Monday Mailbag: Alex Pereira makes history at UFC 295 and Tom Aspinall makes his case to Jon Jones

UFC 295 is in the books and a whole mess of wild stuff happened. Alex Pereira is now the ninth person to become a two-division champion in UFC history (and the fastest to have done so), Tom Aspinall might just be the best heavyweight in the world, Jessica Andrade reminded everyone who she is, and a new contender emerged at lightweight. Let’s chat about all of it and more.

Alex Pereira, Perpetual Anomaly

Heading into UFC 295, one of the many storylines at play was how entirely unprecedented Pereira’s UFC career has been. Winning a title in only your fourth fight in the promotion is already an insane feat, but one we’ve seen a couple of times before. But winning a second title just three fights later? This is entirely unique ground. And here’s the real kicker of it: I’m still not sure Pereira is good!

I mean, he’s obviously a good fighter because he keeps beating very good fighters. But it’s also entirely fair to recognize that his seven fight UFC career has been almost exclusively matchups where he can have success. He fought one true “grappler” and he was terrible, and everyone else he’s faced has primarily been based in the striking arts. Sure, Jan Blachowicz tackled Israel Adesanya several times, but that’s not where his bread is buttered (also, Pereira arguably lost that fight). By virtue of being marketable from Day 1 and competing in two weight classes not populated by many high-level grapplers, Pereira has not had to fight a tough stylistic matchup. Could he win them? Sure! He bonks people real hard. But could he also, like, get dummied on the floor by Brendan Allen? Totally possible! And now this man has won two titles! Crazy.

But for as crazy as it is, Pereira is not really in contention for Fighter of the Year honors this year. For one thing, he won last year so people will be more inclined to give it to someone else. More importantly though, he doesn’t deserve it. Yes, what he’s accomplished since this summer is fantastic, but we can’t erase what happened in April: Israel Adesanya hung the KO of the Year on him. That alone is going to keep him off most ballots this year.

Pereira Legacy

While Pereira didn’t win Fighter of the Year honors on Saturday, he did do something else that’s arguably more significant: He locked up his future Hall of Fame induction. Of the eight other multi-division champions in UFC history, four are currently in as individuals and the other four at locks to be inducted when they retire (or next year for Amanda Nunes, who retired this year). By joining that small group, Pereira is essentially guaranteed to be inducted into the Hall one day, meaning he’ll be a GLORY and a UFC Hall of Famer. That’s pretty damn special.

But as special as that is, he hasn’t passed Adesanya or Khabib Nurmagomedov, at least not if we’re just talking about MMA. Adesanya doesn’t have two belts, but he’s the second-best middleweight of all-time and a first-ballot Hall of Famer in his own right. Pereira would need more to jump over him. And as for Khabib? He’s the greatest fighter of all-time in the best division in the history of the sport. He’s undefeated, and more than that, he lost two rounds in his entire career. I love Pereira, but there will never be another Khabib.

Tom Aspinall

Man, y’all see Tom Aspinall thump up Sergei Pavlovich? That was something. We knew he could do it, but to watch the ease with which he dispatched a man who has been running roughshod over the rest of the division, that was impressive. So impressive he’s now the No. 1 heavyweight in the MMA Global Rankings, and it’s well deserved. In a normal world, Aspinall — now the interim heavyweight champion — would wait and fight the undisputed champion Jon Jones when Jones returns from injury. But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Jones is going to fight Stipe Miocic sometime next year. It’s a vanity matchup that has no real bearing on the heavyweight division and at this point seems unnecessary, but come hell or high water, it’s happening. And once that’s over, Jones is going to retire. He’s basically said as much already. So Aspinall isn’t going to be able to wait around for the winner of that fight because the winner won’t fight him. Unless…

Jones vs. Aspinall is the fight to make. We all know this now. It’s not Jones-Ngannou, but after Saturday it’s damn close. And since Jones won’t take that fight of his own volition, we’re going to have to gaslight him into it. The entire MMA media and fan base needs to come together and start saying things like, “Jon Jones’ legacy is not secured unless he fights Tom Aspinall,” and “Is Jon Jones dodging Tom Aspinall?” If we all band together and get this narrative rolling, Jones might catch wind of it and his ego might overrule his savvier instincts.

Don’t let me down, y’all.

Face off

It was a sign of respect between dudes who were about to go out there and beat the bejesus out of one another, and because of that it was lovely. Not every fight has to have bad blood. This was the nonverbal equivalent of, “Finally, a man worth killing.” That’s the sort of thing everyone loves.

Title Reign

Given how impressive he’s been, I’ve been on the Tom Aspinall train for a long time now. I had him as my No. 1 heavyweight weeks ago, and considering his youth, it should come as no surprise that I think he’s likely to hold the belt for some time to come. If you asked me to pick a number for title defenses for Aspinall, I’d say four, which would set the new record. The only reason I’m not going higher than that is that heavyweight is so volatile, it’s hard to feel confident in a six or eight fight reign.

That being said, my best guess is that the guy who inevitably unseats Aspinall isn’t currently a major commodity in the UFC. The sport is evolving rapidly and contenders come out of nowhere these days. Curtis Blaydes or Ciryl Gane probably have the best chance of beating him from the current contenders, but I think the far more likely outcome is a new talent emerges and rises quickly and unexpectedly.

Oh, and for Lopes, see below.

Diego Lopes

No. He doesn’t deserve one quite yet. Two sensational wins and a better-than-expected showing against Movsar Evloev doesn’t warrant getting a fast-pass to the top, particularly when those wins were against just good opposition. I’d like to see Lopes fight one other guy hanging around the top 25 of this weight class before getting a ranked name. Jack Shore would be my first choice.

Mackenzie Dern

Mackenzie Dern Derned all over the cage Saturday, showing a brief glimmer of her grappling pedigree before collapsing when faced with elite opposition and talented striking. Dern is still a top-10 fighter at strawweight and maybe even still be live to win a title some day (she has a super power and a few good breaks mean you can’t entirely discount the possibility) but at this point, the cake is baked. Dern is one of the best grapplers in the world but she’s quite possibly the worst wrestler in modern MMA history. Seriously, she’s shockingly bad at it. And if you can’t get the fight to the ground, being the best at grappling doesn’t matter all that much.

Now, that might not be the case if Dern was also an elite striker, but that’s not really in play anymore either. Jason Parillo gave her a good jab, and that’s better than nothing, but she is still one of the most panicky fighters I’ve ever seen. She’ll jab for a minute and have a rhythm and then just randomly run forward blindly. She fights like someone who is both afraid of getting hit and terrified of staying still, which is all the more strange considering she has a very good chin.

The reality is, some people just don’t have that part of it. Dern appears to be one of them. She can still have success, but instead of working on striking I’d say she should practice double-legs because that would be the biggest boon to her.

Benoit Saint Denis

Arguably the biggest story coming out of UFC 295, non-Tom Aspinall division, is the arrival of BSD to the big time. Saint Denis obliterated Matt Frevola and will now find himself ranked in the UFC’s lightweight rankings (and the MMA Fighting one too) and at only 27-years-old, the Frenchman appears to be one of the best prospects in the lightweight division. Granted, lightweight is the best, deepest division in the sport, so things could all go belly up for him at any moment, but that doesn’t seem likely. I think BSD is going to be right there alongside Usman Nurmagomedov, Arman Tsarukyan, and Jalin Turner as the standard bearers for this division in a few years. Would I pick him to win a title? Probably not. But it seems likely he’ll get to fight for the belt one day and maybe even become the spiritual successor to Justin Gaethje as the lightweight violence king.

Future contenders

BSD is the obvious answer but the issue is in 18 months, he still probably won’t be anywhere close because of how slow lightweight moves at the top. Steve Erceg is the best bet for this as flyweight is much easier to advance in, he’s already decently ranked, and the 28-year-old has some skills. I wouldn’t bet it, but he’s got the best shot.

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 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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