Ariel Helwani’s MMA thoughts – Adesanya’s title win among UFC’s most memorable

Ariel Helwani's MMA thoughts - Adesanya's title win among UFC's most memorable

Did you miss me final week?

(Do not reply. I do know.)

I missed you, too. Loads.

And what a time to be again.

We now have an excellent Helwani Present lined up for Monday, there is a new middleweight king within the UFC, and this week’s slate of MMA motion is immense.

Actually, this can be a kind of uncommon weekends when UFC, Bellator, ONE, PFL, Rizin and Cage Warriors all maintain occasions.

The UFC card this weekend in Tampa, Florida — headlined by an vital strawweight battle between former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson — is numerous enjoyable.

Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event features two of the most popular women on the roster, with strawweights Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson squaring off in Tampa, Florida. In the co-main event, Kron Gracie will look to go 2-0 in the Octagon when he faces veteran Cub Swanson.

UFC Fight Night: Joanna vs. Waterson
• Saturday, Tampa, Florida
Prelims: ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Main card: ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET

Subscribe to ESPN+ to get exclusive live UFC events, weigh-ins and more; Ariel and the Bad Guy; Dana White’s Contender Series; and more exclusive MMA content.

It also features Kron Gracie’s highly anticipated sophomore UFC fight vs. Cub Swanson, the return of Mackenzie Dern after the birth of her daughter, James Vick’s welterweight debut and more.

Also of note, ONE Championship celebrates its 100th event with a two-part card featuring over 20 fights total this weekend.

Never a dull moment in MMA, right?

But before we get to all that, here are some thoughts on the week that was in MMA:

The lede



Israel Adesanya catches Robert Whittaker with a big right hand in the final seconds of Round 1. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+

There have been 90 title changes in UFC history.

Some have just come and gone in our minds, byproducts of perhaps an unexciting fight or a fighter we just weren’t emotionally invested in. It happens.

But longtime fans can definitely remember when the big ones happened. We all know where we were when:

You get the point.

Well, now we can add Israel Adesanya beating Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 to that list. And you know what? I’d put it pretty high up, too.

It all went Adesanya’s way Saturday. If we’re being honest, it’s been going his way ever since he debuted a year and a half ago at UFC 221 (still can’t believe his debut was in February 2018).

I remember debating with Chael Sonnen last summer whether they were pushing him too fast when they booked him against Brad Tavares in his third fight. I thought they were. Boy, was I wrong on that one.

Truth is, the UFC has handled Adesanya’s run perfectly thus far. Not since McGregor has it built someone up so well. And not since McGregor has someone made such an impact so quickly. And yes, you’re probably rolling your eyes at the McGregor comparison because it’s the hip thing to do these days, but it’s the most apt one. When’s the last time someone not named McGregor made an impact like this so quickly? (And no, Brock Lesnar doesn’t count because he was already a star in WWE and was gifted a title shot when he was just 1-1 in the UFC.)

So, back to Saturday. The walkout, the prefight theatrics, the first round, the finish in the second, the postfight interview … he nailed every step. Adesanya walked out there like a man who had already seen the movie we were all getting ready to watch for the first time. It’s like he was so sure about how this was all going to play that he was able to dance and smile from beginning to end. It was marvelous.

Keep in mind earlier than his debut when he walked into the cage and mimicked urinating in it like a canine claiming his turf? Keep in mind how some thought that was a bit crude? Like, who does this man assume he’s? Seems he had each proper to try this. And you understand what? I hope we see extra of that from Adesanya. I welcome somebody who’s keen to march to the beat of his personal drum — to hell with the haters.

What’s additionally enjoyable about Adesanya is he talks and acts like a fan. He subtly mentions well-known MMA strains when chatting with the media, like GSP’s “I am not impressed,” or casually references memes and TV exhibits that go over this 37-year-old’s head.

He’s enjoyable and a breath of recent air. He is simply what the physician ordered proper now for the UFC. Better of all, he appears grounded and comes from a loving household that seems to have an excellent affect on his life.

Time will inform how the Adesanya period will play out. Lord is aware of we have been responsible of getting too excited a couple of title reign solely to see it final one or two fights. However one thing tells me Adesanya’s run can be totally different. It has been distinctive from the leap, and I do not see that altering anytime quickly.

What’s subsequent?

Now, title modifications are enjoyable, however they’re much more enjoyable after we already know who’s subsequent. And within the case of Adesanya, we all know it is Paulo Costa, the proper foil for Adesanya proper now. That entire scene after the struggle was straight out of 1980s professional wrestling, and that’s just about one of the best praise I might give it. It was chic. I really like the warmth between these two. I really like how Costa’s disdain for Adesanya is forcing him to enhance his English each day and the way Adesanya mocks him. The buildup to that struggle can be nice, and whereas I do not assume it’s going to occur in January, as Adesanya steered Saturday night time, hopefully we’ll get it within the first quarter of 2020.

And do not get me began on a possible struggle towards Jon Jones sooner or later. I do know we’re a minimum of a 12 months or two earlier than that may (or must be) thought-about, however man, would that be a spectacle. That’s slowly beginning to grow to be my No. 1 dream match that at present would not really feel near taking place however I hope sometime will occur. Might you think about the hype for that struggle? Sheesh.

A story of two years

2 Associated

I feel this 12 months began off slowly for the UFC, and the timing wasn’t nice, what with the debut on ESPN and all.

Henry Cejudo-TJ Dillashaw ended too rapidly. The January pay-per-view obtained canceled because of a scarcity of a important occasion; Whittaker pulled out of UFC 234 hours earlier than the occasion; UFC 236, which featured two nice fights, earned the doubtful distinction of being the primary card headlined by two interim title fights; Rose Namajunas misplaced and hinted at retirement. … It simply appeared like a little bit of a down 12 months, particularly by way of star-making moments.

However I might say issues have modified dramatically within the second half of the 12 months, and impulsively, there is a good crop of champions percolating on the roster:

Israel Adesanya: See above. Khabib Nurmagomedov: an enormous star the world over. Jon Jones: the king nonetheless attracts. Colby Covington: We’ll see how he does on Dec. 14, however there is no denying he is obtained nuclear warmth proper now. Henry Cejudo: has finished an excellent job of constructing himself up throughout his break day. Max Holloway: actually coming into his personal however has a troublesome take a look at on Dec. 14. Amanda Nunes: the best feminine fighter ever. Zhang Weili: the face of Chinese language MMA. Valentina Shevchenko: a budding star, particularly again house in Japanese Europe.

And that does not embrace the (hopefully) returning Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal Tony Ferguson, Stipe Miocic (who’s at present nursing an eye fixed damage) … See what I imply? That is good things. All in all, I feel the longer term is shiny for the UFC, and the times of two interim title fights on a card ought to hopefully be a factor of the previous.

Nigeria, arise

How about Nigeria? Who might have predicted that the African nation would produce two UFC champions on the identical time? Actually, how about this nugget: Nigeria is now the primary nation not named the U.S. or Brazil to have two UFC champions on the identical time. Fairly exceptional.

The warmth is on

I plan on speaking about this on at present’s present, however with awards season arising, I really feel like we’re about to have an actual powerful choice on our arms for Male Fighter of the Yr, particularly if Masvidal beats Nathan Diaz subsequent month. You have obtained Adesanya, Masvidal and Cejudo as the principle candidates, and all excellent ones, too. Cejudo would possibly lose as a result of he could have fought solely twice this 12 months and each of these fights have been within the first half of the 12 months, however they have been each extremely spectacular wins. Then you may have Masvidal, who has reinvented himself with (so far) two wonderful performances. After which, in fact, Adesanya. I might make a really robust case for all three. And the way about Coach of the Yr? How do you determine between Eugene Bareman of Metropolis Kickboxing and Eric Albarracin, head coach for Cejudo, Patricio Pitbull (Bellator’s double champ), Paulo Costa and others? Powerful decisions.

The agony of defeat



Robert Whittaker suggestions his cap to Israel Adesanya, calling him “artful,” and says he is not going anyplace anytime quickly. For extra UFC, join right here for ESPN+:

I’ve mentioned this earlier than, however I have to repeat it once more: Nothing impresses me greater than when MMA fighters deal with a very powerful defeat with grace and sophistication. I am such a sucker for this. After all, we hate to see these women and men at their lowest, however repeatedly they amaze with the best way through which they can be sincere, reflective and fashionable in defeat.

Whittaker, as one would anticipate, was all that after which some Saturday night time. It was clear he was hurting inside. How might he not be? His title reign got here and went with out an official profitable protection (Yoel Romero is guilty for that, however alas) and was suffering from unhealthy luck and well being issues. But, right here he was in entrance of 50,000-plus followers with an opportunity to cement his place among the many greats of this sport. As a substitute, he fell in his adopted house nation … and he fell arduous. However there he was within the aftermath, gracious as ever. Inspirational as ever. Fact is, the truth that he was even in a position to struggle simply eight months after struggling a collapsed bowel is fairly darn inspirational in its personal proper, however simply seeing him deal with a heartbreaking loss like that was so admirable. Fortunately the poor sports activities are anomalies today. For all of the discuss of the cash struggle period, there is not sufficient discuss the truth that MMA champions have discovered to deal with defeat higher than most athletes on the planet. We have all seen the footage of the impolite athlete giving brief solutions after a loss that will not essentially outline their legacy. They simply misplaced a staff sport. In MMA, this can ceaselessly be a blemish on Whittaker’s file. But there he was, going through the music and doing so with a smile. Respect to him.

Shoot your shot

Dan Hooker seemed phenomenal in his win over Al Iaquinta. His sport plan was flawless. It felt like Iaquinta might by no means actually get going. However afterward, he raised eyebrows when he mentioned this:

“Dustin Poirier, I will smash your face in. Meet me in New Zealand, 2020, and I will finish you!”

Now, the second this occurred, I had a bunch of individuals tweet me one thing alongside the strains of, “What did you consider that callout?” Or, “You should be fairly proud of that, proper?” That is as a result of I gave a tutorial on the artwork of the callout on final week’s ESPN MMA Snapchat present (low-cost plug), and Hooker just about did all the things I mentioned it’s best to do in that second. I mentioned I dislike when fighters simply depart the “What’s subsequent?” query as much as the UFC, as a result of historical past has proven in case you shoot your shot, good issues occur. Simply ask Nathan Diaz.

Now, there’s something known as overshooting your shot, too. Kevin Lee did that years in the past when he known as out Khabib Nurmagomedov. It did not work. And that is what Hooker did final night time. I might be shocked if he will get Poirier subsequent, however hey, now he is being mentioned in the identical breath as a man who simply fought for the belt. Poirier even tweeted about him. He will get the rub simply by calling him out, and now they’re in the identical orbit. See how that works? Excessive marks throughout for “Hangman.”

Listed here are a couple of extra issues I beloved about UFC 243:

I beloved Adesanya’s walkout. Have we seen extra elaborate ones in MMA historical past? Completely. However I beloved that it was totally different and represented who he’s and what he is all about. Can we please have extra of that? Enjoyable is nice. Completely different is nice. Not each occasion or walkout must look the identical.

I beloved that factor he did earlier than the struggle the place he pretended to jot down one thing in a guide. Do I’ve any thought the place that’s from? No. I feel I am too outdated. However it was nice showmanship. Love that stuff.

I beloved how Adesanya gave his belt to his mother upon profitable.

I beloved the enjoyment on Adesanya’s father’s face when he greeted his son within the cage.

I beloved that shirt Costa was sporting and that he was flanked by his coach Eric Albarracin, who’s became one thing of a cross between Bobby Heenan and Greg Jackson.

I beloved seeing Megan Anderson have her greatest efficiency within the UFC in her house nation of Australia. Anderson has mentioned she’s handled shallowness points and nervousness, so to see her carry out that effectively — in what was her first struggle in Australia in nearly 5 years — was particular.

I beloved watching that Brad Riddell-Jamie Mullarkey struggle. Riddell is one thing of a Muay Thai icon out of New Zealand and one other Metropolis Kickboxing product. What a method to struggle in his debut. What coronary heart.

I beloved that walk-off knockout by Yorgan de Castro. It was Mark Hunt-esque towards a Mark Hunt protégé. The UFC appears to have one thing with the undefeated de Castro (6-0), who additionally works as a safety guard at Durfee Excessive in Fall River, Massachusetts. Hope these college students give him a pleasant, heat welcome in his return to work.

I beloved the promo that aired for the Michelle Waterson vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk struggle this weekend.

I beloved the truth that Rostem Akman is happy with his full physique hair armor.

I beloved that Daniel Cormier referenced WrestleMania Three on the finish of the published. If there’s one factor this week taught us, it is the similarities between MMA and professional wrestling are alive and effectively, and I really like that Cormier is not afraid to make that connection.

Talking of which …



After Brock Lesnar wins the WWE championship, Cain Velasquez confronts him within the ring and takes him down.

I very a lot loved seeing Cain Velasquez on WWE SmackDown on Friday night time. As you could know, there have been rumblings all week lengthy that he would seem on both WWE tv or for the upstart AEW promotion. However to really see Velasquez — who has competed in solely two professional wrestling matches — seem to confront his outdated UFC 121 foe Brock Lesnar was a bit surreal. I assume it felt like that since this profession renaissance looks like it has come out of nowhere and since Velasquez was by no means thought-about a charismatic man whereas within the UFC. Actually, that all the time gave the impression to be the knock on him. “Yeah, he is nice,” critics would say, “however he has no persona.” Effectively, guess what? He is now on the verge of a WWE run.

Now, can I play armchair booker for a second? I believed they botched his debut. I might have had Rey Mysterio and his son Dominik run in to actual revenge on Lesnar after he gained the WWE title. After which I might have had Lesnar beat them up actually unhealthy once more. And solely then would I’ve Velasquez crash the ring to interrupt it up and save his pals. I feel that may have been rather a lot higher than him simply strolling down the ramp with Mysterio. I believed Lesnar’s “I’ve simply seen a ghost face” was strong, however I want it was a bit extra dramatic. Nit-picking, I do know.

So, is that this the top of Velasquez’s UFC profession? Perhaps. He hasn’t closed the door publicly on a return, however it would not seem to be we’ll see him again anytime quickly. I do not get the sense he is itching to come back again quickly, both. He is loving each minute of this. And when you think about how poorly this 12 months began for him, it is good to see him completely satisfied once more.

Remembering Josh

The most effective insider within the sport, Ariel Helwani, and greatest persona, Chael Sonnen, break down the MMA weekend and sit up for the most important playing cards. Watch on ESPN+

Saturday marked the three-year anniversary of former UFC fighter Josh Samman’s dying. Samman was one of many nicest individuals I’ve ever met overlaying fights. He was an open guide who wore his ideas and feelings on his sleeve. Sadly, he died from what the Broward County, Florida, medical expert described as a possible drug overdose. Samman was an enchanting man who favored to jot down and in addition helped run a neighborhood promotion in Florida. He died at 28 — far too younger. His household and pals are holding his legacy alive with the Josh Samman Basis, which helps assist younger fighters and get their careers off the bottom. It is a great concept that has helped many fighters to this point. Josh was a visitor on my present as soon as, and we texted infrequently afterward. I actually favored him rather a lot. His final textual content to me got here after we noticed one another at a UFC occasion in Florida in April 2016. “Good operating into you tonight,” he wrote. “Hope you’re having fun with our state. Catch up subsequent week?” I wrote again, “Nice seeing you too, man. Deal!” Sadly, that catch-up by no means occurred for one motive or one other, and I remorse that.

Hear and there

Does anybody journey to extra UFC occasions than Henry Cejudo? My phrase. … Sergio Pettis is a free agent. I will not be shocked if ONE makes a robust run to signal him. Pettis vs. Demetrious Johnson is a strong struggle. … Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie is a superb struggle — and UFC 244 has actually come collectively properly, not like final 12 months’s MSG card — however I want Lee would have caught round at 170 longer. I do not assume it is wholesome for him to chop to 155.


Khabib Nurmagomedov, proper, defeated Conor McGregor a 12 months in the past, however the rowdy scene after the struggle is what MMA followers can be speaking about for years to come back. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile/Getty Photos

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor. Often I prefer to commemorate struggle anniversaries, however not this one. This struggle introduced out the worst in each males, and I do not bear in mind a lot of it fondly, from the buildup to the precise struggle to the aftermath. The struggle itself was truly entertaining, however it looks like a footnote within the story of this feud at this level.

As a substitute, let’s have a good time one other anniversary, we could? Oct. Four marked the 11-year anniversary of Seth Petruzelli’s inconceivable win over Kimbo Slice in Dawn, Florida. Now that could be a night time I am going to always remember.

As you could recall, Slice, then the face of the upstart EliteXC promotion, was initially scheduled to struggle Ken Shamrock that night time. Hours earlier than the occasion was set to air on CBS, I obtained phrase one thing was up with Shamrock and that he may be out of the struggle. That may be disastrous, I bear in mind pondering. By the point I obtained to the sector, I used to be listening to extra whispers that Shamrock was out. I lastly confirmed that he had formally withdrawn because of a minimize above his eye a couple of minutes earlier than the cardboard was about to start out, and that Petruzelli, the previous UFC veteran who was scheduled to compete on the undercard, was getting bumped as much as struggle Slice on an hour’s discover. I used to be very excited to get this scoop as a result of I used to be within the embryonic phases of my MMA reporting profession, so this was fairly large for me. I bear in mind writing the story for the late, nice whereas sitting on press row subsequent to the opposite media in attendance. Again then, Twitter wasn’t actually a factor, so I had no method of getting the phrase out in regards to the large story apart from to e mail each media outlet I might consider. I bear in mind sending that e mail and sitting again, simply ready to see what the response can be. Seconds later, slowly however certainly, I noticed a bunch of the media members have a look at me, go searching and frantically begin going to work. I bear in mind feeling fairly proud in that second. Nothing boosts a younger reporter’s confidence fairly like a juicy scoop, and I bear in mind feeling particularly cool when the voice of EliteXC, the nice Mauro Ranallo, quietly got here as much as me to offer me props on the news.

You realize what occurred subsequent: Petruzelli knocked out Slice in 14 seconds, and EliteXC by no means placed on one other present. A kind of wild nights that you will always remember in case you lived it. Similar to the night time Israel Adesanya made good on his promise to grow to be UFC champion. (See how that every one tied collectively?)

Monday’s Helwani Present lineup:

The undefeated Mackenzie Dern will struggle for the primary time since final Could on Saturday. AP Photograph/Leo Correa

1 p.m. ET: Weekend recap

1:25 p.m.: Jared Cannonier will look again at his current win over Jack Hermansson and talk about what’s subsequent.

1:45 p.m.: Mackenzie Dern will preview this weekend’s struggle towards Amanda Ribas

2:05 p.m.: Legendary boxer Mike Tyson will cease by to speak about his many tasks and the state of the struggle sport.

2:35 p.m.: Miesha Tate will preview this weekend ONE Championship 100 occasion.

Three p.m.: Max Holloway will sit up for his title struggle towards Alex Volkanovski at UFC 245.

3:20 p.m.: Bellator’s Jake Hager will talk about making his AEW debut final week and his subsequent Bellator struggle later this month.

3:35 p.m.: Brad Riddell will discuss his action-packed UFC debut on Saturday night time.

3:50 p.m.: Dan Hooker will mirror on his win over Al Iaquinta at UFC 245 and discuss what’s subsequent.

4:05 p.m.: New undisputed UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will look again on his win over Robert Whittaker and discuss his future.

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