Hot Tweets: Alexander Volkanovski and Henry Cejudo moving up, Khamzat Chimaev’s expectations, and what’s next for Petr Yan


Hello, friends!

With UFC 273 now in the rearview, this week very much has felt like a post-pay-per-view lull, in part because the card this weekend, UFC Vegas 51, is one of these least compelling offering the UFC has put forth this year. No disrespect to the fine men and women fighting on Saturday, but the co-main event features two Contender Series signees who have never competed in the UFC before. That’s not a great look, any way you slice it.

Fortunately, we still have the fallout from UFC 273 to discuss, and though the rest of the card may lack in excitement, the main event of UFC Vegas 51 does feature two elite welterweights scrapping. So, let’s get after it.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Henry Cejudo

ICYMI: Alexander Volkanovski retained his featherweight title with a dominant performance over The Korean Zombie (Chan Sung Jung), and immediately afterward, Henry Cejudo tried once again to get the public interested in a fight between the two. Meanwhile, Volkanovski tried to convince himself and the rest of the world that people are dying to see him at lightweight next. Neither man succeeded in their attempts.

Neither is a particularly bad idea, they just are ideas that aren’t nearly as compelling as their proponents want them to be. But if I have to live with one of them, I’d prefer it Volkanovski at lightweight. And coincidentally, it’s the one that is far more likely to happen.

Here’s the thing about Cejudo: He has handled all of this about as bad as humanly possible. First, Cejudo adopted his “King of Cringe” persona, which is a historically bad way to attempt to make oneself interesting/promotable – it’s not a character people will either love or hate. It’s one that, at most, people will just be annoyed by. Annoyance doesn’t sell pay-per-views.

Then after “saving the flyweight division” — something hardcore fans were fundamentally in support of — Cejudo cut bait and bailed, staying only long enough to fight T.J. Dillashaw in a superfight that would also, conveniently, secure himself a bantamweight title shot should he win. He then went up, took it to Marlon Moraes to win the vacant title, and then fought Dominick Cruz for his one bantamweight title defense, when Cruz hadn’t fought in three-and-a-half years and was coming off a loss! (Oh, and before that, he was supposed to face Jose Aldo, who also was coming off a loss). Then he retired, proclaimed himself the greatest-ever combat sports athlete (he is not) and has spent his entire retirement talking s*** about people he chose not to fight.

The problem is, Cejudo’s schtick is shamelessly self-serving, and it undermines everything he wants to do. He claims to be the greatest combat sports athlete ever, but he has no interest in proving it by defending his bantamweight title against the best in the world. Instead, he wants to cut to the front of one of the deepest divisions in the sport based entirely on wins over Marlon Moraes (WOW, has that one not aged well) and Dominick Cruz, because he knows that fighting Arnold Allen or somebody presents huge risks without the “Triple UFC Champion” upside.

In short, Cejudo has gone full late-career Floyd Mayweather without actually having the popularity of Mayweather. He was, possibly, on his way to making people care about him, but then he up and retired right when his career was really getting interesting! Seriously, Cejudo could not have made worse decisions with regard to generating fan interest over the past two years.

Volkanovski, on the other hand, might not be doing everything right, but he’s at least not screwing up the important part. He continues to defend his title (already more defenses than Cejudo had in his two divisions combined) and in so doing, the idea of him challenging the lightweight champion is going to come, because eventually, there will be no compelling matchups left at 145. Now, the way Volkanovski continues to oddly no-sell Max Holloway remains frustrating as Holloway is the opponent fans are BY FAR the most interested in him facing. But still, he isn’t calling for a fight with Urijah Faber or some s*** like that.

The reality is, Cejudo can say whatever he wants – he’s not getting a fight with Volkanovski unless he fights another top contender at featherweight. But he’s never going to consent to that. Meanwhile, Volkanovski is going to defend his title one or two more times, and then he probably will get a shot at the lightweight strap, because being about that champion life still does mean something in this sport, at least, when million-buy pay-per-views aren’t getting in the way.

What’s next for Petr Yan?

ICYMI: Aljamain Sterling did the damn thing, winning a split decision over Petr Yan to retain his bantamweight title and silence (for now) his many haters.

First off, talk your s***, Aljo. Talk it for as long as you want. Can’t nobody tell you not to. You did it.

Second, yes, Yan has to be absolutely kicking himself about that illegal knee, now. Had he not thrown it, in all likelihood he would have won that fight and then he wouldn’t have had to fight Sterling again so soon, if ever. Instead, Yan would still have the bantamweight title, he’d have multiple title defenses under his belt, and he’d be the one fighting T.J. Dillashaw instead. It’s a game of inches.

Third, I think Yan vs. Merab Dvalishvili makes a lot of sense, and may well be what happens next, but I’m against it for one simple reason: if Yan beats Dvalishvili, that should set up another fight with Sterling, and we do not need to run a third fight back right now. Let both men do something else for a little while. For Yan, that something should be the winner of Rob Font vs. Marlon Vera. The winner of that will be No. 5 in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings and would present both an opportunity for that fighter and an appropriate step back for Yan. Let Merab fight Cory Sandhagen, and then Yan can fight Merab to set up the threematch. If it even happens, because I gotta be honest, I am SUPER interested to see the next phase of Petr Yan’s career now.

I’m on the record as believing Yan is one of the most skilled fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, but I have some real questions about his game moving forward, namely, what will he look like if he’s back in three-round fights? Yan isn’t necessarily a slow starter, but his style is one that builds momentum over time, as he makes reads and adjusts (he won the fourth and fifth rounds against Sterling) and that style is better much suited to five-round fights. 15 minutes is not a lot of time, and so if Yan no finds himself in a PPV co-main event that is three rounds, that could dramatically change how the fight plays out. Personally, I think I’d take Jose Aldo or Cory Sandhagen to win a three-round fight with Yan, but I would confidently pick him to win a five-rounder. I guess we’ll see.

Khamzat Chimaev

ICYMI: Khamzat Chimaev did not “Smesh” Gilbert Burns, but instead won a Fight of the Year contender that saw him overcome some serious adversity.

The hype with Khamzat hasn’t died down, it’s simply hit its ceiling. Prior to the Gilbert Burns fight, Chimaev was so utterly dominant that there was no limit to what could be imagined for him. Could he crush Kamaru Usman without breaking a sweat? Of course. Could he ragdoll Israel Adesanya? Probably. Could he go knockout Jiri Prochazka and submit Glover Teixeira? Sure. Anything was possible for Khamzat. He was a blank canvas for us to ascribe our dreams onto. Then Gilbert Burns woke us all up.

Here’s the deal, Chimaev just fought one of the five best welterweights in the world and won, but because we all predicted an abject demolition, some fans are let down. It’s natural, but it’s also a bit insane. Chimaev is still going to hold a UFC title someday, maybe two. And when the “bad” outcome for your career is that you only won one UFC belt, well, that’s pretty damn special.

Vicente Luque vs. Belal Muhammad 2

Well, he’s definitely not, because he’s No. 6 in both the UFC rankings and in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings (the only rankings that actually matter). Personally, I have Belal at No. 8 in my rankings and that feels about right to me. He’s an elite welterweight, one of the best in the world, but not quite in that upper echelon of the division. If he beats Luque on Saturday, perhaps we’ll need to reconsider, but I doubt that happens.

I like Belal and think he’s an excellent fighter. But he’s not a great athlete, he’s not particularly dynamic, and those are serious handcuffs for a fighter to try and make a legitimate title run. Belal doesn’t have a cheat code to fall back on and just, “oops, I win” like Vicente Luque does. He has to be near-perfect every time out. The fact that he has been able to mostly do that thus far is a testament to his talent and work ethic, but he’s now butting up against the limits of his ability. And it’s not like Belal has room to grow. He’s almost 34. The cake is baked with him. This is who he is. And there’s nothing wrong with being the funnier Neil Magny. A vast, vast majority of people never get to that level of the sport. Being one of the 10 best people on the planet is an absolutely incredible achievement by any rational metric, and thats’s where Belal is. Unfortunately, he’s about to fight a guy who is one of the five best and already knocked him out with relative ease. It’s a tough sport.

Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.