t tell us everything, then neither do the results. I know this will be seen as a rhetorical question, but when did the number three have a monopoly on conclusions? Three acts, three strikes, etc.

All I’m saying is that there aren’t that many better fights if Volkanovski beats Ortega. Yes, there’s Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez. But Holloway and Volkanovski still feel like the cream of the crop. If you think of a competitive rivalry as a continuum, it makes sense. Think of it like this: imagine if the Connor family stopped fighting Terminators after two films. Ok maybe that eye rolling of yours has a point...

Somebody get Yair Rodriguez on Google Calendar

I don’t have many nice things to say about USADA. But a Whereabouts Failure isn’t exactly a random message left on your Motorola LX2 pager. Yair had multiple opportunities to comply with regulations. What sucks is that it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t consider Yair a serious contender, but he’s a fighter with a serious skillset who makes the challenger pool a lot more interesting. Now if only he could be serious about checking his phone.