We have a lot to get to this week, so let’s not waste any time.
The biggest story of the weekend, at least as of right now, is Friday’s UFC Boston main event: Dominick Reyes vs. Chris Weidman. This fight is big for two reasons: 1) It’s Weidman’s long-awaited 205-pound debut, and 2) the winner could very well be next in line for Jon Jones.
I have long believed that Weidman should test the light heavyweight waters, so I’m curious to see how he does in this fight. The truth is I would have liked to see him fight a veteran such as a Glover Teixeira in his 205-pound debut, not a rising star in Reyes, but that’s how it often goes in the UFC. If Weidman wins — and especially if he does in impressive fashion — I think he easily becomes the front-runner to face Jones next.
The UFC — and Jones, for that matter — is eager to find a marquee matchup for the light heavyweight champion. There is a feeling among those close to Jones that he is diluting his brand by fighting lesser-known competition. That’s why the Jan Blachowicz fight, which was on the table for November or December, never materialized. A win over Blachowicz at this juncture doesn’t do much for Jones other than make him money.
But if Weidman, a former UFC middleweight champion who is best known for beating Anderson Silva twice when Anderson Silva was Anderson Silva, looks great at 205, that would be perfect for Jones. Reyes is another lesser-known fighter, but a big-time showing against Weidman, which would improve Reyes’ record to 12-0, might do the trick for him, too.
There are, like I said, big stakes on Friday. (That’s right: This card is on Friday, not Saturday. Please plan accordingly.)
The people’s main event
While Reyes vs. Weidman represents big stakes, the obvious PME choice is Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremey Stephens 2. In case you forgot, these two met less than a month ago in Mexico City, but the fight lasted just 15 seconds after Rodriguez accidentally poked Stephens in the eye. That resulted in a no contest and one of the ugliest scenes in UFC history, as the fans in attendance showered Stephens and the cage with all kinds of debris.
The two were caught on camera the next day in the hotel lobby exchanging not-so-pleasantries, which added fuel to the already blazing heat between the two. They’ll run it back in the co-main Friday night. Kudos to the UFC for finding a home for this fight rather quickly. Might as well strike while the rivalry is hot. I’m looking forward to it.
— Maycee Barber vs. Gillian Robertson, a fight between two up-and-comers at 125 pounds — not to mention two fighters on our top 25 under 25 list — is intriguing. The 21-year-old Barber has talked a big game since entering the UFC and thus far has backed it up. Robertson represents her toughest test to date.
— Deron Winn vs. Darren Stewart is another juicy one. These two have been going back and forth on Twitter for a few months. Winn is a protege of Daniel Cormier who looked good in his UFC debut in June.
— Also, how about Massachusetts’ own Joe Lauzon, who competed on the first UFC Boston event — UFC 118 back in 2010 — also fighting on this card against Jonathan Pearce. This feels like a must-win for the 35-year-old Lauzon, who has lost three in a row. What a run it has been for Lauzon, though. This will mark his 27th UFC fight. Remember his amazing debut? A 48-second knockout of former lightweight champion Jens Pulver at UFC 63 in 2006. Legendary moment. His 26 fights are tied for 14th in UFC history and third in lightweight history. His 15 fight night bonuses are tied for second-most with that of Nathan Diaz. It has been a great run.
— In addition to the UFC in Boston, we’ve got the second installment of the PFL playoffs on Thursday. Last week’s first installment was pretty good, I thought. The biggest problem PFL is facing right now is a stale roster. It feels like we are watching last year’s playoffs on repeat. I know that isn’t the case, but it’s a lot of the same names and faces, and very few have broken through.
Six of the 16 fighters scheduled to compete on the card were in last year’s playoffs, and though that isn’t 50%, those six fighters are without a doubt the biggest names on the bill: Lance Palmer, Andre Harrison, Chris Wade, Natan Schulte, Islam Mamedov and Rashid Magomedov. If I were in charge, I would refresh at least 90% of the roster next year.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk describes what happened as she cut weight ahead of her fight vs. Michelle Waterson, asserting that she was always going to make weight.
Helwani Show aftermath
My biggest takeaway from Monday’s show was that Joanna Jedrzejczyk should be next for strawweight champion Zhang Weili. With Tatiana Suarez still nursing that injured neck, there’s no one else, right? Well, we still await word on Rose Namajunas‘ status, and I know there was some talk about giving her a title shot right away. But I think that if she returns, she should fight someone else first. That leaves us with Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk, and I have no problem with that.
That is, of course, if Jedrzejczyk is able to make the weight in a healthy manner.
Other bold predictions coming off Monday’s show:
1. Tatiana Suarez will be a champion at some point. Here’s hoping her neck injury isn’t too serious.
2. Mike Davis is a name to remember. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him just yet. His boxing is impressive.
3. Before it’s all said and done, Cain Velasquez will have at least one more MMA fight.
4. A.J. McKee will win the Bellator featherweight Grand Prix.
5. Demetrious Johnson will finish his career as a ONE Championship fighter. Never seen him so happy.
6. All the changes Brian Ortega has made leading up to his return on Dec. 21 will prove to be a net positive. I don’t know if he’ll beat Chan Sung Jung, but in the long run, these changes had to happen.
“I didn’t really want anything to do with this sport.”
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) October 15, 2019
I enjoyed talking to Bareman, the City Kickboxing head coach. He represents everything an MMA coach should be: thoughtful, humble, smart, analytical. He doesn’t have a Twitter account, he isn’t a showman, he’s not looking to become famous. In fact, he’s genuinely uncomfortable doing media. We need more coaches like Eugene Bareman in this sport.
Hear and there
— Hindsight is 20/20, but I think the UFC made a mistake booking Kron Gracie vs. Cub Swanson. I think that level of competition was too big of a jump for Gracie. I’m curious to see how he evolves following his first pro loss.
— James Vick has now lost four straight fights, including three knockout losses. This skid was unexpected, considering he was 13-1 prior to the first loss in the streak. Those four losses have come in a 14-month stretch, so I hope he takes an extended break to let his brain rest.
— Francis Ngannou is frustrated, I’m told. He has to wait for Stipe Miocic‘s eye to heal, followed by a potential Miocic-Daniel Cormier trilogy fight and then a potential Miocic-Jon Jones fight before he’ll be considered for another title shot. The UFC doesn’t seem eager to book him anytime soon, and he’s losing patience. I’d push for a Jones-Ngannou super-fight, but that’s just me.
— Speaking of Miocic, there’s no timetable for his return, I’m told. Apparently, the eye injury he suffered was worse than expected.
— I’m tired of frivolous appeals in MMA. Very rarely does a call get overturned based on an appeal, which is what we saw Tuesday when the California State Athletic Commission denied Aspen Ladd‘s appeal of her loss to Germaine de Randamie in July on the grounds of gender discrimination. Instead of wasting time on these appeals, I’d like to see the powers that be spend more time developing better officials and paying them more. Don’t get me wrong: Officials should be held accountable. But these appeals aren’t working. How about we try to fix judging and officiating before the fact rather than after?
— All quiet on the LFA front. If you haven’t been paying attention, LFA, one of the best regional promotions on the planet and an exceptional feeder league to the UFC, has gone dark since AXS TV was sold to Anthem Sports & Entertainment in September. LFA was subsequently dropped from the programming schedule. Since then, LFA has had to cancel two events, and it appears that it won’t hold another one until a new TV deal is signed. Here’s hoping that happens because promotions such as LFA are an integral part of the sport’s growth.
— I think it would be cool if Bellator’s Dec. 29 event in Japan were held in a ring as a nod to the Pride days.
— Please no more 155-pound women’s division, PFL. I’d like to see Kayla Harrison test herself against 145ers, and I don’t think there are seven other legitimate 155ers on the planet. It seems like a Kayla Harrison showcase division. It worked for this season, but I think it would be a mistake to bring it back.
— UFC is discussing adding a January pay-per-view to its schedule, sources say. Initial plans were not to have a PPV then, but if they can sign a big main event fight, they are open to doing one.
— Remember Austin Hubbard‘s health scare following his win in Vancouver? I’m told he’s back to 100 percent, amazingly, and itching to return to action before the end of the year. He apparently heals like Wolverine.
— All the best to Bethe Correia‘s sister, Tatiana, who is currently battling breast cancer.
— Oct. 19 is a special day for me. It will mark the 12th anniversary of my first official day as a full-time MMA journalist. On that day in 2007, I launched JarryPark.com. My goal was as follows: Every morning for six months, I posted an audio interview with a fighter in hopes of someone noticing me and offering me a job as an MMA media member. I gave myself six months to get noticed: from Oct. 19, 2007, to April 1, 2008. If nothing materialized in those six months, I would go back to TV production, which is what I was doing before I decided to roll the dice on this career.
Luckily, with three days left on my deadline — on my future wife’s birthday, no less — I got an offer from the late, great MMARated.com. Thanks to all who have been on this journey with me since then.
I love Wednesdays. I get to do Ariel & The Bad Guy for ESPN+ and the Helwani Show pod. Among the topics Chael and I will discuss today are greatest MMA rivalries, the return of Joanna Champion, Cain Velasquez to WWE and UFC Boston.
Meanwhile, on the Helwani Show pod front, I’ll talk to my colleague Marc Raimondi about being backstage at the PFL playoffs last week, ESPN boxing writer Mark Kriegel about his time with Georges St-Pierre and his protégé boxer Artur Beterbiev, and filmmaker Micah Brown about producing the 30 for 30 “Chuck & Tito.”
Hope you’ll check out both shows.
Nine years ago this week, I covered my first event in London. It was UFC 120, headlined by Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama. I was very excited to cover a Bisping fight in London, and this one was especially exciting because the UFC held a Fan Expo before the event. Earlier in the week, UFC president Dana White was invited to speak at Oxford University. Legendary British combat sports journalist Gareth A. Davies offered to drive me to the talk. Davies is one of the most eccentric media people I’ve ever met, so I thought the drive to Oxford would be fun.
It was, and it was highlighted by Davies going on and on about how famous he was in England. I had no reason to think otherwise and suspected he was telling the truth. But the best part came after we stopped to get some food at a gas station. As I’m ordering a sandwich from the counter, the gentleman working at the shop asks, “Are you Ariel Helwani?” Right next to Gareth. I asked if he knew of Gareth, and he said he didn’t. It was glorious.
Friday’s card will mark the sixth time Boston is hosting a UFC card, and let me tell you, the Beantown fans have seen some great moments.
Here are my favorites:
1. Conor McGregor beats Dennis Siver and jumps over the cage to confront Jose Aldo.
2. Dominick Cruz beats TJ Dillashaw to regain the UFC bantamweight championship.
3. Randy Couture beats James Toney.
4. Chael Sonnen submits Shogun Rua in the main event of the first card on FS1.
5. Daniel Cormier beats Volkan Oezdemir in his first fight since getting knocked out by Jon Jones.
After Cruz beat Dillashaw to regain the bantamweight title — his first victory in almost three years — he gave me one of the best answers anyone has ever said to me.
I asked him if that victory signified the greatest moment of his life.
His response: “No. The greatest moment in my life was realizing I didn’t need a belt to be happy.”
I get chills just thinking of that answer. I wasn’t expecting it from him because he worked so hard and overcame so much to get that title back. It’s an answer I’ll never forget.