The allure is strong and yet not without intense self-reflection, even self-flagellation.
Combat sports is my escape in a collapsing world.
A world I have come to peace with because I have no choice but to do so. A world that somehow has contrived to provide a lucky bum like me a life of love, adventure, and realization. A world full of scary and glorious unknowns.
With that little intro, let’s dive into UFC 239’s crackerjack main card, while I dust off my crystal ball.
(Hey, way back in May 2016 I predicted that the comb-over rapist would occupy the White House. Now that’s one helluva start to my crystal ball gazing. Admittedly, my fight predictions haven’t been as on point. I lost my “zero” solely because of a sociopathic man-child who also happens to be the greatest light heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time…more on that soon.)
So, the UFC 239 main card takes place in a few hours today, Saturday, July 6th, 9pm central. I’m only doing three big fights of the main card because I have some sense of all the fighters and have seen a few fights of each – in addition to their styles, strengths etc.
Let’s start with the main event, Jon “Bones” Jones (the aforementioned man-child and fighting savant) versus Thiago “Marreta” Santos (whose nickname means hammer…he even has a sledge variation of the same tattooed on his torso). Jones is a -600 betting favorite, which for the gambling-uninformed means he is MASSIVELY favored to win this fight. Jones is the reason for my sole loss in the crystal ball gazing, back when I predicted Gustaffson to defeat him in UFC 232 in Jones’ title defense.
Well, I’m risking another loss by going with Santos. I don’t know. It’s just a feeling, most likely just hope. In addition, I almost always want the underdog to win. Mind you, he’s only got the proverbial puncher’s chance, which really should be changed to “striker’s chance” in MMA but what a chance he is giving himself. Brawling power with absolute fearlessness in the cage. And from what I can tell, he seems to be a really caring, honorable guy who gives back to his community without the usual fanfare. I like good human beings winning nice things for themselves and their people. Vamos Marreta, fight your fight and wrench hope from the bowels of darkness…
***Santos by TKO (and NEW UFC Light Heavyweight Champion)***
The co-main event is for the women’s bantamweight title with my favorite female fighter, the awe-inspiring, two-weight champion, Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes (the greatest female MMA fighter of all time in case you were wondering) versus another all-time great, former bantamweight champion, Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm. This will be a stand up, striking battle unless one is getting thoroughly outclassed in a round and shoots for a takedown in order to survive. I think Holm will bring the fight to Nunes and it will go the distance, but I think Nunes will take a solid decision. Holm has phenomenal striking no doubt, great boxing and muay thai, with decent movement, but Nunes has two exquisite weapons that any striker dreams of having in tandem – sniper accuracy with serious power. She stalks, throws accurate bombs without going crazy, and then when she’s hurt her opponent, she has one of the greatest blitzes in the game. Her first round TKO of Cyborg, where she came in as a betting underdog only to became the first female two-weight champion, was a knockout artiste’s dream. The scary thing is that I think she still has a while to go before she hits her peak. Imagine a killer submission game along with powerful leg kicks added to her arsenal. She can keep those two belts a while and very soon, seriously lay claim to being the greatest MMA fighter ever. Even if Holm pulls off the upset (which would put her easily in the top two or three greatest female fighters of all time), Nunes still has the featherweight title, not to mention an automatic rematch for the bantamweight crown. She is in a rare position to stake a claim and continue her path to all-time greatness without losing too much of a step, even if she loses this fight. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen…
***Nunes by unanimous decision (and STILL UFC Bantamweight Champion)***
Prior to the two title bouts, is the apparent “people’s main event” (so dubbed because mindless social media traffic constitutes “people”). Nonetheless it’s a mouth-watering affair and I’ll admit that this is the fight I’m most looking forward to in the card. A welterweight fight and a possible shot at the belt up for grabs, with “Funky” Ben Askren and his scrambling-heavy, elite-level wrestling style taking on “Gamebred” Jorge Masvidal’s street-fighting background and excellent, technical boxing skills. Both of these guys are colorful characters to say the least, but in very, very different ways. Suburban scholastic meets urban rough and tumble with all the internecine frictions. Masvidal needs to keep the fight standing while Askren will do everything he can to get the takedown and a submission or TKO. In the cage I love the strikers in stylistic matchups, but that’s only because I came into martial arts via striking sports like boxing and kickboxing and NOT because I think the grappling arts are any less effective (though they can be boring as fuck at times).
Usually when great MMA strikers are matched against great MMA grapplers, the grapplers have simpler paths to victory, based on grinding your opponent down to the point of tiredness and then getting a submission, TKO, or decision victory (Askren of course incorporates a lot more scrambling than just muscular grinding). Strikers on the other hand usually emerge victorious when they can match volume and power with great defensive wrestling, a slightly more complicated skill combination to master. Grappling cardio also holds up better than striking cardio in the later rounds. In the early years of MMA as a sport, the grapplers ran roughshod through the strikers for this main reason. Over the last decade or so however, one can see the tables turning. That skill combination I mentioned above is now integrated early on into training because people are starting to train from the get-go in MMA (which ultimately at its core, is a striking sport with some grappling, as opposed to the other way around – something grapplers in the early years tried). Indeed, I’d say we’re entering a new era of MMA strikers dominating the sport.
Having said that, I’m leaning towards the grappler here. I think Masvidal has great technical striking and defensive wrestling, but is not as powerful as many of the other welterweights around. He also likes brawling occasionally, which plays right into Askren’s game. From what I’ve seen in past fights, Askren can take a hit and keep coming. He is also a takedown artiste. I think Gamebred will catch Funky with some shots, enough to make this a serious fight and maybe even prove me wrong, but I think ultimately Askren gets the takedown and a submission win.
***Askren by submission (with a shot at the welterweight title as reward, or, wait for this – a shot at the inaugural title for the spanking new 165 pound division!)***
MMA is a sport where adult human beings, usually with families and responsibilities, get into a cage to beat each other up under controlled circumstances for performative glory and apparent reward.
I can appreciate that because I understand the fear and pain of getting hit.
But I also know I’m finding ways to rationalize my escape…