Monday Mailbag: Max Holloway, Alex Pereira, Conor McGregor, and the sensational UFC 300

UFC 300 is in the books and it was everything we ever wanted. So many terrific fights leading to so many intriguing storylines. Plus, Dana White announced Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier for June, and Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler for this summer. There are so many fun things to talk about, we’re just going to jump right in and try to get to all of them.


Max Holloway cements legend status

ICYMI, Holloway was 10 seconds away from winning a unanimous decision over Justin Gaethje when he invited a brawl and then colded Gaethje just before the buzzer. It was rad.

It’s easy to be reactionary after nights like Saturday, but even taking that into account, I think it’s still safe to call Max’s high noon showdown a Mount Rushmore legendary moment. It’s very likely going to win Knockout of the Year and people are already calling it the greatest knockout ever. I think those people are pretty clearly caught up in the moment, but still, this is the sort of thing that lives forever. The scene, the stakes, the outcome, and the fact that many people were skeptical of Max heading into this fight (more on that in a minute) make it a transcendent moment in promotional history. It’s never going to pass something like Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar just because of the historical importance, but it’s in the pantheon, for sure.


Ilia Topuria

That depends. If Topuria was in Gaethje’s shoes and needed a knockout, yes. Yes, he would. Because people love Max so much and Max got it in his head that Topuria ducked him (ludicrous), there’s been a swift momentum toward “Ilia is scared.” Kids, that man ain’t shook. Not by half. If the fight is on the line and Max is offering chaos, he will oblige because Topuria is also a lunatic (in the good way).

But if Topuria is 10 seconds away from winning? Probably not. The man ain’t shook but he’s also not a moron. We love people like Max and Gaethje because they will risk it all for that moment at the end, but it’s not exactly smart. Unless you are Max and cannot be hurt by God nor man.


Why Max won

I got many things wrong at UFC 300, but the “BMF” title fight wasn’t one of them. Sure, I didn’t expect that ending, because no one did. But when this fight was announced and many people thought Max was cooked, I thought the opposite.

Holloway is just a really bad style matchup for Gaethje, in the same way that Poirier is a bad one for Holloway. Gaethje’s offense is built around his power and Max is invulnerable. Gaethje’s defense is built around covering up and Max throws long combinations and can work the body. All of that lines up extremely well for Holloway. And that’s exactly how it played out. Granted, the broken nose in the first round undoubtedly changed some of Gaethje’s fight, but that’s what you get for ducking down. Max had a read and launched the same spinning attack every time, and it kept landing.

The other thing is that for as much as I love watching Justin Gaethje fight, the man is nearly incapable of fighting to his strengths until it’s a last resort. He has a good jab but simply refuses to throw it until late into fights. It happened against Chandler and it happened in this one. Once he starts jabbing, Gaethje does a lot better, but by the time he figured it out in this one, he had a smashed schnoz and had been poked in both eyes. Not ideal!

Meanwhile, Holloway almost always fights as smart as possible. He and his camp make great tactical decisions ahead of every fight, and he executes them. Just look at the spinning back kick that I think was the most meaningful strike of the bout. (I know, the knockout, but if Max doesn’t knock him out, he still wins. If he doesn’t break Gaethje’s nose, that fight probably looks different, though still Max probably wins.)


The future

What’s next for Holloway is a great question. Personally, I would love to see the Ilia Topuria fight, but I’m skeptical that happens next, because Alexander Volkanovski still exists and, I assume, is still going to get an immediate rematch with Topuria. That then leaves Max to either wait for the winner, which could be a long time, or defend the “BMF” title. I think we know which of those he would choose.

And I would absolutely love to see him fight Charles Oliveira for said belt. The two fought before at featherweight but it was weird and not really even a fight. And also, they’re both so different from then. With Oliveira now out of the lightweight title picture, that’s what I hope happens.

When I was watching all of this go down on Saturday night, I had the thought that I missed out on the Four Kings era of boxing. I’m too young. But we are all lucky enough to be living through the Four Kings era of MMA, where Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and Charles Oliveira are winning belts, fighting each other, and delivering the goods time and time again. Let’s keep that going.

As for Gaethje, I doubt he’ll retire, but we don’t have much left. He’s out of the title picture now and so I suspect we get a few more chosen fun fights. Gaethje vs. Oliveira 2 is an option, as is Gaethje waiting to fight Conor McGregor after the Michael Chandler fight. But first, time off. That’s a gnarly knockout and he needs some rest.


Alex Pereira

ICYMI, Alex Pereira obliterated Jamahal Hill to retain the light heavyweight title.

Justin Gaethje is the most obvious DAMN! They Were Good candidate in the history of the show. He is the sort of fighter the program was built for. Him and Lawler are 1A and 1B of the most exciting dudes to ever lace up four ounce gloves. But yeah, Pereira’s DAMN is going to be four hours long and weird as hell.

Despite him demolishing Jamahal Hill with almost dismissive ease, I’m still not convinced Pereira is the best light heavyweight alive. Like, he’s pretty clearly a limited fighter! But it doesn’t seem to matter because he’s Jedi mind tricked everyone in the sport to always give him the fight he wants. That superpower plus being the actual hardest pound-for-pound puncher I have ever seen allowed him to speed-run a Hall of Fame career. It’s insane and the most fun thing going in MMA the past couple of years. I can’t wait to celebrate him.


Heavyweight

ICYMI, after UFC 300, Pereira called for a fight at heavyweight at UFC 301 in Rio next month. People immediately went to a Tom Aspinall title fight.

Nah, let’s not do that. I have minimal interest in watching Pereira face Aspinall at this point. I’m very tired of champ-champ fights, primarily because it messes with the timeline. You can’t do Pereira vs. Aspinall in three weeks in Rio, so then it would have to be for the Manchester pay-per-view and that starts shoving back deserving contenders in both weight classes.

No, Pereira called for a heavyweight fight next month because he wants to fight in Rio, he’s healthy enough to do so, but he can’t make the light heavyweight cut again so quickly. And I’m A-OK with that. Remember when we used to let Anderson Silva take random light heavyweight fights? Or when Pride champions would face total oddballs just to stay busy? Let Pereira do that! Pull Derrick Lewis from the St. Louis fight card and have him fight Pereira in Rio in May. That would rock.

As for an eventual fight between Pereira and Aspinall, I’m not all that enthused by it because I know how it goes. Unlike Jamahal Hill, who fought one of the very best strikers alive — a man who boops people with unnerving, effortless power — and said, “I’m going to stand up with this man because I am levels better than him at striking and y’all just don’t know how good I am,” Aspinall is not a rube. He’ll take Pereira down and beat the hell out of him, because that’s how anyone who isn’t consumed by hubris and has self-preservation instincts will fight him.


Light heavyweight title picture

As the man driving the “Magomed Ankalaev is the best light heavyweight on Earth” train for the past four years, this is an extremely possible outcome. They don’t like him, and if Walker said he was game for Rio, it’s on the table. But the good news is it wouldn’t be for the title because of the weight and I think Ankalaev is going to get a crack at Pereira before the year is out.


Rematch?

If we’re lucky, we get that rematch. Otherwise it’s Ankalaev going full Dagestani on MMA’s greatest treasure.

As for Hill, Jiri Prochazka makes some sense but that’s the kind of matchmaking I hate. if Hill wins, it kills Jiri and he’s still out of the title picture because of his own loss. Give me Hill vs. Aleksandar Rakic.


Rematch

ICYMI, Jiri Prochazka overcame a tough start to samurai the hell out of Aleksandar Rakic on the prelims.

Lumped these together as they are similar.

God, I love Jiri. A few weeks ago we learned that being a hoss is the strongest MMA style. This week, Jiri reminded us that the second strongest style is being a lunatic.

Poor, foolish Rakic came into this fight thinking that all he needed to do was be a competent, well-rounded fighter who did the right things at the right time. And for five minutes, he was having a great night, punching Jiri, blocking shots, moving out on angles, winning the fight. But MMA is not a sport for rational actors. MMA is a sport for unhinged chaos merchants.

After disdainfully walking right into Rakic’s best shots for a round, Jiri simply decided that he was done with this nonsense and Rakic had no answer to the berserker madness that ensued. Very few people do! You either have to be able to go to the depths of chaos with him, or pack a nuclear option that renders his violent cacophony silent. Pereira has the latter and it makes him a tough opponent.

If Jiri does get the rematch with Alex, he has no choice but to be the mad samurai. It’s all he knows. And it’s not like he didn’t have success in the first fight. He can do so again. But maybe just have some tiny sense of self preservation, and like, keep your hands up a bit. Other than that, embrace the wild and hope the die roll comes up in your favor.


Arman Tsarukyan

ICYMI, Arman Tsarukyan took a split decision over Charles Oliveira to establish himself as the probable next lightweight contender.

I’m very high on Tsarukyan as a fighter, but I give him a very low probability of success against Islam Makhachev. Many will disagree with me, but it’s just a tough style matchup for him. Makhachev is simply better than Tsarukyan in all phases of the game. There’s no shame in that, but it really limits his options to win. Contrast that with someone like Oliveira who, I would never pick to beat Makhachev, but at least he has clear avenues to do so.

Off the top of my head, Tsarukyan would need to mix things up as much as possible and try to take Makhachev down, but Islam is a much better defensive fighter on the feet, and just the more powerful, threatening man. I actually scored that fight for Oliveira because Tsarukyan got position but never did anything with it. That’s not going to work against Islam.

This is one of those fights that I think Tsarukyan will be competitive in defeat without ever looking like he had a chance to win.


Other fights

ICYMI, Aljamain Sterling beat Calvin Kattar in a wretched fight to watch, Kayla Harrison defenestrated Holly Holm, and Deiveson Figueiredo randomly submitted Cody Garbrandt.

  1. Zero chance Sterling gets a title shot off that performance. It was really, really bad to watch. Credit to Aljo, smart fight, got the win, but that was arguably my worst viewing experience of 2024, and I saw Madame Web and Argylle in theaters. I think you do Sterling vs. Movsar Evloev for a fight that will have spectacular positional grappling and be truly miserable to watch.
  2. Harrison is absolutely getting a title shot after that performance and she’s going to win the belt. Another thing I was right on this week was that Harrison was going to prove the doubters wrong about the weight cut and look exceptional. Mission accomplished. Now, was she helped by Holly Holm going to the Jamahal Hill school of Fight IQ and choosing to clinch with the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka? Yes. Yes, she was. But that was inevitable. Remember, HOSS is the strongest style, and Harrison is strong in the HOSS.
  3. No, but he does get something close. Figgy Smalls looks quite good up at bantamweight and feels like you can go ahead and pull the trigger on Figueiredo vs. Chito Vera. That will be quite fun and might get Figgy a title shot if he wins.

Conor vs. Chandler

Conor very much needs to beat Chandler this summer because Michael Chandler isn’t good and it hurts the résumé to lose to people who aren’t good. But he’s not fighting Max Holloway. Not if he knows what’s good for him.

Simply put, Conor isn’t great anymore. At the time he was great, he wasn’t as great as many thought he was, and that time is now past him. There’s no telling what he’ll look like returning from this injury, but it’s extremely unlikely that he comes back better. Conor became a glass canon and that’s who he’ll be for however long he keeps fighting. That is a HORRIFIC thing to be against Max Holloway. Max would absolutely dog-walk Conor in a rematch. It would not be remotely competitive, and no one in Conor’s camp should allow it to happen.

No, Conor is going to beat Chandler (I think?) and then he’s going to get a title shot because this sport is very silly and that would be very bankable. But if Conor is fighting for a third title, it’s for the welterweight belt. Lower risk to the legacy than losing to a featherweight you already beat.


Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in tweets (Xs?)! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again, and see y’all next week.

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