Ask Ant: The Style vs. Style Edition

By Anthony Walker Jun 15, 2019

Kung Fu Tze - Who do you want to see face Khabib next, Ferguson or the Mcgregor rematch? Would the Khabib camp turn down the Mcgregor money and maybe risk losing it if he gets another fight and gets smoked to possibly have Ferguson fight cancelled for the 5th time?

First things first, let’s give credit where credit is due. The next person to face Khabib Nurmagomedov is Dustin Poirier and he deserves to be in that spot. It’s good to see the UFC honor the interim titles it arbitrarily decides to hand out with a shot at the undisputed title. Tony Ferguson and Colby Covington should be the exception and not the rule in this department. While as of this writing I’m favoring Nurmagomedov to walk away with the unified title at UFC 242 -- perhaps after my normal tape study I’ll change my mind -- it’s important that we recognize the man who is next in line.

That being said, if Ferguson is not the challenger in the next lightweight title fight after UFC 242, it’s quite simply a mockery of the idea of what championships mean. Never mind that his aforementioned interim title was never lost in competition; the 155 pound division has hosted the highest concentration of elite talent and star power for years now. Ferguson has gone through that field of contenders leaving a trail of destruction.

Did you happen to see the tweet that showed the faces of his last seven opponents? That picture includes two former UFC champions, a Strikeforce champion, the winningest fighter in UFC history, and three perennial top contenders. There are five other men who weren’t pictured in this current streak.

How about the fact that this 12 fight winning streak started in 2013? The last time he lost, Ferguson was joined on the card by Pat Barry, Lavar Johnson, John Hathaway and Rousimar Palhares, who all seem like distant memories in the UFC.

If this mounting historical, statistical, and anecdotal evidence is overlooked in favor of Conor McGregor cutting the line to challenge Nurmagomedov again, all competitive logic and reasoning has been lost and the UFC will be officially jumping the shark into pure entertainment while leaving the sport behind. This may sound like a hyperbolic statement, but imagine the message it sends if consistently winning and consistently being exciting while doing it doesn’t get you to the prize. Toy snakes, bulletproof vests, and Twitter wars will become even more important that a record-breaking win streak that includes 9 finishes.

As my colleague and Trenches collaborator Jason Burgos pointed out, Team Nurmagomedov possibly doesn’t need the McGregor rematch for another big payday. If his manager’s claims that “The Eagle” is the highest-paid fighter in the sport after his recent contract extension, the guaranteed money might dull the sense of urgency for squaring off again with his popular rival. Additionally, it’s no secret that the lightweight champion has the backing of extremely wealthy men in Russia and even before re-signing to the UFC was not hurting for money. Also, if Nurmagomedov is to be taken at his word about his desired opponents, McGregor isn’t even on his radar right now.

While the promotion may attempt to shoehorn McGregor in the title picture following UFC 242, the wise course of action is to give Ferguson the opportunity to earn the undisputed belt. Anything less is disrespectful, disingenuous, and unacceptable.

Gordao Preguico - Do you prefer the days of old when fighters were specialists and not so well rounded as they are now?

I actually prefer the modern era where mixed martial arts is essentially its own discipline. While the style-versus-style matchups were fun for their time, the obvious lack of skill in some ranges of combat really limited how competitive some of the fights were.

Nostalgia certainly paints a prettier picture of our beloved sport than it likely deserves. Among the obvious problems with the lack of weight classes and rounds, the overabundance of specialists contributed to a lot of less than compelling fights. Either grapplers would simply take someone down and render them almost completely helpless, jiu-jitsu players would stall and slow the action to a crawl, or someone clueless in the standup department would be barraged with strikes.

As the fighters became more well-rounded, we got to see more nuance to their games and refinement in technique. For those originally trained in grappling arts, the improvements in striking can make for great moments. Without this, Dan Henderson’s “H-Bomb” wouldn’t have been possible. For the strikers, it allowed for more creativity on the feet since there will be an increased level of confidence in what happens on the ground. If Anthony Pettis wasn’t sure of his ability to fight off of his back, would he be so free with his high-flying kicks?

Also, with the development of MMA as a martial art in its own right, the space for innovation exists that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Refined jabs, footwork, guard passes, etc. probably wouldn’t exist. It also opens up the doors for specialists to stand out the rare times they do come around. One-trick ponies like Demian Maia keep us on the edge of our seats wondering how far one discipline can take him. Karate experts like Stephen Thompson were able to sneak in moves that were previously considered inapplicable for mixed rules. Those are just a couple of the ways that cross training has added to MMA from an entertainment and sporting perspective.

There are times I wish for some sort of style versus style throwback. If an expert in monkey kung fu decided to fight a particularly bulky muay Thai fighter for the chance to challenge a self-proclaimed ninjutsu expert, I’d be front row and center in a hot backroom somewhere in the middle of Hong Kong with a smile on my face. But I don’t pine for those days. I enjoy the unpredictability and constant leaps up in quality that we enjoy now.

Jei - What will happen if the WME/PBC situation becomes a reality?

Leave it to Sherdog’s own forum moderator and behind the scenes live chat producer to ask such an intriguing question that quite frankly isn’t getting nearly the attention it deserves. If UFC parent company Endeavor does in fact buy PBC, it might signal a dramatic shift in combat sports. With some information suggesting that Dana White will be intimately involved, perhaps the long awaited Zuffa Boxing is built on top of the PBC engine. White being both the front man for both brands might lead to an unprecedented level of synergy between high level MMA and boxing. Also considering ESPN is also the broadcast home of Top Rank, the lines blur even further. Does ESPN invest even more into the Endeavor pot and add PBC to its lineup? Does Endeavor use it to lure more subscribers to UFC Fight Pass after its current broadcast deals run their course?

With White already stretched thin running the UFC, perhaps he jumps ship to return to his first love in fisticuffs. It seems highly unlikely that he can have enough time and energy to devote himself fully to both brands without delegating a great deal of tasks and essentially diluting his influence. If that’s the case, does the direction of the No. 1 brand in MMA change? How will his style of leadership work in PBC, considering its roster functions as true independent contractors?

PBC founder Al Haymon, who happens to be one of the most powerful men in all of sports, is reportedly in discussions to retain a leadership position. However, the Muhammad Ali Act prohibits him from officially promoting a boxing event which further complicates the picture. If he stays, maybe nothing really changes and everything carries on while the company adds a revenue stream to boost its anticipated initial public offering (IPO).

It’s possible that we see something in between business as usual with Haymon and a new era of PBC with White involved. Both men were essential in putting together the Floyd Mayweather-McGregor mega event and were complimentary of one another after swiftly negotiating the terms.

Of course, this could all be misplaced speculation and hearsay. After all, I’m wearing a Batman t-shirt as I’m writing this. What do I know?


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