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Europe1: Did Michelle Waterson just scuttle her own title-shot chances by turning down the catchweight or does the mom-champ meme triumph all?
Under normal conditions, Waterson turning down a catchweight fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk would be the perfect way to torpedo her chances of competing for the strawweight belt. If history is any indicator, playing ball with the UFC helps in securing an opportunity to win a title. Kamaru Usman certainly benefited in his quest to jump the line ahead of Colby Covington when he agreed to be a backup fighter in case either Tyron Woodley or Darren Till couldn’t answer the opening bell for the UFC 228 main event. Looking back at Jon Fitch’s failed bid to secure a rematch against Georges St. Pierre despite a five-fight winning streak, it’s hard to not to make the assumption that butting heads with the promotion about his video game likeness rights was a factor in that snub. Waterson may be a different story, however. It’s clear that she’s been a favorite of the promotion lately. She’s frequently been featured as a guest fighter at different events and is getting a bit more camera time than other title hopefuls in most other divisions. Being a marketable female fighter (translation: attractive) and being represented by UFC ownership would likely preserve some of those good graces. For the record, it makes perfect sense for “The Karate Hottie” to turn down an altered bout against Jedrzejczyk or a short-notice replacement. Her three-fight winning streak put her on the short list of obvious 115-pound title challengers. She’d be risking too much with such dramatic changes to the circumstances. As a natural atomweight, Waterson will already be outsized against a former champion who recently tested the waters at flyweight. Giving Jedrzejczyk leeway on the scale would go completely against her interests. However, after much drama was generated with the reports of a failed weight cut that hadn’t really started yet, veiled death threats to Mike Bohn and rumored replacement fights, it was all for naught. Jedrzejczyk made weight without any visible issues, and Waterson’s perpetually pleasant disposition stayed intact as she hugged her opponent immediately afterwards.
Europe1: Before Tai Tuivasa’s fight, all we heard was how he was super motivated and now took the sport seriously (he even woke up before 9 p.m.). Then he goes out there and gets head-and-arm thrown by a heavyweight. This is a narrative we commonly hear from fighters, yet often, we do not see the results. Do you think it’s just hype talk to fill airtime, or do fighters genuinely seem to believe they’ve put in the extra gear?
Another great question from Europe 1 must be answered. I believe that the pre-fight talk is the combination of hyperbole and filler with irrational self-belief. In the buildup to a fight, combat sports is all about perception. The promoters have to make us believe that whatever is up next is going to be the greatest spectacle ever seen and is a perfect reason to recite those three numbers on the back of your bank card. The fighters, especially from their own financial standpoint, would like to convince you of the same thing. The more people are watching them, the better their chances are of cashing out at some point. However, the fighters have the added factor of needing to believe what they say. They have to be confident in their abilities and step in the cage without doubts, so if you ask them, this is their best training camp ever. They’re in the best shape they’ve ever been in. They’re completely prepared for everywhere the fight takes them. As someone who has done a decent number of media-day interviews, I can assure you that is typically all you will hear. Tuivasa likely walked into Marvel Stadium completely convinced that he was able to handle anything Sergey Spivak threw his way. He probably meant every word he said about his training and taking things up a notch. No matter how much belief there is, reality will also have its say. Sometimes, reality and words don’t exactly agree.
Kono dio da!: What style do you think would give Israel Adesanya the most trouble? Who do you think can actually beat him? Also, how good do you think his wrestling is? Could that be his weakness?
You might be right. Adesanya might be in the most trouble if he were to face a good wrestler. The problem is no one has really been able to crack the code yet. To make things even more difficult for the rest of the middleweight division, every hole that becomes apparent in his game seems to get closed by his next fight. Against Marvin Vettori, Adesanya was stalled in the clinch and smothered through significant stretches. That kept his kickboxing skills on ice and seemed to tire him out pretty quickly despite the fact that he got his hand raised in a split decision. When he fought Brad Tavares just a few months later, he had no problems handling those same problems. By the time he fought a strong wrestler in Derek Brunson, Adesanya sliced right through him and scored an easy finish. For all of the hardships he faced as Kelvin Gastelum found his way inside the pocket at UFC 236, Adesanya looked like a completely different person when Robert Whittaker attempted a similar game plan. It’s hard to say how good Adesanya’s wrestling is because we just haven’t seen enough of it. What we do know is that he is rapidly improving at negating wrestling. Until we see someone force the issue in a different way, wrestling skills just don’t matter for “The Last Stylebender.”