Category: Columns

UFC Austin Aftermath: It’s All About How You Frame It

UFC Austin Aftermath: It’s All About How You Frame It

Sunday night’s return to the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas produced an entertaining night of action, with twice as many fights ending inside the distance as went to the scorecards and Derrick Lewis and Donald Cerrone closing out the show in memorable fashion.

A couple new arrivals looked outstanding. Two of the four bouts that lasted all three rounds were wildly entertaining. Sage Northcutt and James Vick gave us things to talk about as they both try to scale the lightweight ladder. Lewis did what Lewis does, inside the cage and on the microphone afterwards, while Cerrone halted his three-fight losing streak with a first-round buzzer-beater against Yancy Medeiros, who promptly scaled the fence and shared a wonderful moment with Cowboy’s Grandma at cageside.

This was a solid little card on paper and it managed to exceed expectations, which prompted MMAFighting.com and Yahoo! Sports contributor (and all-around great dude) Dave Doyle to tweet the following:

This was my response:

 

Dave is all the way correct – the pitchforks only come out when we sit through a six-hour slog and even those events that are littered with decisions can get a pass at times because there are one or two outstanding finishes or a couple of intriguing matchups that captured everyone’s interest going in, like at UFC 219.

What’s interesting (probably only to me) is how much the way we frame these events and the athletes competing impacts the way we experience the shows themselves and interpret the results.

This month’s pay-per-view event in Perth, Australia was lambasted going in, but once the smoke cleared, everyone came away talking about Curtis Blaydes’ breakthrough effort against Mark Hunt, the upside of Jake Matthews, Tai Tuivasa and Tyson Pedro and christening Israel Adesanya as the next big thing in the UFC.

Because most had written off the show from the outset, there wasn’t much of time and energy invested into discussing what a win for Blaydes could mean, how Jussier Formiga’s fight with Ben Nguyen was a Top 10 flyweight battle with legit divisional implications or how there was a ton of emerging talent on the card.

All the talk about this event happened retroactively, leaving most people playing catch-up on the key performances that transpired at a show the most prominent voices in the sport didn’t spend much time discussing.

Since Sunday’s card featured popular fighters atop the marquee and a few more familiar names scattered throughout the show, it received more attention in the days leading up to the event, even though there were fewer Top 10 matchups (one) and ranked fighters (six) competing in Austin as there were the week before (three and seven, respectively) in Australia.

But the names were bigger this weekend and watching the fights didn’t cost anything more than you’re already paying for cable and so the anticipation for the show was far greater.

And as Dave said, no one was moaning about there being too many events and too many fights before, during or after this weekend’s event because UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Medeiros delivered.

I believe that we need to get to a place where we’re having more proactive conversations about the impact of various fights, the upside of different competitors and identifying the intriguing elements on every card.

People used to get snarky when I would write my weekly “5 Reasons to Watch” column, especially before some of the televised events that didn’t feature many big names. While there were a couple times where penning the piece was genuinely challenging – I once cited Brian Ebersole’s chest hair as a reason to tune in – for the most part, I can look at any fight card and give you five or more elements that genuinely interest me.

They may not interest casual fans that only parachute in for the biggest events and more recognizable names, but they should be of interest to the most prominent voices in our sport and anyone who identifies him or herself as a fight fan.

The fact that they probably won’t is a problem.

Everyone wants to talk about how the UFC needs to get back to the sporting architecture that rewards winning and makes tracking a fighter’s progression up the divisional ladder easier to follow, but not enough time is committed to charting those journeys and giving attention to those crucial fights happening just beyond the walls of the Top 15. The fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Jeremy Kennedy a couple weeks ago was a great example of this, as was the Formiga-Nguyen scrap I mentioned earlier.

The former was a meeting between two featherweights with a combined 6-0 record in the UFC hoping to break through in division that is really interesting right now, while the latter was a bout between Top 10 competitors in a division that is in dire need of fresh contenders.

Neither got much attention because nothing outside of the main event and how much the card sucked got much attention.

The problem is that now Formiga is a win away from challenging for the title and Volkanovski is probably going to face someone established next time out and everyone will be wondering who this guy is that came out of nowhere and is fighting Myles Jury or Darren Elkins.

Nobody comes out of nowhere; it’s just a matter of putting in the time to familiarize yourself with the athletes stepping into the cage and paying attention to more than just the most popular names in the sport.

We in the media don’t do that enough, we don’t encourage fans to do it enough and that’s how we end up where we are right now.

Instagram posts and Twitter beefs get you more attention than winning fights and athletes are often judged more on their ability to generate pay-per-view buys or their personalities than they’re performance inside the cage.

Mike Perry gets tons of attention, but Neil Magny can’t get any love, even though he’s got nine more UFC victories than “Platinum,” has fought significantly better competition and has been a fixture in the rankings for three years.

Adesanya shines in his debut against a dude who is likely going to be released now and becomes everyone’s favourite new fighter, but Thiago Santos earns his fourth straight stoppage win – against a game-as-hell Anthony Smith – and it’s crickets.

Demetrious Johnson has won 13 straight fights and successfully defended the flyweight title 11 consecutive times and yet we’re still talking about what more he needs to do to “get over” with fans and become a bigger star.

Dude hit the most ridiculous submission I’ve ever seen last time out and is one of the complete fighters in the history of this sport and everyone still wants more. Winning isn’t enough, neither is being one of the most skilled fighters to ever grace the Octagon, not to mention a great role model and legitimately entertaining interview.

Same goes for heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic, who didn’t say much of anything in the run-up to his fight with Francis Ngannou, but went out there and handled business like a professional, which should be the most important piece, but isn’t.

If that doesn’t change, we’re never going to get to the point where this sport operates more like an actual sport.

Maybe it never will because the pay-per-view model requires folks to be excited to part with their money 13 times a year and simply being the best light heavyweight or bantamweight in the world facing the No. 1 contender doesn’t seem to be enough to make a lot of people open their wallets, but if we start focusing more on the wins and losses and less on the things people say or post on social media, maybe that will change.

Maybe if we took more of a long-range view of things and cared about the progression of divisions and not just individual fighters, we wouldn’t be caught off guard by the likes of Curtis Blaydes and wouldn’t dismiss legitimate talents because they don’t have big personalities or massive fan followings.

Maybe if we stopped complaining about how Josh Emmett is in the main event of a FOX card on Saturday and instead looked at it his bout with Jeremy Stephens as the exciting Top 10 featherweight pairing it is more people would actually be excited about what is a fun main card and quality lineup from top to bottom.

Seriously – we’re getting two Top 10 pairings and a Top 5 fight in the strawweight division, plus a Mike Perry appearance, on a two-hour main card that will wrap up early compared to most events and the thing I’ve heard the most about this card is how Emmett headlining is some kind of catastrophe.

Dude just absolutely starched a Top 5 fixture and former title challenger on FOX two months ago. I know he missed weight, but what are you going to do – stick him in the middle of next weekend’s pay-per-view that everyone is going to moan about because it doesn’t feature enough big names so that his momentum is effectively wasted and his chance to build on that win over Ricardo Lamas happens while fewer people are watching?

Besides, people would whine even more if the women were given the headlining assignment, even though the fight between Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres should be fire and could very well produce the next title challenger in the strawweight division.

If that doesn’t illustrate that there is a problem with the way we frame things right now, I don’t know what to say.

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a terrific fighter.

The undefeated Dagestani lightweight has been hovering around the top of the division for years and is universally regarded as a potential champion. Truth be told, if not for a series of injuries and a weight cut gone sideways back in March, the 29-year-old standout might already have UFC gold wrapped around his waist.

Likeable and talented, Nurmagomedov is a critical darling with the potential to be a crossover star in North America and an international superstar given his growing popularity around the globe and superstar status in Russia. It feels like it is only a matter of time before he reaches his full potential both inside and outside of the cage.

But it has felt that way for well over three years now and it still hasn’t happened and while most seem to view his matchup this weekend with Edson Barboza as a formality – the next step in Nurmagomedov’s journey to fighting for the lightweight title – I can’t help but feel like the Brazilian is being overlooked at a time when his skills are at an all-time high and all the pressure is on his opponent.

Barboza is 13-4 in the UFC and riding a three-fight winning streak. He’s ranked No. 3 in the deepest, most talented division in the sport and coming off arguably the best knockout of the year – a second-round flying knee finish of Beneil Dariush in March that illustrates how “blink and you missed it” dangerous the 31-year-old contender is at all times.

After coming up short in high profile matchups with Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson earlier in his career, Barboza stopped shuttling to New Jersey from his home in Florida for his training camps and convinced his wife to move to the Garden State permanently following his loss to Ferguson in December 2015.

He hasn’t lost since, earning unanimous decision victories over former champions Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez prior to turning out Dariush’s lights in Forteleza, Brazil earlier this year.

His already solid boxing has become even crisper and his stiff jab makes for a nice 1-2 punch when paired with his incomparably fast and punishing kicks. He moves well and has continued to hone his takedown defense, denying every attempt made by Dariush, Melendez and Pettis in those three fights combined. While none is anywhere near as proficient and effective a wrestler as Nurmagomedov, the fact that Barboza was 9-for-9 when it comes to defending takedown attempts against those three elite competitors cannot be ignored, nor can his 86% takedown defense over the course of his 17 UFC appearances.

Additionally, it’s not like Nurmagomedov has had an easy year in 2018 and he heads into this one with a bunch of questions and concerns hovering overhead.

He was forced out of an interim title fight with Ferguson in March after experiencing serious health issues during his weight cut and then had hernia surgery in the summer. He’s fought just twice since April 2014 and while he looked terrific last time out, mauling Michael Johnson at UFC 205 in New York City, he’s been on the shelf for over a year and dealt with two more health issues since then. When he’s active, Nurmagomedov is one of the best fighters on the planet, but over the last several years, the times when he has been healthy and able to compete have been significantly less than the times he’s been unable to make it to the cage.

Barboza carries none of those concerns. He’s never missed weight in his 23-fight career, looks healthy and energetic when he steps on the scale and has fought eight times in the same time that Nurmagomedov has competed twice. He comes from an elite camp, is in the best form of his career and has the striking skills and footwork needed to work from the outside and frustrate someone who needs to close the distance and get inside to really get his offense going.

I don’t know whether he’s going to beat Nurmagomedov or not, but I do believe Barboza merits far more attention heading into this fight than he has been receiving thus far.

He’s not quite an afterthought because he’s featured in the Embedded series and his picture is on the poster for Saturday’s year-end event at T-Mobile Arena, but it certainly feels like a lot of people see this weekend’s contest as a tune up for Nurmagomedov while looking ahead to potential bouts between the currently unbeaten lightweight and one or both of the division’s two champions.

That could very well be how things play out, but I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if Barboza came out and handed “The Eagle” his first career loss.

This feels like one of those times where people are so caught up in the narrative and what could come next for one particular fighter that they’re overlooking the sizable task in front of them. I felt the same way heading into Cody Garbrandt’s title defense against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 217, where tons of people, including Garbrandt, were talking about his potential as a draw and setting up a fight with Demetrious Johnson as if Dillashaw was some stiff who didn’t have a chance.

While “No Love” had his moments in the first, he got stopped in the second, lost his title and all those grand plans and lofty projections disappeared into the ether.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it wise to discount a competitor as talented and dangerous as Barboza in any fight and especially heading into a pivotal matchup like this where the winner will most likely be fighting for a title next time out.

Yes, Nurmagomedov is the betting favourite, the more popular of the two and the one who has been projected to be a title contender and potential champion since he arrived in the UFC almost six years ago, but Barboza is an elite lightweight as well and shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought in this matchup.

A Change in Approach is Needed: Thoughts on Rankings and Prospects

A Change in Approach is Needed: Thoughts on Rankings and Prospects

This one has been percolating in my head for a while now and instead of crafting it all smooth and trying to lay everything out crisp and clean, I want to just get my thoughts on the subject out there as they run through my head.

We talk a lot about rankings in this sport – how they currently feel fraudulent and fictitious, how they could be very important and influential and what needs to happen in order to make the shift from the former to the latter. It’s all legit too; rankings don’t really carry that much weight right now and they do feel like a missed opportunity in many ways, at least to me.

But when I think about rankings and how I would lay them out, how I would make use of them, it goes beyond just the divisional hierarchies and a Top 10 list that lays out the top contenders in each weight class. It’s not just a matter of throwing the most familiar names and the “of the moment” fighters into some kind of order. I think about things like strength of schedule and try not to get caught up in who just had an electric performance and has everyone buzzing right now because those names change every week and I don’t think rankings should be a revolving door, even if we’re only talking about the bottom few spots.

It’s a difficult process because prior success plays a huge factor in trying to figure out where to position these athletes and try as we might, our impressions about their level of talent and star power undoubtedly creep into our minds as we’re debating positions as well. Competitors we know and like and respect and appreciate get the benefit of the doubt while lesser known athletes who haven’t put in as much time or don’t have the same resonance with fans get the short end of the stick.

It sucks, but it happens.

If we want rankings to really have value, we have to do our best to set aside those biases and influences and just focus exclusively on performances, accepting that some wins are going to look better with time and others will become less impressive.

For example: Dong Hyun Kim currently sits at No. 14 in the latest edition of the UFC Fighter Rankings. I know they’re not great, but they’re the easiest example to use.

The 36-year-old hasn’t won a fight since last December when he edged out Tarec Saffiedine, who is currently on a three-fight skid and is 2-4 since moving to the UFC. While he’s 13-4 with 1 NC inside the Octagon, he’s 4-2 in the last three years, losing to Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley while getting the better of Saffiedine, Dom Waters, Joshua Burkman and John Hathaway.

All of his losses in the UFC have come against legit competition and he’s beaten a few familiar names over the years as well – Matt Brown, Nate Diaz, Paulo Thiago, Erick Silva – but at what point do we stop looking at the whole of his resume and focus in on the here and now when determining if Kim is still a Top 15 welterweight?

What has Kim done in the last couple years that earned him that position while someone like Leon “Rocky Edwards is on the outside looking in? While Kim has been so-so, Edwards has collected four straight victories, starting with a win over Waters, followed by victories over Albert Tumenov, Vicente Luque (who has been really good of late as well) and Bryan Barberena.

For me, Edwards is far more deserving of a place in the rankings, but gets bumped in favour of Kim because the South Korean veteran is a more familiar name with more name-brand opponents on his resume and a longer history in the Octagon, though very little of that matters in the moment. Right now, Edwards in the better fighter to me and we should be ranking the best fighters right now because if we’re not, we’re stuck playing catch-up when guys like Edwards keep winning and start knocking off bigger names.

That leads me to the next piece of this, which is that we need to widen our focus and broaden our horizons when it comes to discussing up-and-coming fighters.

Edwards remains a perfect example.

Here’s a 26-year-old who is 6-2 overall in the UFC, on a four-fight winning streak and won six of his last seven after dropping his debut, with his lone setback coming against Kamaru Usman, who is on a 10-fight winning streak with a 6-0 mark in the Octagon and is on the come-up in the 170-pound ranks.

He’s beaten solid competition, including a guy who was once a critical darling (Tumenov), an emerging finisher (Luque) and a perennial tough out (Barberena), and yet no one is talking about him.

On the flip side, Mike Perry gets more press than most in the welterweight division because he’s a combustible, outrageous personality who has collected a few highlight reel wins over middling competition. His finish of Jake Ellenberger in April was violent, but beating Ellenberger in 2017 doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did between 2010 and 2013 or 2014.

Perry is 4-1 in the UFC with a pair of finishes on either side of a decision loss to Alan Jouban, the one proven, steady opponent he’s faced in the Octagon thus far. He’s facing surging Argentine Santiago Ponzinibbio Saturday night in Winnipeg on FOX and talked about like a potential player in the welterweight division when for me, he’s nothing more than a slightly unhinged brawler who still hasn’t proven to me that he can beat anyone of real substance, unlike the soft-spoken, more tested Edwards.

For me, this extends to debuts and emerging prospects as well.

When someone from a big camp that we’ve heard good things about from reliable sources debuts in the UFC, we’re often quick to turn a spotlight on them and tell everyone to pay attention.

Everyone from the “Iron Army” was raving about Zabit Magomedsharipov (rightfully so) and so we were quick to make sure everyone knew to check for this dude even though his debut and sophomore efforts came on Fight Pass cards that usually get panned and left for dead.

But Volkam Oezdemir somehow still caught people off guard when he trucked Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa even though he edged out a legit Top 10 talent in Ovince Saint Preux in his debut.

Or they had issue with Kevin Lee being slotted into the main event against Michael Chiesa in Oklahoma City even though “The MoTown Phenom” had won four straight and looked really damn good in the process.

Or they still haven’t said much about Shane Burgos or Gregor Gillespie or Cody Stamman or countless others.

It’s why a year before they ascended to the throne in the their respective divisions, Max Holloway and Robert Whittaker were fringe considerations in the title discussions even though they’d been putting in work and putting up strong performances.

To me, it should be like Major League Baseball where the diehards are talking about the Top 100 prospects every year and are tracking the progression of their favourite team’s top youngsters through every level.

I knew about Mike Trout and Byron Buxton and Paul Goldschmidt and Cody Bellinger before they hit the majors and turned into superstars because baseball people talk about emerging talent long before they reach the highest levels. Sure, some guys still sneak through and come out of nowhere every year, but for the most part, you can look two, three, four years down the road and pick out 10, 12, 15 guys with elite potential to watch knowing there is a pretty good chance a half dozen of them are going to come through.

We don’t do that in MMA – at least not to the same degree.

There are certainly some journalists who invest a lot of time and energy talking with and spotlighting prospects and regional talent, but we don’t have the same kind of “keep your eyes on this guy” conversations about fighters as they’re working their way to the highest levels in the sport or even beginning their careers in places like the UFC or Bellator or ONE as they do in many other sports and I think MMA suffers as a result.

Yes, the sheer volume of fight cards makes it difficult to pay attention to everyone, but there are 162 MLB games a season and multiple tiers in the minor league system and just about everyone who identifies themselves as a moderate Yankees fan or above can tell you how terrific it was that they didn’t have to give up one of their Top 3 prospects in the deal that landed them Giancarlo Stanton last week.

But how many MMA heads could tell you much about Andre Harrison right now or were aware of Aspen Ladd before she landed in the Octagon?

If we’re going to hype the hell out of Mackenzie Dern (understandably), we should also be hyping Aga Niedzwiedz, who lost a close fight for the flyweight title in the main event of the same Invicta FC event Dern was on last weekend.

Rather than picking and choosing a few prospect to talk about at select times, we need to be checking for the next wave of talent destined to land on the biggest stages well in advance of their arrival because that’s the only way they can potentially hit the ground running and start getting the attention they deserve right out of the chute.

And that folds back into the rankings idea because if we’re talking about more than just the established names and newcomers are getting air time and acknowledgement, guys like Edwards or Oezdemir or Gillespie or Burgos aren’t stuck needing to win three, four, five fights or more before they even become a blip on the radar and start getting a little shine.

I know it’s hard for everyone to pay attention to everything at all times – there are far too many events and we all have lives outside of our MMA fandom – but these are the steps we need to take in order for the sport to progress to that next level.

Everyone seems to want to get to a point where rankings matter, where champions defend against top contenders and you can easily chart and track a competitor’s rise up the division ladder.

Well, this is how we get there.

UFC 218: A killer card that deserves more attention

UFC 218: A killer card that deserves more attention

Outside of the mega-cards that have dotted the landscape over the last couple years, this weekend’s pay-per-view event in Detroit stands as one of the best main card offerings the UFC has put together in recent memory.

Headlined by a featherweight title fight between Max Holloway and former titleholder Jose Aldo and boasting four outstanding secondary contests, UFC 218 is a card that hardcore fans have had circled on their calendars for months and that has the potential to be wildly entertaining while having a serious impact on the landscape of several divisions heading into next year.

Obviously the outcome of the championship main event will dictate where the 145-pound weight class goes next, but the co-main event between Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the heavyweight title and the same could be said of the clash between flyweights Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis. Add in a sure-fire barnburner between Top 5 lightweights Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje plus a pivotal contest in the strawweight division between standouts Michelle Waterson and Tecia Torres and you have just the second pay-per-view event of the year where all 10 main card competitors are currently in the Top 15 of their respective divisions according to the UFC Rankings.

Because of the potential impact and the impressive depth of talent on the card, UFC 218 should have a ton of buzz, but beyond the diehard set, it doesn’t feel that way.

There are no major names, no real rivalries and none of the pre-fight drama that usual accompanies these events and entices casual fans that weren’t already planning on ordering the fights to open up their wallets. It’s simply a throwback classic and it will be interesting to see what kind of business it does and how that affects Saturday’s winners in the New Year.

Earlier this year I called UFC 211 – the loaded dual title fight event in Dallas – “the blockbuster card without much buzz” because even though it featured Stipe Miocic and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defending their titles, plus a bunch of other exciting, important matchups, it didn’t carry the kind of anticipation that accompanies the marquee events of the year. That show garnered roughly 300,000 buys and although it was thoroughly entertaining, it didn’t really do too much to help elevate the status of the fighters who emerged victorious.

Personally, that feels like a missed opportunity because the only way fighters like Miocic or Jedrzejczyk or Holloway are going to take the next step forward in their careers and have a chance at being legitimate superstars and top draws for the UFC is if they get treated as such heading into and coming out of events like this.

This week on Sporting News, I asked why Holloway isn’t receiving the same kind of hype that accompanied Cody Garbrandt into his matchup with T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 217 in New York City. They’re roughly the same age and both were facing former champions in their first title defenses, yet while myriad stories were being written about how “No Love” could be the next big thing in the UFC, I haven’t seen very much written about his Hawaiian counterpart who could earn his 12th straight victory this weekend, has never been in a boring fight and is beloved by analysts for his ever-improving, constantly evolving offensive approach.

“Blessed” is exactly the kind of fighter that anyone who identifies themselves as a fight fan should be amped up to see every single time he steps into the cage and this event is a callback to the stacked pay-per-view events of yesteryear that everyone seems clamor for whenever a middling event is coming down the pike, but here were are just a couple days away from things jumping off and it just kind of feels like another random fight week.

And that shouldn’t be the case.

It’s easy to get everyone fired up for events like UFC 217 when Georges St-Pierre is coming back and there are three title fights that make buying the pay-per-view a no-brainer, but these are the events that should be getting even more attention because while the names aren’t as big, the stakes are just as high and the action will be no less thrilling.

In a way, this feels a lot like Holloway’s headlining turn in Toronto last winter against Anthony Pettis.

Like this weekend’s fight card at Little Caesars Arena, UFC 206 featured a late main event change and a main card that was short on transcendent names, but stocked with quality fights that had those in the know licking their chops. The event ended up delivering the best knockout of the year – Lando Vannata’s wheel kick finish of John Makdessi – and the best fight of the year – Cub Swanson’s victory over Doo Ho Choi – plus some violence between Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown and Holloway stopping Pettis to claim the interim featherweight title.

That show only did 150,000 pay-per-view buys, which feels like a travesty in hindsight and is part of what makes me nervous about this weekend’s event.

If an event like that or UFC 212, where Holloway ventured to Rio de Janeiro to defeat Aldo and unify the titles, fails to make an impact beyond the diehard audience, the chances of this card doing so are slim, which doesn’t bod well for the future because it becomes a vicious cycle where each subsequent fight is marred by the low numbers his previous fights did.

Because no one seems to be giving Holloway the “you can’t miss this guy; he’s the future” treatment and the last fight didn’t do big numbers, this fight probably won’t do big numbers and on down the line until next thing you know, we’re several fights into his title reign wondering why the champion isn’t a bigger draw?

Demetrious… is that you?
And it’s not like there aren’t ways to get that momentum building behind him or anyone for that matter. After all, we managed to turn Conor McGregor fighting Diego freakin’ Brandao on Fight Pass in Dublin into a massive event that launched “The Notorious” one to the next level of stardom.

I don’t know how many people actually tuned in to watch that event, but it was treated like a big deal and stands as the point where McGregor went from being an intriguing prospect that hardcore fans clamored to watch to the next big thing in the UFC.

For the record, Holloway has an entire island with a rich fighting culture behind him too and has already proven himself inside the Octagon far more than McGregor had up to that point, but for whatever reason, no one seems to want to give Holloway the same kind of push or commit anywhere near the amount of effort and attention that gets put towards select marquee talents and monster fight cards behind these outstanding, but somewhat unheralded fight cards, even though they’re the events that need it the most.

These are the cards and fighters that people need to be hearing about, learning about and familiarizing themselves with now because chances are several major fights for 2018 will start taking shape on Saturday night in Detroit and there is no reason for anyone to feel like the athletes involved in those matchups “came out of nowhere” or aren’t big enough stars to be worth their time.

Treat these athlete and events like they’re crucial and important and more people will start paying attention.