Exciting news and storylines pop up in the combat sports world every day. In this weekly series, our UFC team will answer questions that fight fans are asking themselves, with bold takes and differing opinions on each topic.
Dustin Poirier shocked the MMA world with his TKO win over Conor McGregor Saturday night. Were you surprised with how the fight played out and what’s next for these fighters?
William: What a performance Dustin Poirier had on Saturday night. On the biggest stage in MMA he showed up in a big way and fought a tremendous fight. Poirier was being criminally disrespected coming into this fight by the oddsmakers and fans alike. I saw McGregor as a slight favorite, absolutely nowhere near -305. As for how the fight played out, it was a tremendous strategy deployed by Dustin. Conor wasn’t checking those lead calf kicks and as he said, it eventually just went dead and his movement was seriously compromised. Dustin saw this and took advantage, seeing his opportunity to finish the fight and laying it on McGregor.
Watching it back again, Conor actually hit Dustin with some really solid shots. A few heavy straight lefts, and a few nice rights on the move. I don’t think he’s finished and I 100% think we see him back in the Octagon in 2021. What does concern me is his switch in his movement, which is what made him so special in the past. He is moving much more compact and like a boxer instead of the flowing capoeira style he employed in the past. I would like to see him get back to that, and I wouldn’t be opposed to Diaz at 155 or a Poirier trilogy. Dustin seemingly had no interest in Chandler or Gaethje and seemed to want to run it back with Conor again. At the end of the day, I’m happy for Dustin because he really is one of the best guys in the sport, and we have definitely not seen the end of Conor McGregor.
Nick: Of course I was surprised. Stunned even. anyone who tells you they weren’t is lying. I think most people believed Poirier’s best chance of winning that fight was to take McGregor into the late rounds and wear him out, which was a reasonable proposition.
But a second-round knockout? Nobody saw that coming.
It really blows my mind that it took eight years for someone to finally come up with a gameplan to beat McGregor in the stand-up, and of course it was the ever-pedantic Mike Brown from American Top Team who figured it out. McGregor’s wide stance has allowed for him to showcase his patented unconventional movement which made him so hard to beat. The downside of that stance is that it has always given him issues checking lower leg kicks. For some reason none of his opponents had the piece of mind to throw calf kicks up until this point, but it appears the blueprint is out now. Poirier executed the scheme to perfection: he took out McGregor’s lead leg, walked him down, landed combos and put him away. It was truly masterful from all aspects.
In terms of where these two fighters go next, there are a lot of things to sort out. With the way Khabib Nurmagomedov has been talking all week, it sounds like he’s done for good. If that’s the case, Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira for the vacant undisputed title is the only fight to make. Poirier has beaten just about every former lightweight champion at this point and Oliveira is currently on an exceptional win streak.
For McGregor, things are a bit more complicated. His coach, John Kavanaugh, told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani that McGregor wants the Poirier trilogy right away for the vacant belt. That doesn’t make any sense to me, considering McGregor is now 1-2 as a lightweight. Another option being thrown around is for McGregor to finish the trilogy vs. Nate Diaz, which is sure to rake in loads of cash if it ever does happen.
McGregor has been adamant about wanting to stay active in 2021, but as much as I love him as a fighter, I’ve learned to take all of his promises with a grain of salt. That said, I’m not entirely sure what’s next for The Notorious One. I’d be sad but not shocked if that’s the last time we see him in the Octagon for a while.
Zack: I wasn’t really that surprised to be honest. I had my cousin over to watch the fights and when I told him that he shouldn’t be surprised to see Poirier win potentially by knockout he was pretty surprised. But here’s my line of thought. This fight was never going to the ground. Conor didn’t want to wrestle and Dustin didn’t want to wrestle unless he could lock in a guillotine. So if this fight was going to end early, it would be by stoppage.
Remember back to the last fight that Dustin fought, way back in June when he and Dan Hooker threw nukes at each others’ heads for 25 minutes and neither went down. I figured that if Poirier wasn’t even going to really wobble from any of those hits I didn’t think anything Conor was throwing would be enough to take him out. For a moment in the first I was worried that Dustin might succumb in the clinch, but when he came out looking sharper in the 2nd I wasn’t worried. Poirier hasn’t been a first round performer in recent fights so it wasn’t a huge deal.
The end of the fight came a bit all of a sudden, but it wasn’t difficult to see coming in the moment. Conor never even hinted that any of the calf kicks Dustin threw would have repercussions so Dustin kept throwing them, harder and harder. Randy Couture compared leg kicks like that to being hit with a baseball bat, so it was only a matter of time before Conor couldn’t throw any powerful punches and Dustin could close into range.
What do I take from this fight? First is that these fighters can swing in quality if they do or don’t put the work in. Dustin had a chip on his shoulder. He’s out to avenge losses. He’s sick of being the underdog in fights where he’s put in more work. He’s the most dedicated 155er in the promotion and his work paid off. At the same time Conor has put his fighting craft in the rear view, and I really can’t fault him. He’s making millions upon millions of dollars in other avenues and fighting, at least MMA, too a back seat. But that has an effect. He noted that he needs more ring time to stay sharp and he’ll put the work in. We saw he’s still capable of fighting well from his first round, but the cardio, the defense, the chin, all were weak from a lack of serious time in training.
We’ll see Conor again once those nerves in his leg get back to normal. He’s still a contender for the belt in this division, I just hope Khabib doesn’t cause the deepest and most active division in the promotion to stagnate.
Michael Chandler finally made his much-anticipated UFC debut on Saturday, knocking out Dan Hooker in the first round. Who would you like to see next for Chandler?
William: Michael Chandlers debut in the UFC could not have gone any better than it did. A sensational knockout over a top guy and an immediate great call out in the post fight interview. Channeling his inner Ric Flair in the post fight interview was awesome and he threw out all the top names in the process. I can’t say I expected him to pour it on Dan Hooker as quickly and as easily as he did either. I expected him to lean heavily on his wrestling, which would give Hooker opportunities to land a big knee down the middle. Instead he did the opposite of this, backing Hooker up with heavy pressure and landing a huge overhand that dropped Hooker.
I think the most likely opponent for Chandler next is either Gaethje or Poirier. I’d definitely prefer Gaethje and give Charles Oliveira the shot at the strap against Poirier. In retrospect, I wish last Saturday night’s fight was for the vacant title. It seems like Khabib really had no intention of returning and the lightweight division just needs to move on. Especially seeing that Saturday’s fight did upwards of 1.6 million PPV buys, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them do a Conor-Dustin trilogy for the belt. Would it be fair? No, but it’s a business. That would leave Chandler on the outside looking in with a fight most likely against Gaethje or Oliveira.
Nick: Just like he drew it up, eh?
I was really high on Hooker coming into this fight but he seemed tentative from the moment he stepped into the cage. Chandler recognized that and pounced. It’s always difficult to index exactly how the skill sets of fighters from other promotions will translate to the UFC. It’s evident now that, at the very least, flush overhand power punches are transcendent across all levels of mixed martial arts.
Chandler’s cringe-worthy post-fight interview was reminiscent of ol’ Henry Cejudo’s grossly annoying tirades (at least Cejudo was a double champion, though).
Listen, I’m not trying to discount anything from Chandler’s performance. He proved myself and many others wrong. He put away a guy, whom, even the winner of Saturday night’s main event couldn’t finish off. At the same time, one win over the sixth-ranked contender does not garner a title shot.
As I said in the first prompt, Poirier vs. Oliveira for the vacant title is the only fight to make at the top. McGregor will likely chase a trilogy bout with Diaz or make another disenchanting bolt for boxing, and Tony Ferguson has gotten bulldozed in his last two outings.
So who does that leave for Chandler? Only the most violent man in the game: Justin Gaethje. If Chandler can handle the striking-savvy, power and fearlessness that Gaethje brings to the table, then we’ll talk title fights.
I’ll reiterate: if Khabib is done, Poirier-Oliveira for the belt, Gaethje-Chandler in a title eliminator. Winners fight each other. It’s not hard. Get it done, Mick Maynard.
Zack: First off, I just want to note that after that first punch thrown by Chandler, Hooker knew he was in serious trouble. With that first punch, even being a miss, I immediately felt as though Chandler had the heaviest hands at lightweight and nothing in those 100 or so seconds changed my mind. I hate to keep going to the past, but remember the Dustin/Hooker fight? Again? Dustin put some seriously clean power shots on Hooker and never really dropped him. Chandler did it with an off-balance left hook. I won’t be surprised to see him knock out any human on the planet.
But in regard to the question, I want to see him take on Justin Gaethje. I noted earlier that lightweight is the deepest and most active division in the promotion, so let’s keep it up with more title eliminators. Conor needs a bit of a layoff, Tony is on two straight losses, Dustin ought to be the interim champion, and Charles Olives gets next in a title bout. Justin just lost to Khabib, something everyone has done, but should be ready to go in the next couple of months. Chandler is clearly ready to fight every human on the planet in the next few days, so that should work out for him.
However, I’m still in favor of an eight man tournament in one night. If Khabib doesn’t return we could have Dustin/Hooker 2, Gaethje/RDA, Oliveira/McGregor, and Chandler/Tony. Who says no?
Did Joanne Calderwood earn her spot as the next title challenger at 125 after her win over Jessica Eye on Saturday?
William: I’m not so sure she did. A win against Eye is a good start for her, but I think the promotion may have her face off against Chookagian again to see who is next after Andrade. I would definitely like to see Shevchenko a little more this year, so lining up challengers for her has proven difficult but very needed. I’m very much looking forward to Shevchenko versus Andrade, I think that will prove a more difficult than expected challenge for Valentina.
Jojo did exactly what she needed to on Saturday to put her in position for a number one contender fight. With one more win over either Chookagian or even someone like Cynthia Calvillo, Joanne should get her much deserved shot at the Queen of the flyweight division most likely at the end of the summer.
Nick: Did she help her case as the next title challenger? Yes. Is she? No, Jessica Andrade is.
Calderwood’s victory over Jessica Eye on Saturday was nothing short of a clinic. As soon as Calderwood started landing combos at will and countering just about everything Eye threw at her, it was pretty easy to tell who the better fighter was. Not only was her striking on point, but her work in the clinch was elite, which could cause big problems for future opponents if she’s able to continue dominating in that position.
I think a bout between Calderwood and third-ranked Lauren Murphy would do wonders for the division assuming Andrade gets the next shot at Valentina Shevchenko’s throne. Murphy-Calderwood would kind of serve as a “loser leaves town” type matchup in terms of proving who’s a real title contender and who isn’t. Judging from the past year, I think both Calderwood and Murphy want to stay active and keep working toward an eventual showdown with Shevchenko, which leads me to believe they’d both be game for this fight if Maynard and Dana present them the opportunity.
Zack: There’s a lot of backstory between JoJo and a title shot at 125 as her bout with Shevchenko last summer was cancelled because of an injury Valentina was working through. JoJo was responsible and stayed active, taking a fight with Jennifer Maia that she lost via armbar. Calderwood is the most unsuspecting woman in the world and you would never imagine her to be a fighter, but after her win over Jessica Eye, it’s clear she’s in top form.
Dr. Kneevil lived up to her social media moniker as she peppered Jessie with counter strikes, backing down but never really ceding to the aggressive Eye. Calderwood landed the most significant strikes ever in a women’s 125 bout and her knees and counter striking were to thank. Her jab and straight punches got home with consistency, she worked hard in the clinch and put a beating down against the fence, and she threw a ton of knees to devastating effect, crushing the body of Eye time after time.
Is she next in line for Valentina? No, that goes to Jessica Andrade at the moment. But her next fight ought to be against Bullet after she was so patient and denied the chance last year. The UFC may throw her in against a Murphy or Chookagian before she gets another strap shot, but that would be in bad faith. Get Valentina in the ring often this year. Get the fight with Andrade out of the way so JoJo can get what she deserves.
Michael Chiesa displayed elite grappling skills in his dominant decision victory over Neil Magny. In the logjam that is the welterweight division, did Chiesa solidify himself as a contender and what’s next for him?
William: I think he’s right where he should be in the division at the moment. His win over Magny was pretty dominant and the case could be made he won it 50-45. But looking in front of him, I don’t see a ton of great matchups that could help him leap forward soon. I think Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson most likely gets the loser of Burns and Usman next month, and the UFC is currently trying to book Covington-Masvidal. Add in Leon Edwards slated to fight Khamzat Chimaev in March, he doesn’t have a ton of options.
I think the next best move for him unfortunately is the waiting game. I know that’s not a popular option but all the other top welterweights are booked up for the next few months and I don’t think Wonderboy will fight down again. Spend some time working the announcing desk like he does well, and wait for his next bout to spring up. I think Chiesa has the potential to be in the top five of the division, he just needs the right next opportunity.
Nick: Everyone loves the stand-and-bang brawls where fighters trade knockout blows and bloody each other up for 25 straight minutes. Trust me, I love them as much as the next guy. But coming from a wrestling family I have a deep appreciation for a technically sound, elite level grappling-heavy scrap, and that’s what we got in this one. Granted, the vast majority of the fight was lopsided, but it was a joy to watch Chiesa display his masterclass ground skills. He was patient, unrelenting and ultimately suffocating the entire time.
Chiesa’s post-fight callout of Colby Covington was a mistake in my opinion, because I think Covington would run through him with ease. Unfortunately for Chiesa, though, there really aren’t any other opponents ranked ahead of him who would sign the dotted line, so I think he’s going to have to wait until after both Edwards/Chimaev and Usman/Burns are done. Chiesa’s next opponents, and for that matter, the future of the welterweight division in general, depends heavily on those two fights. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Zack: We have the benefit of hindsight at this point so we know that Chiesa is the number six contender at welterweight and looking at the names ahead of him, that’s where he ought to be. Wonderboy is deserving of his five spot after beating Geoff Neal and Masvidal is still a top contender for sure. Burns and Covington are clearly at the top of the division and either Leon or Khamzat will stay ahead of Chiesa after that fight (if it ever happens).
So while the top 5 in welterweight is fine as is, Chiesa is probably destined for one of those spots. I think a fight between him and Masvidal would be a lot of fun though I’m not sure Jorge would take it considering he’s already beaten Michael. We saw Chiesa become a wet weighted blanket against Magny and that was very impressive, but I’m not sure how well it will play against the physical freaks that top this division.
There’s some seriously versed fighters at the top of this group and even after a great performance over Magny I’m not sure if Chiesa can beat them. Burns has the hands, Covington has the cardio, Kamaru has the wrestling, and they’re all good enough to beat anyone. I’ll have to see Maverick win fights over those guys to believe he can really do it.
The first card on this most recent trip to Abu Dhabi showcased perhaps the best performance of the lot, with Max Holloway outclassing Calvin Kattar. Was this the best version of “Blessed” we’ve ever seen?
William: On the first card of the new year, Max Holloway may have very well put on the best performance we will see all year. I expected this fight to be extremely competitive between two elite strikers, and we got the complete opposite. I was actually hoping Kattar’s corner would throw in the towel at one point in the fight, because it was clear he was not going to win and was taking career altering levels of damage.
It’s hard to say if this is the best version of Max because he simply seems to be on another level than everyone else in the division not named Volkanovski. He put a similar beatdown on Ortega in a fight that was stopped. His performance ranks for me in the top five individual performances I’ve ever seen. I absolutely think we need to see him versus the winner of Volkanovski and Ortega in March, hopefully sometime in the summer.
Nick: What version of “Blessed” are we on at this point? Blessed 3.0? 4.0?
Regardless of which one it is, the beating that Holloway dished out on Kattar was something to behold. I’m not sure what was more impressive, though: Holloway’s performance or the fact that Kattar survived for 25 minutes.
You always hear competitors and coaches talk about there being levels to the fight game. There’s an obvious step up in competition when you go from lower-level prospects to ranked opponents. But there’s another long staircase to the truly elite echelon of mixed martial artists. Holloway proved that on Saturday.
Holloway’s striking output was of a different magnitude than anything we’ve ever seen. I mean, we always knew he was a volume-based fighter who constantly applies pressure with long boxing combinations. But 700 strikes thrown in one fight? Absolutely absurd.
A glaring weakness in Holloway’s game leading up to that fight had been his striking defense. Against Kattar, he was having a full-on conversation with Dana White while dodging combos thrown by one of the best boxers on the UFC roster. Incredible stuff.
With Alexander Volkanovski booked to defend his featherweight belt against Brian Ortega in March, Holloway will have to wait in the wings for another title shot. Whether it’s a trilogy against Volkanovski or a rematch with Ortega, I can guarantee we’ll see Holloway fighting for the strap at some point in 2021.
Zack: Well that depends I think. Do you believe that Holloway was robbed against Volkanovski? I personally don’t but I think he was masterful against the Australian in both fights and looked great against Frankie Edgar. Ever since Max moved back to featherweight he’s looked fantastic. Of course it’s tough to argue that he looked better in losses than he did when talking smack to announcers while dodging punches without seeing them, but there’s context. Alexander Volkanovski is the world’s best 145er and Max is right on the precipice of beating him. Max is in the absolute prime of his career and we need a third fight between the kings of this division.