Monday Mailbag: Seriously, who gets to challenge Alexandre Pantoja? Plus, UFC 299 vs. UFC 300

UFC Vegas 87 is in the books, which means it’s on to the biggest combat sports weekend of the year! On Friday, Francis Ngannou faces off against Anthony Joshua in a boxing match in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And then on Saturday, UFC 299 takes place, a fight card that has some wondering if it’s even better than UFC 300. It’s a big weekend coming up and some critical stuff just happened, so let’s talk about it.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik, King of the APEX

I’ll be honest, given how lackluster the main event was this past weekend, and the fact that it really didn’t mean much to the heavyweight division, I didn’t anticipate getting any questions about Rozenstruik vs. Shamil Gaziev. But this is easy so let’s knock it out.

The long and short of Saturday night is that Gaziev is not very good. That’s harsh, but it is what it is. Yes, he had a 12-0 record and scored a bunch of finishes, but the quality of competition was really bad prior to the UFC, and even Marin Buday is not exactly a world beater. When I did a breakdown of the most recent season of Contender Series, I put Gaziev in the “Just Another Guy” category and I stand by it. He’s a big dude who can hit hard and grapple some, but he’s 34 and has three minutes of cardio. He’s the same as Martin Buday and Augusto Sakai and Blagoy Ivanov and basically every other nondescript heavyweight.

For his many faults, Jairzinho Rozenstruik is an accomplished fighter with some ability. No, he’ll never be a champion, but he’s been consistently competing against quality competition and he only loses to the good fighters. He’s a perfect gatekeeper to the top 10, and on Saturday, he held the gate closed.

The Flyweight Title picture

Last week I was asked this question and my answer was simple: Brandon Royval could get it, but I think Muhammad Mokaev will get the next crack at Alexandre Pantoja if he wins at UFC Vegas 87. Welp, Mokaev won, but I don’t think he’s getting the title shot.

Full credit to Mokaev, he’s 23 years old and already one of the best fighters in the world in his weight class. And Alex Perez is a tough out to be sure. But that is not the type of performance that makes Dana White stand up and declare you next. So what does that mean for Pantoja? There are three possible outcomes.

  1. Royval gets the title shot. I hate this outcome a lot and I hope it doesn’t happen, but it might be the most likely. He just got a win in the main event of a big card. So what if he got rinsed by Pantoja two months ago? This sport has the memory of a goldfish.
  2. I’m just going to assume Amir Albazi cannot compete at UFC 301 given a neck injury forced him from UFC Mexico City and that seems tricky. But Manel Kape can. Would it be ridiculous to give Kape a title shot after blowing weight and not even fighting his most recent booking? Sure. But would it be better than Royval getting another shot so soon? I kinda think so. And when you add in that Kape is from Portugal and would have every single Brazilian wanting him to die, I honestly think this is a viable outcome.
  3. Rumors have been swirling for months that Kyoji Horiguchi could be returning to the UFC. Do that. If I’m Dana White, Kyoji is getting a call today upping our offer and telling him he’s got an immediate shot at Pantoja in Rio. The only downside is that this is the best and coolest option, which means it probably won’t happen.

As for Pantoja headlining Brazil? No chance. Flyweights aren’t even allowed to headline most Fight Night cards. No shot the UFC makes its return to Brazil with Pants as the main. Pantoja vs. X will be the co-main event, and I would bet a lot of money that the UFC is hoping beyond hope that Jailton Almeida beats Curtis Blaydes so the main event can be Almeida vs. Tom Aspinall for the interim heavyweight title.

Steve Erceg

First, (Mike) Heck of a knockout from Erceg. That’s exactly what you wanted to see from him. He shook things up with his debut by immediately cracking the top 15 at flyweight, and now in his third UFC fight he put up a highlight. “Astroboy” is legit and there’s a world where a lot of us feel foolish for leaving him off our “Rookie of the Year” lists.

Second, one great performance does not surpass a bunch of them. Sure, Mokaev underwhelmed in context, but Alex Perez is also a much tougher test than Matt Schnell. Mokaev has not quite lived up to some of the lofty expectations placed upon him, and I have legitimate concerns about his long-term potential when he seems averse to actually damaging opponents, but the man has six UFC fights and four submissions. Erceg is still behind him.

Francis Ngannou, heavyweight boxer

I doubt it drops at all, honestly.

By just about any definition, Ngannou is playing with house money here. He got his fight with Tyson Fury and 95 percent of people assumed that would be it. One big payday and then he’s back to MMA. But he knocked Fury down and arguably won the fight (he didn’t, but people like to grade on curves), and now he has many more chances at boxing purses. And at the same time, nobody expects him to do it again, because it’s not reasonable to think so. Anthony Joshua is an elite heavyweight boxer. Francis is a rookie. If Joshua comes out and styles on him, then that’s just meeting everyone’s expectations.

I’d be pretty surprised if Joshua styled though. Don’t get me wrong, I expect Joshua to win cleanly, but I doubt he’s going to look all that flashy doing it. Ngannou is enormous, insanely durable, and packs the sort of power that demands respect, especially from a guy like Joshua who isn’t exactly bulletproof. I strongly suspect this fight ends up looking like a lot of veteran vs. up-and-comer fights where Joshua soundly out-boxes Ngannou for 10 rounds. A ton of jabs, pressure, and activity, all while prioritizing his own safety. Ngannou has a puncher’s chance; Joshua is going to take that away and win a workmanlike decision.

And while I’d be surprised if Joshua styled on Francis, I’ll be downright shocked if he sleeps him. One thing Ngannou does not get nearly enough credit for is his otherworldly chin. When have we seen him remotely hurt? Go watch the first Stipe Miocic fight again. Ngannou is completely gassed out after four minutes, and for the next 21, Miocic — renowned heavyweight puncher that he is — barely puts a mark on his face. If you’re dead tired and Stipe can’t put you out, I really don’t think anyone is going to do it in 12-ounce gloves.

Joshua by unanimous decision.

UFC 299 vs. UFC 300

There’s been a growing amount of support that UFC 299 is better than UFC 300, and to those people I have but one question for you: Who is your dealer? Because I need his number.

UFC 299 is a sick card. It’s a legitimately fantastic pay-per-view and the sort of stacked card you wish the UFC would do more often. But it’s not in the same ballpark as UFC 300. There’s been a pushback on 300 since the main event was far from the “knock your socks off insanity” that was promised, but it’s still a damn good fight. So let’s compare the two cards head to head.

Sean O’Malley-Chito Vera 2 vs. Alex PereiraJamahal Hill

Even. If you want to give an edge to O’Malley-Vera 2 on the basis of star power, sure. But it’s a rematch and Chito doesn’t really deserve this shot. Plus, Alex Pereira rocks.

Dustin PoirierBenoit Saint Denis vs. Justin GaethjeMax Holloway

I shifted the 300 bout order because this is damn near the same fight. These two bouts are 1A and 1B in preseason Fight of the Year voting, and the A and B can be either side. No advantage either way.

Kevin Holland-Michael ‘Venom’ Page vs. Weili Zhang-Yan Xaionan

Holland vs. Page will probably be a fun fight because of who they are, but any answer here other and the strawweight title fight is lunacy. Weili is one of the most exciting women in MMA and Yan is coming off her career-best performance. Clear advantage 300 and it’s only getting bigger from here on out.

Gilbert BurnsJack Della Maddalena vs. Charles OliveiraArman Tsarukyan

We all love Burns and JDM, but be for real. Oliveira-Tsarukyan might be for a title fight and it is No. 2 in the preseason Fight of the Year voting. 300 is building a lead.

Petr YanSong Yadong vs. Jiri ProchazkaAleksandar Rakic

Bantamweight is much better than light heavweight, so maybe 299 claws a little bit back here depending on who you are, but I’m not sure if you people have seen Jiri Prochazka fight. He is always the most exciting dude on a fight card. Even.

Curtis Blaydes-Jailton Almeida vs. Calvin KattarAljamain Sterling

Kattar-Sterling is actually a sixth main card fight for UFC 300 which gives it a bit of a boost, but even without it, it’s still a walk. Blaydes-Almeida has a high chance of being boring. Calvin Kattar does not know what that word means but he’s pretty sure he hates it. 300 separating now.

Katlyn Cerminara (nee Chookagian)-Maycee Barber vs. Deiveson FigueiredoCody Garbrandt

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Stop the damn match! Seventh Round TKO victory for UFC 300.

Again, 299 is a fantastic card, and the top end is truly excellent. But top-to-bottom, UFC 300 is unparalleled. If we had gotten into the early prelims, guys like Josh Parisian are going had-to-head against Bobby Green and Jim Miller. It’s simply not a fair fight.

On paper, UFC 300 is the best fight card assembled in 20 years, if not ever.

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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