Hot Tweets: The Korean Zombie’s touching farewell, and the women’s flyweight title picture

UFC Singapore was full of significant moments this past Saturday. Max Holloway sent Korean Zombie off into the sunset, Erin Blanchfield scraped out a win over Talia Santos, and Anthony Smith fended off retirement just a little bit longer. Let’s talk about all of that, plus a teaser for UFC Paris on Saturday.

Farewell, Zombie.

First off, if you somehow missed it, go ahead and watch the final time Zombie exits a UFC cage. It’s a legitimate FEELS moment.

I’ve never had 15,000 people singing my adopted theme song in a show of affection for all that I’ve done, but I have to imagine it feels pretty good. For Zombie to go out like that, that’s special, man.

Zombie’s walk to the cage was also pretty damn fire. I couldn’t find video of it to repost, but go check it out if you missed the event. Zombie walking out to The Cranberries has always been one of the better ones in the game, and you could feel the emotion in there, as we all knew this could be the final time. Chills.

As far as best of all-time, for the retirement walkout, maybe. No other ones come to mind where a fighter was really soaking it all in the way it felt like Zombie was. As for exits, it’s a firm no. Don’t get me wrong, that sendoff was touching and awesome — one of the best ever — but Lawler locked up GOAT retirement earlier this year. The video montage, Robbie freaking Lawler getting choked up, the Sam and Dave needle drop (after Lawler walked out to Last of the Mohicans instead), it was all perfect. It’s going to take something awful special to top that one.

Also, I love this new thing the UFC is doing where instead of feeding beloved veterans of the game to young fighters who no one cares about, they are sending legends out in a manner befitting their contributions. More of this, please.

What could have been

In the broadest of strokes, I don’t think his career would have been that much different. Zombie’s career ultimately tells a pretty clear story of who he was as a fighter: Great, but never the best; thrilling, but never perfect. Four more years of fighting during his physical prime probably wouldn’t have changed that too much. Jose Aldo still would’ve been there after all, and I don’t think Zombie was ever scaling that mountain. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Being the fourth best guy in the world is an absolutely ludicrous accomplishment, and being that guy while also being the most exciting fighter in the world is nearly unparalleled.

What Zombie missed out on, and what we as fans missed out on in those four years, was simply more of him. Zombie vs. Chad Mendes, Ricardo Lamas, prime Frankie Edgar — all would’ve probably happened during that time if Zombie was able to fight. Any one of those fights could’ve ended up being a “Fight of the Year” contender. Heck, given the timeline, maybe Zombie is the guy Conor McGregor fights instead of Dustin Poirier. Maybe Zombie beats McGregor and the sport is irrevocably changed? Honestly, it’s hard to know exactly what we missed out on.

What I do know is this: The Korean Zombie is one of the most beloved fighters of the modern era, and there is a huge swath of MMA fans who really don’t understand it because of when they entered the sport. Sure, they can appreciate the love everyone else has, but they weren’t there for the Poirier war, or the Leonard Garcia fights, and when he came back in 2017, they were just finding out about him. What Zombie missed out on in those four years is simply more time for more people to fall in love with him. Fortunately, he still ended up doing alright.

Flyweight title picture

I got many different versions of this same question, and I get it. Blanchfield narrowly edged out Taila Santos on Saturday in a fight that the UFC did not care about. With Rose Namajunas facing Manon Fiorot (who is laughably ranked above Blanchfield in the UFC’s rankings) in the co-main event of UFC Paris, there’s a very real possibility that Rose jumps over Blanchfield for a title shot with a win. And by possibility, I mean that is certainly what’s going to happen here.

Let’s be clear, if Namajunas beats Fiorot, then she does deserve a title shot, just not over Blanchfield. But she’s going to get it over Blanchfield because not only is Namajunas a former champion, she’s also a decent sized star in MMA. People love “Thug Rose,” and in 2023, popularity is the biggest single factor in earning title shots. Blanchfield simply isn’t there yet. She’s just the best flyweight on earth, and that only gets you so far.

And that’s the frustrating part here. It seems pretty evident that Blanchfield is the future of the flyweight division, and the UFC saw fit to disregard this fight for no discernible reason. I mean, they gave her a headlining spot against Jessica Andrade, she delivered the best performance of her career in that fight, and then they give her the toughest out in the division buried on an early morning main card? What the hell kind of promoting is that? Blanchfield isn’t a boring fighter, and she also has a decent personality. She could be the female Khabib, if the UFC would get behind her.

Instead, it looks like the UFC is fully in on the idea that a Namajunas vs. Alexa Grasso or Valentina Shevchenko fight is better business, and that’s probably true. But Namajunas is maybe the most mercurial fighter actively competing in MMA. Are you really trying to hitch your wagon to a fighter who lost a belt in a staring contest with someone she should’ve demolished? Personally, I’d try to promote both potential title challengers well, but that’s just me.

Ultimately, this isn’t going to matter all that much. Blanchfield is the best flyweight alive, and she’s going to win the belt sooner or later. I just would prefer it be the sooner option.

Blanchfield vs. Namajunas

No. Because Blanchfield is better than her.

Two things about this. First, there’s been a lot of hate out there for Blanchfield’s performance. That’s nonsense. Taila Santos is one of those fighters that is impossible to look good against. She’s physically imposing, defensively sound, and very well-rounded. She’s the Raphael Assuncao of women’s flyweight. Blanchfield grinding out a win despite Santos neutralizing her best weapons is a testament to Blanchfield — not a knock on her.

Second, I have no idea if Namajunas is going to be good at 125. The times Namajunas struggled at strawweight were when she just got physically bodied up. Fiorot probably won’t be able to do that to her (though she might, Fiorot is a hoss), but Blanchfield absolutely would. Blanchfield has a great chin and is a far superior wrestler. Unless adding 10 pounds dramatically improves Namajunas’ ability to defend takedowns, she is going to get worked, if they do fight.

Anthony Smith

The only difference would be that Smith would have the title of UFC champion. That never leaves, but the belt certainly would have as he would have immediately rematched Jon Jones and gotten thoroughly outpointed again. I guess he’d have a little more money, but that’s about it.

Also, remember when Aljamain Sterling won the belt by DQ? Smith would’ve become a villain overnight and would be considered one of the most paper champions in UFC history. People would still hate him for it, and UFC President Dana White would probably go on a full blown campaign to overturn the result so Jon Jones can have a perfect record.

So really, it probably wouldn’t have been worth it to take the DQ. But it was gritty performance against Ryan Spann on Saturday. Smith is past his prime and never was a great fighter, but “Lionheart” has always been an apt name for him. Dude has zero quit in him, and that was enough to steal one from Spann and keep his fighting career off life support.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! 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 Hot 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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