I get it, it’s Thursday and here we are with the “Sunday Morning Cornerman.” Spare me the jokes, open mic night is down the street and on Tuesdays. However, much like José Aldo and Paige VanZant, I needed a couple of days to recover from this past weekend’s fights. Here are my thoughts on the relevant bouts of the past weekend, plus some other odds and ends.
“Conor McGregor eats pressure for breakfast.” UFC President Dana White said it, and he’s on to something. An overused cliché in MMA is “deep waters.” It means taking someone into difficult or unfamiliar territory. That’s what McGregor does, but he does it in the mental game as well. His life is turned up. He uses the fact that he has eyes on him at all times now to keep himself sharp. He has to be the funniest, most quick-witted, smartest, toughest guy in the room, no matter the room, and he embraces it.
The other thing that McGregor has going for him is he sees the game — and I mean the whole game — with a different set of eyes. He sees the openings and makes sure that when they show themselves, he is ready to pounce on them. He finished José Aldo early. Of course, he finished him early. What did McGregor see that the rest of us didn’t? He saw that Aldo hadn’t been in the cage in 15 months. Aldo couldn’t possibly match McGregor’s level in the first minute. Hell, he probably couldn’t match him in the first round. While Aldo was trying to get his legs under him and find some comfort, McGregor took his head, his belt and his legacy. It was just that quick. It took 13 seconds for the history books to be re-written. But that’s McGregor. It doesn’t take long for him to change the whole complexion of things. McGregor said it and it’s true: “When they get hit by me, it’s a whole nother ballgame.”
Technique: The genius here is that McGregor knew that Aldo, coming off the long layoff, wouldn’t be ready for an early onslaught. The Irishman knew he could be had in the time when he was getting his Octagon legs back under him.
What’s next: For McGregor, whatever he wants. He’s calling the shots and everyone knows it. The fight with Frankie Edgar is there for him, as is the winner of the lightweight showdown between champion Rafael dos Anjos and challenger Donald Cerrone.
Meanwhile, the options are dwindling for Aldo. He can angle for a rematch with McGregor, but he’s probably going to have to open his mouth more to get it. He needs to discredit the win and say it was a fluke. He needs to figure out a way to make himself more relevant and desirable for the rematch. He should call out Anthony Pettis and give the fans the fight they almost got last year. If Aldo gets an impressive win over Pettis, it makes the Brazilian more attractive to McGregor.
Chris Weidman always has this air about him that he’s got it figured out, everything is going to be OK and, when the time comes, he will turn it on and make it happen. For the most part, that’s what has happened. He’s been one step ahead of the curve throughout, all while demanding respect and telling people that they needed to join the team. The upsetting point about Saturday night if you are Weidman or one of his fans is that this was the fight that probably would have been the last piece to the puzzle. Weidman wouldn’t have cleaned the division out, but Luke Rockhold was the one guy walking the earth who really put into question that Weidman was the best at 185 pounds.
Some people are saying that the fight came down to the ill-timed wheel kick Weidman threw. It signalled the beginning of the end. This might be true, but it just seemed like it was Rockhold’s fight throughout. He appeared the more confident of the two with the stronger shots and just had the answers all night. Weidman wasn’t without moments, but Rockhold didn’t look to be in any real danger. The fight could have been stopped in the third — Rockhold’s coaches are furious it wasn’t. These guys may be more even than the fight showed, but the fact remains to be seen whether or not Weidman can continue to be the guy he is out of the cage and yet fight at a high level. This is not to advocate that he be a worse father or husband, but it seems he has a lot on his plate in his personal life.
Technique: Rockhold was strong in the clinch and looked to be a step faster with his hands. Weidman isn’t that far off, but it’s clear Rockhold is the best.
What’s next: Yoel Romero is trying to vie for the shot at Rockhold, but it seems like the new champ wants to clean up that Vitor Belfort loss.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza makes a lot of sense for Weidman, but if the UFC thinks Weidman can get the belt back, then serve him up Michael Bisping and let him get his confidence back. Save Jacare for a title shot down the road. The choice of opponents all depends on what Weidman thinks ails him.
Well, if there was any doubt as to who deserves the next featherweight title shot, Frankie Edgar’s destruction of Chad Mendes put the debate to rest. He was looking to make a statement and did exactly that. It was a short fight and there’s not much to say. Mendes, his career reeling, is back to the drawing board. You have to feel for the kid. He’s lost three fights in a row, all to the absolute top of the division. Every loss was to the champ or determined the champ’s next opponent, but three losses are still three losses.
Technique: Mendes left the door cracked and Edgar kicked it in.
What’s next: For Edgar, it’s the Irish King. Unless McGregor finds more money in a fight with the dos Anjos-Cerrone winner or in a rematch with Aldo, it seems like a lock for Edgar to get the shot. The only problem? When it’s all about the Benjamins, sometimes title shots disappear when you don’t have a traditionally marketable guy. The other issue is whether Edgar should wait for his shot if McGregor chooses to chase after the lightweight title.
Murderer’s Row continues for Mendes. As all the chips fall, a fight with Max Holloway might make sense for the UFC. It will not be an easy night for Mendes. Holloway has looked good lately, and he may be the next star in a division that will ultimately be vacated by McGregor and Aldo. An interesting move, depending on how much time Mendes wants off, would be to book him against Joseph Duffy after Duffy’s Dustin Poirier fight. The UFC looks to be setting up a McGregor-Duffy rematch (Duffy was the last man to beat the new champ) quietly, and this would move the agenda forward.
This one got out of hand quickly and stayed there. Paige VanZant came into the fight with a lot of hype, but she left with a whole lot of problems in front of her. Rose Namajunas has been in the MMA consciousness for some time now, based in part on her skills and in part to her connection to kickboxer and UFC veteran Pat Barry. Namajunas is a high-level fighter who is young and has a very bright future. She dominated this fight so much that the discussion opened up again regarding the 10-8 round in MMA. Namajunas, her coach Trevor Wittman and the rest of the team at the Grudge Training Center should be very proud of this effort. It was tremendous and stopped a hype train in its tracks.
Namajunas deserves a rematch with Carla Esparza. She isn’t ready for the champ, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, despite how good she looked against VanZant. However, there is enough space between the last time Namajunas and Esparza, a former champ, fought that it would be interesting to see where Namajunas stands.
Van Zant, meanwhile, needs to take a step back and maybe try a change of camps. It’s hard to know who the clear leader of Team Alpha Male is. That’s a problem. All the best in the world have someone that you directly associate with them as a head coach. McGregor has Jon Kavanagh. Holly Holm, Jon Jones and Carlos Condit have Greg Jackson. Demetrious Johnson has Matt Hume. Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold and Cain Velasquez have Javier Mendez. The Pettis Brothers have Duke Roufus. Benson Henderson has John Crouch. The irony is that T.J. Dillashaw, the one guy at Team Alpha Male who has it, left the camp. This isn’t meant as an insult toward the Alpha Male team. They are all studs. However, there has to be a head coach who doesn’t fight. At the highest levels, it seems to be a recipe for success. Team Alpha Male doesn’t currently have a prominent figure in this role.
Rose Namajunas. Just ask Paige VanZant.
Sage Northcutt. Get ready folks, the haters are coming.
Max Holloway. He was impressive in victory. He’s also starting to advocate for himself more. Sometimes you have to talk your way into fights, and Holloway seems to be realizing this.
José Aldo. How much does he still want to do this?
Joe Rogan. He’s still legit on the mic, but it’s just that a lot of stuff surrounding him lately seems like it might make a UFC exit easier. This is the closest he’s ever seemed to walking away from the gig.
Joe Lauzon. A couple of 30-26 scores? This isn’t Joe Lauzon. He’s lost two of his last three, and we don’t know how shot Takanori Gomi, whom Lauzon defeated in July, is. Lauzon has had some rough stuff outside the cage going on in the last couple of years. It’s easy to feel for him, but we can only assess what we see in the cage. Right now, it’s not there.
…the fact that Aldo didn’t see that left hand coming means he or his team took McGregor lightly. Based on everything that has been said, how the hell can they do that?
…whether or not the VanZant and Northcutt show goes well or goes badly, you have to make the move if you are the UFC to lock them down because of their marketability. In regards to UFC pay-per-view, Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre aren’t, in the words of Rick Pitino, “walking through that door, folks.”
…Yoel Romero wasn’t impressive enough to be calling out Luke Rockhold’s name. Romero needs to let Vitor Belfort take the next beating and clean up a few things first.
…when you get taken to school by teacher, it isn’t so bad. Gunnar Nelson needs to remember that, watch his fight with Demian Maia with an open mind and come back stronger.
The way we look at Aldo.
The comma placement on McGregor’s forthcoming paychecks.
Weidman and VanZant’s faces.