You read the headline, so with any luck or basic reading skills, you’ve already figured out the central question and thesis of this little – or heavy – essay. Really, It’s a question anyone could pose at any given time in the larger cycle of MMA happenings, never going out of fashion, never being anything less provocative or worth considering. However, I think this is as fitting of a time to ask it as any other.
A few short days ago, I considered writing a column about Derrick Lewis submarine uppercutting poor Curtis Blaydes into oblivion. But, how do you write that, without it becoming a hagiography about why every MMA fan loves Derrick Lewis, MMA’s Chopped and Screwed cult hero? Anyone, even a casual observer, can discern that the “Black Beast” isn’t the baddest man on the planet, even if you certainly wouldn’t want to cross paths with him in an adverse circumstance. No one thinks of Derrick Lewis as an MMA king on the throne, but rather a tongue-in-cheek nod to other fans that we all love this ridiculous character who happens to have the otherworldly ability to ruin other people’s ambitions to be UFC heavyweight champion, while pontificating on the temperature of his testicles and desire to create a race of super fighters by impregnating Ronda Rousey. Truly, a little slice of heaven that us MMA heathens like to keep to ourselves, lest we be judged.
A fundamental and hard MMA truth: heavyweights mostly suck. This has a variety of conscious and unconscious reactions, whether you are a greybeard and still pine for Mark Coleman to turn a color only Crayola could conceive of and pummel your childhood bully, or if you think Cain Velasquez was a Mexican-American cultural icon destined for stardom only to be thwarted by a myriad of injuries and whatnot. For a host of reasons, heavyweight heroism never quite goes according to plan, and typically crashes and burns.
This is one of the unique bugaboos about MMA. When you dive headstrong into the ideals of prizefighting, you tend to hold fast to the idea that the “heavyweight champion” is the baddest man on the planet. Yet, from its western marketing outset and launch of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, this very concept was to subvert this, by Rorion Gracie, after brother Rickson balked at being the ringer, chose his most frail and least physically imposing brother, Royce, to be the man to humiliate alleged badasses twice and thrice his size. From its modern genesis, MMA has always operated in a fashion that embarrasses its biggest class and whether conscious or not, embarrasses its biggest athletes.
Spend any Saturday night in the MMA Twitterverse. Two random 250-pound men, skilled or not, are paired up and instantly the snark begins, with quips of “Meat slapping meat!” and “100 percent heavyweight.” And I’m nor saying this brand of sarcastic humor is misplaced: even at the UFC-level, a prominent amount of absolute trainwreck fights tend to happen within the heavyweight division. It’s a division that takes less skill and athleticism to penetrate, and one in which those athletes who are truly grifted prizefighters have so little opposition that they can routinely stick around successfully into their late 30’s and early 40’s.
Including heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, the average age of a top-10 ranked UFC heavyweight is just shy of 34 years old. The only entrant under 30 years of age is Augusto Sakai, who is most notable for blowing a low-key main event against a 40-year-old Alistair Overeem back in September, and who most fans of this sport likely think he is still the guy on the Bellator MMA roster with a physique resembling a tragically spilled bag of milk.
But, this weekend is inviting, especially coming off considerable heavyweight brouhaha last weekend with Lewis ripping Blaydes’ face off in grisly fashion. We’ve got a main event between two hard ass converted kickboxers, with unique unique styles to the cage, with Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Cyril Gane. Regardless of whether you think 41-year-old Daniel Cormier could just throw down his headset and grind either of these men into pulp, this has considerable implications for the heavyweight division. But what does it amount to? Do either of them thrill and titillate you in a way that makes you want them to reign on the throne?
So, that’s what I ask of you: what do you really want out of a legitimate heavyweight champion?
Do you want Stipe Miocic to ground and retire in glory, returning to the fire pole and having thwarted Jon Jones? Or do you want Jon Jones, arguably the most skilled cagefighter we’ve ever seen to take the strap, even knowing what headaches and hijinks might ensue from the most immature 33-year-old man on the planet?
Or do you want something entirely different, with a one-dimensional fan favorite trying to create incredible shareable .gifs with their kickboxing prowess, while constantly trying to never end up on their back? I don’t think there’s any “right” answer per se, but rather everyone has some bizarre, preferred outcome that is tainted by the goofy past and present of heavyweight MMA.
Do you want Ciryl Gane Brazilian kicking upside the opponent, in hopes of becoming a star on ESPN? Do you want a more methodical kickboxer who will obviously be a transition champion? Do you want to impart a Surinamese teaching tool every time you want to show your friends a Rozenstruik highlight video?
Or do you want Derrick Lewis to save Texas from a national state of emergency, like the legendary Pokemon we deserve after two-plus decades of torture?
Or do you just want to pull up the Fedor Emelianenko-Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic VTR intro video from Pride “Final Conflict 2005” and pretend that heavyweight MMA is something grander than we deserve? Thanks, Brad Fiedel. Most of you probably thought it was a John Williams score, when in fact, the epic metallic sounds of the T2 theme are Fiedel banging cans of dog food against his kitchen table.
Again, there’s no wrong answers. Hell, maybe we all love the taste of dog food, after all.