Monday Mailbag: Is Misfits PRIME the beginning of the end for influencer boxing? Plus big changes at UFC 294

It was a notable weekend in combat sports, what with Edson Barboza delivering a sensational comeback at UFC Vegas 81 and the whole Pat MiletichMike Jackson fiasco, but all anyone seems to want to talk about is UFC 294 this weekend. Well, that and the Misfits Prime Card, so let’s dive in.

KSI, Logan Paul, Dillon Danis, and the future of influencer boxing

It’s not crazy but I wouldn’t go counting those chickens just yet.

Let’s start here. Depending on your tastes, you may have absolutely hated the Misfits Prime card and the fact that we as a website are covering it, but l’m going to level with you: You’re in the minority. An incredible number of people are into this stuff, and who am I to tell them they’re wrong? Whatever floats your boat, I always say, and this event was high tide at the full moon: A lot of boats got floated.

But to your point, AK, that’s a double-edged sword. This event drew an astounding amount of interest and, ultimately, kind of failed to deliver in that regard. The main event between KSI and Tommy Fury was among the worst fights of the year across any sport (I’ve seen more compelling fights in youth soccer games) and the co-main event between Logan Paul and Dillon Danis was arguably even worse. Both of those bouts were little more than hugging contests, and in the case of the co-main, it was annoying in that Danis talked a lot without actually trying to do anything. Danis at least made things somewhat interesting in the end by intentionally getting himself disqualified and starting a brawl, but these were dreadfully boring affairs that some people paid a good amount of money for. That’s definitely less than ideal.

The issue, though, is that I’m not entirely sure anyone watching cared. The people who tune in for these things are exclusively fans of the headliners, and fandom dies hard, especially these days. I’m not sure that bad fights, loses, or a clear and obvious lack of skill makes any difference. People who like KSI are going to tune in, because that’s what they do. Now, how long will KSI or the Paul brothers want to carry on doing this? That’s anyone’s guess.

Ultimately, I do think the entire influencer boxing thing is a fad, and all fads slowly fade away, but this one probably won’t any time soon. So long as the top guys want to keep doing it, they can draw interest from their base, and given the money that attracts, they will always find someone marketable to stand opposite them. Eventually we will get the KSI vs. Jake Paul matchup that has been building for years, and I’ll reassess after that, but until that time, I don’t believe Misfits and company are going anywhere.

Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski 2

Last week, we learned that Charles Oliveira suffered a pretty nasty cut and was removed from his rematch with Makhachev at UFC 294 this Saturday, and instead of going to the backup fight, Volkanovski got the call to step in on short notice. Many people were thrilled about this. I was not one of them. Makhachev-Volkanovski 1 is the best fight of 2023 and one of the better fights of the past few years. In a vacuum, we should all want to see a rematch. But life doesn’t happen in vacuums and this is about the worst-case scenario for them to run it back, in my opinion.

Just to get ahead of this: The first fight did not demand a rematch. Makhachev clearly won three rounds and arguably won four. Volkanovski overachieved expectations, but that’s not how we score fights. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

That being said, the fight was great! And part of what made it great was the build-up, the preparation, and two of the very best guys in the world crafting specific game plans for one another and effectuating them. Now? Volkanovski is coming off hand surgery and stepping in on short notice. If he was preparing for this fight like some seem to think, that’s a little better but still not ideal. And on the other side of things, Makhachev was preparing to face about the most opposite possible opponent in Charles Oliveira. These are not the circumstances for two guys to bring their best, and more importantly, to adapt to their first encounter.

Moreover, the outcomes of this matchup are almost all bad. If Makhachev wins, Volkanovski is now fully done at lightweight (so long as Islam has the title) and he’s probably out for awhile, meaning Ilia Topuria — a man who undeniably deserves his shot at the featherweight belt — is either on ice OR he’ll fight Max Holloway. There’s like a 30 percent chance we’re getting Volkanovski-Holloway 4 next summer, which is awful.

On top of that, lightweight is the deepest, best weight class in MMA. Justin Gaethje deserves a title shot and like three other dudes are absolutely in the conversation as well. And instead, the UFC keeps letting the featherweight champion jump the line, meaning Gaethje is up a creek, particularly since Oliveira is ostensibly still next in line. There is a very real possibility that the first two years of Islam Makhachev’s title reign are simply him fighting Oliveira and Volkanovski a bunch, and in a weight class like lightweight, that’s unspeakably lame.

And if Volkanovski wins? Things are arguably even worse. Volkanovski winning probably sets up a trilogy, that’s more time things are backlogged and more deserving contenders missing out in two of the best divisions in the sport! And that’s assuming Volkanovski doesn’t immediately try to get a welterweight title shot (which if he wins on Saturday, he absolutely should). I simply do not understand why we cannot just be happy with champions defending their titles against deserving challengers and cleaning out weight classes before going straight to champ-champ fights. Call me crazy, but I don’t think beating Yair Rodriguez at 145 merits a lightweight title shot.

Anyway, the short notice is probably worse for Islam, as Volkanovski has allegedly been preparing for several weeks already for this fight, meaning he’s had more prep time while Makhachev has been planning on fighting a completely different style of opponent. Ultimately it may not matter, but I guess we’re going to find out.

The other UFC 294 change

Last week was chaotic as on top of the main event changing, the co-main did as well, with Kamaru Usman replacing Paulo Costa against Khamzat Chimaev. The whole thing came entirely out of left field, and like the main event, it has some positives but is ultimately negative, for me.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t care at all about Chimaev vs. Costa. It simply did not resonate with me. This fight is, as a pure fight, something I’m much more interested in seeing, and thus, it’s addition to UFC 294 probably did bump up my estimation of the card. My issue with it is that Dana White has already said that the winner gets the next middleweight title shot. And while that’s not unexpected, it still really, really sucks.

Dricus du Plessis has done as much as anyone ever to deserve a title shot and he’s going to get passed over because the UFC is mad about its own crappy planning, and it’s taking it out on him. That’s honestly the sort of thing that makes me not want to watch. (I still will, I’m just saying it makes me actively think about that, which is not good business.)

This is where I will also mention that while many were cool to the idea of Makhachev-Oliveira 2, I had come around to the fight as a compelling matchup. Oliveira is a smart fighter and I think there are adjustments he could have made to trouble Islam, and I was excited to see it play out. So the shift from Oliveira to Volkanovski is a lateral move for me, and as such, the last-minute changes to UFC 294 made the card more obviously appealing to casual fans, but did NOT earn an extra Meshewlin Star.

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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