Kevin Lee to link up with Khabib?, Khamzat's next move, champs in 2022, and other random thoughts
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Some random thoughts on this lovely Tuesday in December …
Man, how much fun was UFC 269? Just another example why we love this crazy sport so much and the characters involved. I especially love those events that hit you in the feels, moment after moment after moment. Just beautiful stuff, and I honestly feel like I’m still buzzing from it all.
I also can’t get over the fact that the UFC ends the year with Glover Teixeira, Charles Oliveira, Brandon Moreno and Julianna Peña as undisputed champions. Imagine telling someone that three years ago? How about two years ago? It’s absurd, considering where those fighters were not that long ago, but just another reminder to never count someone out in MMA. And another reason why I refuse to say, for example, Dustin Poirier will never fight or win a belt again. This sport is just too unpredictable.
Speaking of champions, let’s look at who’s next for the UFC’s best heading into 2022 and when:
a. HW: Francis Ngannou — Cyril Gane, Jan. 22.
b. LHW: Glover Teixeira —Jiří Procházka, TBD (likely early spring)
c. MW: Israel Adesanya — Robert Whittaker, Feb. 12 (maybe, more on them later)
d. WW: Kamaru Usman — Leon Edwards, TBD (likely spring)
e. LW: Charles Oliveira — Justin Gaethje, TBD (likely spring)
f. FW: Alex Volkanovski — Max Holloway, TBD (likely spring)
g. BW: Aljamain Sterling — Petr Yan, TBD (likely spring)
h. FLW: Brandon Moreno — Deiveson Figueiredo, Jan. 22
i. FW: Amanda Nunes — TBD (this whole weight class is TBD)
f. BW: Julianna Peña — Amanda Nunes, TBD (likely spring)
g. BW: Valentina Shevchenko — TBD
h. SW: Rose Namajunas — TBD
So, as you can see, it’s pretty great that we know who is next for every champion except for two: Shevchenko and Namajunas (and yes, I still believe Edwards is next for Usman.)
Who do I think should fight Shevchenko next? Taila Santos. She’s 19-1 and has won four straight in the UFC. Also, she is ranked fifth and 1-4 have all lost to the champ already recently.
Namajunas? Has to be Esparza. I think they’ll come to their senses on this one, but it’s bizarre that they seem lukewarm on it. I’ve repeated ad nauseam that this is the fight to make. There’s a great story to be told for both women leading up to the rematch.
I don’t remember an underdog talking such a big game leading up to a fight, getting laughed at continuously, and then backing up his/her words quite like Peña did on Saturday. I mean, just look at what she told me back in March when she still had to stump aggressively for this fight:
Again, plenty of underdogs have talked a big game but never with this kind of conviction.
With the help of revisionist history, these are my biggest upsets in UFC history:
a. Matt Serra vs. GSP (UFC 69)
b. Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes (UFC 269)
c. Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey (UFC 193)
d. Frankie Edgar def. BJ Penn (UFC 112)
e. TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao (UFC 173)
Am I crazy for thinking that it’s weird for a fighter to show up to the arena with a young baby by their side/in their arms? Of course, that’s not the reason Nunes lost, and everyone is entitled to handle things as they wish, but you’d rarely, if ever, see a starting QB, for example, show up to the stadium before the Super Bowl with their child in their arms. Just doesn’t seem like the best move before a massive fight. In attendance? Of course, but time to lock in, no?
I also think it was interesting that Nunes and Cody Garbrandt were so dismissive of their respective opponents leading up to their fights, and look how things played out. Reminds me of Max Holloway before the first fight against Alexander Volkanovski. When someone refuses to acknowledge their opponent or say their name, I find that to be a big warning sign.
Kevin Lee is seriously considering signing with Eagle Fighting Championship, I’m told. PFL has made a play too, but EFC is definitely atop the leaderboard. Wild stuff, considering the fact that Lee chased Khabib Nurmagomedov, the founder of EFC, not to mention his protégé Islam Makhachev, for years.
EFC is holding a presser tomorrow to reveal their first American card in January, so we may find out more about their plans then.
As of this weekend’s UFC card, fighters and corners will be responsible for paying for their own COVID testing expenses, I’m told. Up until this point, fighters and corners did a 10-day pre-departure test, domestically and internationally. That was paid for by the UFC. International fighters/corners went to labs, domestic fighters/corners were sent kits. As of this weekend, they are responsible to take and pay for the tests themselves.
UFC is making a push to sign Kayla Harrison, sources say. I don’t think they will offer her as much as PFL, but they will be able to offer better competition, not to mention a stronger legacy. Harrison is in an interesting spot. She recently become a mother of two. Financial security is definitely important. But she is also intensely competitive and driven. One of the many stories to watch this year.