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July has always been an important month for the UFC and its fighters, but with COVID-19 putting kibosh on International Wrestling Week, the promotion is rather embarking on a trip to “Fight Island”. Even if it is in fact only a return to the island of Yas in Abu Dhabi, if the marketing team of the UFC insists on selling a fantasy, we may as well play with it and propose the question:
Who will leave as sovereign of “Fight Island? “
To be more precise, who has the most to gain from a win in the next four weeks? Is he a short-term savior Jorge Masvidal? New champions looking to capitalize on their heritage? Former Title Holders Get Another Gold Crack From UFC? Contenders looking for vacant titles that could stabilize their divisions? Or one of the other popular names that is just a dramatic victory away from reclaiming glory?
The islands are full of opportunities, that’s what we’re saying, so here to choose a name to rule them all, it’s Alexander K. Lee and Expert UFC Fight Island Jed Meshew.
THE MAN FOR THE JOB
Lee: I keep the suspense for you: it’s Jorge Masvidal.
Before Gilbert Burns’ regrettable withdrawal from the main event of UFC 251 due to a positive COVID-19 test, there were a number of fighters you could have argued for the most to gain on “Fight Island “.
Burns himself, of course, could have made an astonishing transformation from light middleweight to UFC welterweight champion. Champions Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski are looking to build on their emerging heritage, while the great featherweight Jose Aldo has the opportunity to become a two-division champion. Max Holloway could make his defeat against Volkanovski a footnote in his legend, while Petr Yan, Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo are looking for that first taste of the undisputed supremacy of the UFC. Even Paige VanZant has a story that deserves to be watched as she struggles to potentially leave the UFC with as much leverage as possible.
But once Masvidal signed on the dotted line to replace Burns, passed his COVID-19 test, and boarded the plane in Abu Dhabi, he immediately became the most interesting man in the UFC.
Already from a 2019 campaign that ranks among the most shocking in terms of the speed with which he turned his career (keep in mind, Masvidal entered in 2019 on a fight of two fights and a layoff Masvidal was ready for a massive 2020. His five-second knockout of Ben Askren and the “BMF” title he won by beating Nate Diaz made it a hot product. A shot at Usman’s welterweight belt was intended to occur.
Then came the public dispute with the UFC over compensation and the release of a lot of dirty laundry. According to Masvidal, he was offered less for a fight for the UFC title than to make the front page of UFC 244 against Diaz and it was definitely not good for Masvidal and his team. He would hold out and if that happened, he would be released from the business to pursue other more lucrative opportunities. The Usman fight was dead.
Until that is not the case. Burns withdrawal being announced just eight days before UFC 251, officials had to scramble and unsurprisingly, Masvidal, a veteran of nearly 50 fights who is also a legend of street fighting in Miami, who answered their call.
With one more victory, Masvidal silences all the skeptics who still consider him a companion. He climbs to the top of a class that never expected a fighter like Masvidal to have his name affixed to the marquee. He wins a belt – a real belt – which not only says he is the best in the world in his division, but that gives him another hammer to bring to the bargaining table (mileage can vary here as champions like Jon Jones and Randy Couture are well aware of).
Perhaps as important as all of that for Masvidal is that he truly manages to live up to his reputation as a fighter who has always said he would face any opponent anywhere. Yes, he has become more vocal about his demands now that he has leverage, but the fact that he is ready to challenge Usman with essentially no time to prepare and instead of having to face a week of testing, travel and media coverage, sending the strongest message possible that “Gamebred” is exactly what it claims to be.
You cannot put a price on credibility. Win or lose, Masvidal will always have this in spades after saving this main event, but a victory makes it really untouchable. There are surely a lot of highlights to be had in the next four weeks and many fighters will have moments that will resonate for a while, but a Masvidal triumph will not be missed. Each resident of “Fight Island” will have to pay tribute to their new king.
LE SHOW CLOSER
Meshew: I mean, look, it’s hard to argue with Masvidal here, for all the reasons you just described. But let’s be honest, choosing “Gamebred” is the smart and smart choice, and no one has ever accused me of being one of these things. And although you’ve just described a very strong argument for why Masvidal has the most to gain, it ultimately fails for a number of reasons.
First of all, it’s too easy. Low hanging fruits can be ripe for picking, but they are not as good as the meal you have to work for. This is called getting up by your bootstraps. Have you ever heard of it?
Second, it happens too early in the life of “Fight Island”. After UFC 251, there will be three more events in the space of two weeks in Abu Dhabi. This kind of saturation will drown all the events of the first events. Think about it: 2020 already seems to last around 47 months. Add three events in nine days and when people think about UFC 251, they’ll say, “Shit, it’s like there is a life. Recency bias is a powerful thing (just ask Joe Rogan re: Max Holloway GOAT status) and it will kick Masvidal in the teeth.
Speaking of kicking Masvidal in the teeth, the biggest problem with your argument is that Usman is going to put the wood in “Street Jesus”, which means no matter how much he has to win, the point is without object. Masvidal could fight for the title of king of the world, with a gold-plated scepter and a trained hyena that poops the best Mezcal, it won’t matter. It is simply outstanding.
Make no mistake, Masvidal is a great fighter and a deserving challenger, but Usman is one of the top three fighters on the planet and the only reason people don’t talk about it anymore is because he was a thought an afterthought in all the various oxen and stories in the welterweight division in recent years. Soon everyone will recognize how special Usman is and when they do, we will all look back and think it is crazy that many people thought Masvidal was going to “baptize” him.
So given all of that, the King of Fight Island can’t be Masvidal, but neither can it be Usman. What Usman really needed was a fight against Ben Askren to improve his profile (or an extended media campaign for this Masvidal fight) and now he’s going to have a slow progression. No, the King of Fight Island will be none other than the King of MMA Photoshop himself, Darren Till.
In the very last fight in “Fight Island”, Darren Till faces former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, and in all honesty, it’s one of the fights that I am most passionate about. Going from Till to middleweight always seemed like a good idea and beating Kelvin Gastelum on his first outing was as strong a start as you could hope for. Now he has the chance to consolidate his status as a serious competitor by taking on another former welterweight.
More specifically, if Till beats Whittaker, he is the next middleweight competitor (after Paulo Costa). The UFC loves Till and beating Gastelum and Whittaker would be more than enough to warrant a highly marketable title fight between Till and champion Israel Adesanya. Can you imagine how fun it will be? Adesanya is on the verge of a major turning point and Till is exactly the kind of opponent who will bring out the best in him at the microphone. Adesanya vs. Till is going to be one of the biggest fights of 2020.
And of course, it will happen because Darren Till will beat Whittaker. I have a great affection for “Bobby Knuckles”, but I think it’s hard to believe that the 50 minutes he spent in the cage were clubbed by Yoel Romero does not have irrevocably changed. Hear how Whittaker talks about Romero, then realize that he fought this monster for a hell of an hour. Some fights just change you as a person (think Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit) and that was one of them. Whittaker may still be a great fighter, but he won’t be what he used to be and Till will enjoy it.
Till is not only going to beat Whittaker, he is going to score a spectacular knockout to close the show on Fight Island and for weeks after, Till’s performance is going to be the one people talk about. Ultimately, the King of Fight Island will be determined by who will hold the most interest, and it will be Till. So, *with the most perfect Scouser accent you’ve ever heard * Fu ** ing let’s get it!
Who has the most to gain with a victory on “Fight Island?” “
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