Ariel Helwani’s MMA thoughts: What I love (and don’t) ahead of UFC 245

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Remember when you were a child and you would grab a flower and do the whole “She/he loves me, she/he loves me not” game? Those were nice times, right?

Well, right now our beloved sport of mixed martial arts is that flower. And there’s a lot I love about what’s going on in MMA these days, but there is also a lot I don’t like.

Let us count the ways:

I love the fact that the three title challengers going for gold this weekend at UFC 245 — Colby Covington, Alexander Volkanovski and Germaine de Randamie — are all the rightful No. 1 contenders in their respective weight classes. No games, no politicking … just good, old-fashioned meritocracy at play. This is healthy.

I don’t love the fact that the UFC may have taken Frankie Edgar away from Cory Sandhagen to have Edgar fight Chan Sung Jung next week. Edgar vs. “The Korean Zombie,” while no doubt fun on paper, feels way less important than the Sandhagen tilt, scheduled for Jan. 25 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The latter was supposed to be Edgar’s 135-pound debut. It was supposed to represent Sandhagen’s big step up in competition. Instead, Edgar remains at 145. What does that fight mean? I know the UFC is saying Edgar is going to compete in both fights, but that seems like an awfully quick turnaround. Sandhagen is annoyed, and I don’t blame him. The matchmakers should have found someone else to replace the injured Brian Ortega.

Speaking of Ortega, I’m sad to see that he will not compete once this year. It’s been a tough go for “T-City” since his featherweight title loss to Max Holloway last December.

I love the Jairzinho Rozenstruik story. Complete unknown a year ago. Heck, relatively unknown two months ago. Now he ends his UFC rookie year with a 4-0 record and four finishes, which had never been done before. And now he’s calling out Francis Ngannou. No one calls out Ngannou. Plus, did you see the love he received upon landing in his native Suriname on Monday night? This is what dreams are made of.

I don’t love to see how frustrated Ngannou is these days. The Frenchman has fought only twice this year. His two wins lasted a combined 1 minute, 37 seconds. He last fought in June. Six months later, still no fight booked. He feels like he should be fighting for the heavyweight belt again, but the UFC is waiting on Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier 3, which is understandable and justifiable. Here’s hoping Ngannou can fight very soon, preferably against Rozenstruk, because I don’t think any other matchups make sense for him right now.

I love how Bryce Mitchell is completely unafraid to be himself. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met anyone quite like him — I know I’ve never met anyone else who eats squirrel — and I dig his vibe. He’s fun, he’s different and he’s a darn good prospect, too.

I don’t love the way Liz Carmouche‘s release was handled by the UFC last week. First off, anyone who is coming off a title fight loss and is ranked in the top five should not be cut. If you are claiming to be the preeminent organization in MMA, you can’t make decisions like that. Second, Carmouche’s loss to Valentina Shevchenko was four months ago. Why wait so long to cut her? And third, how can you cut her while she’s doing promotional community work for the company? What a PR disaster.



Liz Carmouche joins Ariel Helwani and elaborates on why she was cut from UFC.

Is it possible the matchmakers didn’t know she was in Washington meeting with veterans and sick children? Absolutely. Still doesn’t make it right.

Carmouche, a legit women’s MMA pioneer who was a part of the very first female fight in UFC history, deserved much better than that. We’ve seen this story before, with the likes of Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and Yushin Okami. All three were top contenders, who were not very flashy, and were released while still ranked because they were getting in the way of other prospects. But none of them were coming off title fight losses, let alone in the midst of a PR tour.

I loved the way Alistair Overeem handled that heartbreaking loss on Saturday night. He didn’t noticeably complain or protest the stoppage, and he even appeared to be somewhat smiling despite suffering a gruesome cut on his lip. Overeem is one of the all-time greats and has experienced his fair share of ups and downs in MMA. He has been here before, but this one had to sting. He looked good for 24 minutes, and he was well on his way to a victory before disaster struck. Kudos to him for handling the disappointment like a pro.

I don’t love the way Jose Aldo looks on his way down to bantamweight for the first time. Have you seen the photos? They are troubling, in my opinion. Now, I know Conor McGregor publicly disagreed with me, but I stand by my feelings. I also stand by the notion that this weight cut was unnecessary. Aldo is coming off a loss to the man who’ll be fighting for the featherweight belt on Saturday, Alexander Volkanovski, who has won 17 straight. Prior to that loss, we were all celebrating the fact that the old Aldo was back after seeing him score back-to-back stoppage wins. So, what’s the point of Aldo making this move prior his 34th pro fight? Friday’s weigh-ins are going to be very interesting.

I loved seeing Urijah Faber cornering his teammate Song Yadong on Saturday night. He flew from Sacramento to D.C. and stayed there for the week to help Yadong train and cut weight for his fight against Cody Stamann. After cornering Yadong, Faber then flew back home and is now in Vegas getting ready for his showdown against Petr Yan at UFC 245. That’s not a common thing to do, but it’s not surprising from Faber, who has always been an extremely loyal teammate.

I didn’t like the criticism Anthony Joshua received after his brilliant win over Andy Ruiz in last weekend’s world heavyweight championship boxing match. Joshua fought a perfectly smart fight, effective from beginning to an end. He used his length and jab beautifully. I think we sometimes forget that fighters aren’t rock ’em, sock ’em robots. Wins and losses matter. Joshua was heavily criticized for his performance in the first fight with Ruiz back in June, when he was upset and lost his titles. Did you think he would just make the same mistakes all over again? Ludicrous. The whole point of the sport is to hit and not get hit. Mission accomplished.

While I’m on this brief boxing tangent, I also didn’t like Ruiz’s weight for that fight, but I do give him credit for acknowledging his lazy ways right after the loss. The fight would have been so much better had he showed up in shape.

I loved the Paul FelderDan Hooker staredown last week in Auckland, New Zealand. As I previously wrote, I love everything about that fight, but after seeing the intensity on their faces during that faceoff, I am convinced this will not be a dud. Can’t wait.

I didn’t like seeing referee Dan Miragliotta telling Stefan Struve he was likely up on the scorecards after Struve was hit below the belt for a second time by Ben Rothwell on Saturday. Plain and simple, that isn’t the referee’s job. It was a bad look for Miragliotta.

I enjoyed Jorge Masvidal‘s commentary during Combate Americas’ first pay-pay-view this past weekend. It was clear Masvidal did little to no research prior to the broadcast, but it worked. He sounded like a knowledgeable fan who was having a good time watching some fights with friends.

I didn’t like seeing Tito Ortiz celebrating his win over Alberto El Patron like he had just won the UFC title again. The outcome of that fight was never in doubt from the moment it was announced months ago.

I loved the way Aspen Ladd‘s coach, Jim West, spoke to her between the second and third rounds of her fight against Yana Kunitskaya on Saturday night. Was it the most technical coaching? No. But it was clearly what Ladd needed, because she dropped Kunitskaya seconds later. I love when we get to watch the corners between rounds. I find the ways different coaches use that minute to be fascinating.

I am enjoying watching Anthony Smith develop as a TV analyst. I think he can be very good down the line.

I very much like Saturday’s Geoff Neal vs. Mike Perry fight. I can’t believe Perry is back four months after that brutal nose injury.

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