UFC 226 is nigh, with a champion vs. champion super-fight atop the card. Our staff tackled a handful of the key questions surrounding the card in our latest round table.
UFC 226 should be the UFC’s crown jewel of Summer. At the very least, of International Fight Week. It rides into town on the heels of The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale, and will hopefully carry the momentum of the fantastic UFC 225 along with it.
For once, the questions surrounding the event are mostly, Max Holloway aside, all about the event and fighters. We’re not worried about stars attacking buses or retired pro wrestlers gassing out against journalists. No, UFC 226 is a straight up stacked fight card.
A little less so, due to a scary situation with Max Holloway’s health – but we’ll still tackle the featherweight landscape regardless.
On with the show, in other words! Let’s get to the questions.
Is the winner of Miocic vs. Cormier in the conversation for GOAT?
Paarth Pande: Yes. Stipe has already created history by breaking the 2 title defense record, if he manages to defeat a fellow champion he cements his position as one of the GOAT. DC on other hand has always come in clean. Say whatever you want to but the two times tested positive mark on JBJ does question his credibility to be called the GOAT LHW. DC if he wins becomes the champ-champ. The winner of the bout seals his position as one of the GOAT.
Jay Anderson: Absolutely. Stipe is already in the conversation as the greatest heavyweight of all time. He has the UFC title defense record. Yes, Fedor. But we are quickly approaching, if we aren’t there already, the point where it’s just a debate between the The Last Emperor and Miocic at 265lbs. If Stipe beats D.C., who won the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix and holds wins over Bigfoot Silva, Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, and Roy Nelson, then yes — Miocic is in the overall GOAT conversation. As for D.C.? There’s a monkey on his back that goes by the name of Jones, even if that name carries about six asterisks next to it at this point.
Dan Doherty: Yes. Maybe moreso for Miocic than Cormier due to the Jones losses. But champion vs. champion fights don’t come by often and both have fought the best available. Miocic’s heavyweight run has been unbelievable and adding one of the pound-for-pound bests to his resume would solidify his greatness. The same goes for Cormier
Heath Harshman: Yeah, I’d say the winner is in the conversation. They’re both probably in the conversation right now anyway. A win over the other would only solidify their argument. As of now, DC probably has the edge over Miocic, but they’re also at different points in their careers. Whether or not a win on Saturday puts either of them ahead of the likes of GSP, Mighty Mouse, or Jon Jones, is for another round table.
Gabriel Gonzalez: The difficulty with that discussion is longevity. Neither man has reigned quite as long as fighters like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, etc which is a huge part of it. However, skill-wise it would be hard to deny the winner a place in the conversation. Miocic is the best heavyweight of the decade and a win over DC would arguably put him over even someone such as Fedor Emelianenko. For Cormier, a second title would be something even his rival Jon Jones can’t boast.
Mike Straus: Yes. The winner will be in a tie with GSP.
Mike McClory: Arguably both of these guy are in that conversation now with Stipe setting records and DC being a multiple time champ across numerous promotions and beating everyone but Jon Jones. A win for either fighter would put them right in that conversation alongside GSP.
Jesse Gillette: Daniel Cormier defeated Josh Barnett to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and then proceeded to defeat Frank Mir, Dan Henderson, Roy Nelson, Anthony Rumble Johnson (x2), Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva, and Vollkan Oezdemir.
The only blemishes on Cormier’s record, which you’ll hear about until the end of time, are the two losses to Jon Jones and one of those is now officially a No Contest. If Daniel Cormier wins on Saturday then he is on a short list of about a half dozen fighters that are in the conversation for sure.
Only GSP, Conor McGregor, BJ Penn, and Randy Couture have won Championships in two different weight classes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Should the UFC continue to book champion vs. champion super fights?
Paarth Pande: Yup. There are many divisions which do not have enough contenders, perfect example Women Bantam and Women feather. LHW and HW too are not showing any movement in terms of contenders. In these situations it makes sense for a champion to move up and have super fights.
Jay Anderson: Only on rare occasion. Once a year. The fact that we were already hearing about Cyborg vs. Nunes and T.J. vs. Mighty Mouse, until plans changes, speaks volumes. Endeavor needs to drive up profits, but you run the risk of turning something special into a gimmick match. Hell in a Cell was mind-blowing when it was The Undertaker and Mick Foley. Later editions, not so much (do they still do that match?). Too much of a good thing is a real issue. And it logjams divisions. Heavyweight and light heavyweight can afford that right now. I don’t think you can argue that bantamweight can.
Dan Doherty: When the divisions call for it. Alvarez vs. McGregor probably should not have happened using that logic, but it was fun anyway. Right now with the lack of contenders at 205 and above, this fight makes sense. As would a fight between champions Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg. But let them happen naturally and don’t force it.
Heath Harshman: Of course! They’re great. They just need to be smart about it. There are often rumors and reports of major match-ups. But as long as the ones that actually get booked are worthwhile (like DC-Stipe), then what’s not to like? Let’s go with Cyborg-Nunes for the featherweight belt later this year while we’re at it.
Gabriel Gonzalez: Only when fitting. For so many champions, there’s just often still business to handle in their divisions. I think in the case of a champions like Demetrious Johnson or Max Holloway down the line, then that is an example of a fighter who moving weight-classes to win a second title would be fitting. It just makes no sense for a fighter to jump up immediately to prove they are the best in two weight-classes when they haven’t yet fully proven they are the best in one.
Mike Straus: Only when they absolutely make sense.
Mike McClory: As long as it won’t create a log jam in the respective divisions I’m all for it. Let’s see the absolute best fight the best.
Jesse Gillette: The UFC should only book champ vs. champ fights if the end result is greater than two separate PPV cards headlined by the individual champions defending their belts and I can only think of a few that would be worth it on the top of my head.
Nunes vs. Cyborg, T.J. Dillashaw vs. Mighty Mouse, Khabib Conor winner vs. Max Holloway and that’s about it. I’m not even sure Cormier vs. Miocic will pop a big number, even though it’s one of the most stacked cards of the year and it’s headlined by a few dream match-ups.
So no, the UFC shouldn’t continue to book champion vs. champion super fights beyond the few that warrant it.
Will Ortega be the next 145lb champ?
Paarth Pande: No. (mic drop)
Jay Anderson: Prior to Holloway being forced off UFC 226 for health reasons, I would have straddled the fence on this one. Now, I’m going to say yes. He’s the heir apparent to Max Holloway, and I see one of three things happening: Ortega beats a depleted Holloway who comes back to defend too soon, Ortega wins and interim belt because Max can’t defend for a while, or Max vacates (possibly moving to lightweight) and Ortega wins the vacant belt.
Dan Doherty: Why not? It may be a while before Holloway relinquishes but I don’t see Ortega going away anytime soon. Mirsad Bektic is on his way to crashing the party but when you have the ability to end a fight at any time like Ortega does, you’ll always be in the title picture.
Heath Harshman: I don’t think so. Ortega’s undefeated career has not only been incredibly impressive, but it’s been really fun to watch, too. And then there’s Holloway’s current stretch of wins, which has spanned 12 fights during four and a half years in the UFC. Both guys are entertaining fighters, loaded with talent, and under the age of 30. But this is Holloway’s time, and I don’t see any 145-pounder taking the belt from him in 2018. Ortega may not be the next featherweight champ, but don’t be surprised if he gets another crack or two at the belt later in his career.
Gabriel Gonzalez: He certainly can. He has the athleticism and ground-game that have put him ahead of a lot of competition. Also, we’ve seen him make strides in his stand-up. I believe we’re entering a critical year in general for him. He could potentially face Holloway, Jeremy Stephens, and Jose Aldo. Similar to Max, he could be about to complete a Hall-of-Fame level sweep before he turns 30 which is a scary thought.
Mike Straus: Yes (another mic drop)
Mike McClory: It’s hard to see Holloway dropping that title any time soon and while Ortega might not be next I definitely expect to see some gold around his wait, likely sooner than later.
Jesse Gillette: Brian Ortega might be champion one day, but he won’t beat Max Holloway at UFC 226 on Saturday. Instead, the REIGNING, DEFENDING, UFC FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway will engage Brian Ortega for a mere three rounds and in that time learn that he didn’t train enough to prepare for Max Holloway’s striking before succumbing to ‘King Max’ by way of knockout.
Then King Max will RIDE into IRELAND and BANG on Conor McGregor’s door, or MARCH into DAGESTAN and KICK DOWN MR. NURMAGOMEDOV’S WALL and DEMAND a CHAMPION vs. CHAMPION match because that’s just ‘what kings do.’
What is Gokhan Saki’s ceiling in MMA?
Paarth Pande: Depends. No one, so far, has seen what can he do when thrown against a good wrestler.
Jay Anderson: Somewhere around Cung Le levels. He got a late start, he’s an exciting striker, but wrestlers will give him fits. Had he started ten years ago (not counting that one-off), this answer would be very different.
Dan Doherty: His ceiling is a few post-fight bonuses. He’s strong but this is really late in the game to be making the transition to MMA. He’ll give us some great fights in the meantime, but I can’t picture him fighting for a title.
Heath Harshman: Saki can be a top 5-10 ranked light heavyweight in the UFC. The division is already pretty shallow, and it’s not as though he’s lacking combat sports experience. If the 34-year-old can stay relatively healthy for the rest of his 30s, while putting on the kinds of performances that we’re hoping for, a quick rise into the rankings wouldn’t be a major surprise. Once there, competing against well-rounded fighters, Saki may find his ceiling in the promotion.
Gabriel Gonzalez: Time is simply not on Gohkan Saki’s side. He’s a terrific striker and fans are right to be excited for him to be in MMA. But when you consider the well-roundedness of the top fighters, as well as those who won’t care to strike with him, it’s hard to see him develop the ground game at his age that he will need to get over the hump. But, I believe he is in it because he loves the competition and there’s more stardom to be made being a part of MMA so I am all for him taking exciting fights in the cage at this stage of his career.
Mike Straus: I think he has hit his ceiling. Khalil Rountree will beat him.
Mike McClory: A skilled striker but coming to MMA fairly late in his fighting career. It’ll all come down to how well he can handle the ground game. I could see Saki maybe somewhere around the top 10.
Jesse Gillette: Pass