Monday Mailbag: The return of Jose Aldo and the Bryan Battle vs. Ange Loosa debacle

Well, UFC Vegas 88 happened. It was definitely a thing that happened, putting us one step closer to the majesty that is UFC 300. These next few weeks will be tough, but that’s okay. Mid APEX cards build character.

Speaking of mid, some things happened on Saturday that actually are worth talking about. From the absolute nonsense of the co-main event, to the unexpected Jose Aldo comeback at UFC 301, let’s dive into the biggest topics of the weekend.

Jose Aldo

While this won’t be the thing that takes up the most time (that’s next question), undoubtedly the biggest news this weekend was that UFC Hall of Famer and featherweight GOAT Jose Aldo is coming out of retirement to fight Jonathan Martinez at UFC 301 in Brazil. This was entirely unexpected and I have a lot of feelings about it.

First, Jose Aldo rules. He’s the clear featherweight GOAT and one of my favorite fighters of all-time. So him returning from retirement at age 37 to take on a young, hungry fighter is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I love to watch him fight. On the other hand, this fight is so, so dumb.

What does this fight do for either man? If Martinez wins, he gets old, retired Aldo on the résumé, and doesn’t even get a rankings boost. If he loses, it’s to old, retired Aldo. And on the other side, a loss means little to Aldo, but what does a win mean? He’s No. 14 in the UFC bantamweight rankings? Hooray? Plus, there is a the extremely real possibility that Aldo leaves the UFC after this fight, which is the last one on his UFC deal (unless he signed a new one). I would say the most likely scenario here is that Aldo fights out his deal and then moves on to other stuff. So really, something was ventured here but nothing gained.

What would have made infinitely more sense, as Alexander points to, is a fight with Dominick Cruz. This is one of those long-theorized superfights that we never got, and was even the rumor when it began to look like Aldo was coming back. Not only would that add some much needed juice to UFC 301 (the card is rough for a pay-per-view) it’s also the sort of legend fight that doesn’t need to lead to anything. Just wish fulfillment for the fans. God love Jonathan Martinez, but the only people that care about him fighting Jose Aldo are blood relatives.

That being said, there is one aspect of this fight that I like a lot: Aldo can win it. Sure, Aldo is 37 going on 59, but the last time we saw him he was still damn good. Look at the difference between his fight with Merab Dvalishvili and Henry Cejudo’s fight with Merab. Aldo still has some tread on the tires, and Martinez is an opponent he can look good against, since Aldo is one of five MMA fighters who can check calf kicks. (Honestly, five might be overstating it.) If the time off and age don’t kill him, this could be another masterclass from the greatest defensive fighter in MMA history. Sign me up.

UFC Vegas 88 Co-Main Event

In case you didn’t watch this past Saturday (good for you, spend more time with your loved ones), the co-main event fight between Bryan Battle and Ange Loosa was a total fiasco. Battle was comfortably beating Loosa until the two clashed into each other, one of Battle’s thumbs went into Loosa’s eye, and the fight was ultimately stopped by the doctor when Loosa said he couldn’t see.

Then, in a show of elite sportsmanship, Battle berated Loosa about “looking for a way out,” called him a bunch of names, gave a post-fight interview where he said more of that, and then kept doing it after the fight. Then, in a mind-boggling bit of commentary, Dominick Cruz said he agreed with Battle questioning “where did all that energy come from” regarding the near post-fight brawl.

There’s a lot to unpack here, all of it bad, so let’s start at the top: It’s reasonable for Battle to be frustrated; after all, he was winning, and now he won’t get a post-fight bonus. That being said, it was a deeply childish response to what happened. Loosa didn’t shove his thumb into Battle’s eye (he did head-butt him, but Battle didn’t seem to notice). You did the bad thing, Bryan. That sucks, live with it. Next time don’t post off on a dude’s face.

The only way Battle’s response is even remotely acceptable (it actually never is, be a grown-up) is if Loosa is transparently lying. Battle clearly believes that’s what happened, and I guess I can understand him feeling that way in the heat of the moment, but it’s an objectively stupid idea. Yes, Battle was winning, but it wasn’t some cataclysmic ass-beating. (Statistically, it was whatever.) He won a comfortable 10-9 first round and we were 60 seconds into the second. Loosa was far from out of the fight and maybe he could have rallied. There is genuinely no reason to think Loosa was lying other than you hate him personally, hate all fighters, or have simply set aside your ability to reason. I mean, what does Loosa gain by lying? It’s not like he gets his win bonus for a no-contest, and now he doesn’t even have the opportunity to win the fight.

“Oh, but where was that ‘I’ll kill you energy’ when the doctor was talking to him, smart guy?”

I don’t know, man, have you ever been angry? It’s incredible what blind fury can do to overtake sensibility, pain, basically anything. Once, when I was a kid, I broke my collar bone, and I was playing with some friends and one of them was being super annoying and I snapped and headlocked him. It was a really bad decision and I paid for it afterward, but that’s with rage can do. If you’ve never experienced that, congratulations, you are a Vulcan. But for the rest of us, there is a world of difference between being unable to see but choosing to fight on despite the handicap, and personal vendetta.

That is BY FAR the most likely scenario of what happened. It’s is overwhelmingly more likely that Loosa got poked in the eye, legitimately could not see out of that eye, and communicated that to the doctor, not that he’s a lying coward who didn’t want to fight any more after losing one round. Seriously, if you simply operate from the assumption that Loosa isn’t lying about his injury (which should be the bare minimum set of assumptions afforded to all fighters) then this entire situation is extremely obvious.

Which brings us to the real issue, because as much as I disliked Battle’s childish reaction, I can at least put some of that down to the heat of the moment. What I cannot allow for — and what no one should be OK with — is Cruz’s commentary on the situation. When serving as a commentator, the expectation is for objective neutrality towards all fighters, because that’s what the profession demands and what the fighters deserve. Coming out and functionally saying, “Ange Loosa is a chicken and didn’t want to fight,” is an astounding error to be made by an employee of the promotion. (For what it’s worth, Bisping attempted to privately tell Battle he agreed but was caught on mic — also a bad look, but at least it was an error of execution and not a deliberate statement from a promotional entity.) Imagine Tony Romo covering a 49ers game and saying, “Chase Young is a wuss. He doesn’t want to be out there.” He’d be fired before halftime!

Not to mention that Cruz is himself a fighter and should know how insane of a position that is to take. How many times has Cruz dealt with some belligerent fan questioning his integrity without any factual basis? Hell, how many people are about to go on Twitter and call him scared for not fighting Jose Aldo in Brazil? Fans on Twitter feeling this way is one thing, but for a man who has lived it to just completely set that aside is unbelievable.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Loosa was lying and was totally fine: What is gained by Cruz’s comments? Very little. Maybe a few fans feel vindicated and Battle feels supported later. But what if he’s not lying? Now you’ve increase amplified the idea that Loosa is a coward, and moreover, Loosa now knows that. He knows that the next time he’s fighting, one of the commentators might be a dude who will trash him to fans on mic. Does that sound like great business?

My biggest issue with all of this is that nonsense begets more nonsense. UFC has completely forgone any sense of professional decorum, which has created a spiral of negativity. Sure, Sean Strickland can say things we wouldn’t allow middle school children to say without recourse. Yeah, fans can hurl death threats or ask outrageously inappropriate questions at promotional events. Of course our commentators can directly question the integrity of a fighter under contract. Obviously our CEO can commit domestic violence on camera to literal zero repercussions. Who cares?

UFC isn’t some ramshackle, barely legal fight show put on eBaum’s World for cheap clicks. It’s a billion-dollar business entity and a professional sports league. It would just be nice if it could act like it.

Tai Tuivasa

In case you missed it, Tai Tuivasa lost his fourth fight in a row on Saturday when Maricn Tybura choked him out in the main event of UFC Vegas 88.

I’ll answer the other parts of this later, but for now I just wanted a brief word on Tuivasa. A couple years ago when he was on that great run, I think most of us knew that it was a bit smoke and mirrors. Even so, it’s sad to see the drop off for the King of the Shoey. Four losses in a row is almost impossible to overcome in modern MMA, even when they come against good opposition. Tuivasa is simply too limited and now may be dropping off physically. But we’ll always have the good times, and there is a clear and obvious path forward for him that should make everyone happy: BKFC.

Give me Tuivasa vs. Ben Rothwell in bare-knuckle boxing and take my $50.

APEX predators

I said it at the top, but the next month is a tough hang. Two more APEX cards and a very weak Fight Night offering. But that’s OK because UFC 299 was amazing and UFC 300 is the actual best card ever assembled (on paper). This is the cost of doing business and we should all be alright with that.

As for how I would run things, there are certainly aspects to APEX cards I appreciate, namely that it very clearly creates a tiering system for fans, like in golf. Some people watch golf every weekend. Others tune in for the majors and the other big events. Some just watch the Masters. UFC has recreated this with APEX cards serving as random PGA Tour events, pay-per-views as the majors, and Fight Night cards as other high-profile, non-Majors, like The Players. And of course some people will only watch UFC 300. That’s honestly not a bad set up, so I really wouldn’t change anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve said it a lot over the years, but 42 events per year is too many. It requires the UFC to keep a huge roster, results in A LOT of subpar fights on undercards, and doesn’t allow any room for the product to breath. In 2023, if you take out the month-long break the UFC takes basically every year now between the end of December and mid January when they start back up, there were 42 events in 48 weeks. That is an insane schedule. If I was given carte blanch for a day and could make one change, it would be that the UFC moves to a 36-event schedule per year. That’s three events per month: One PPV, one Fight Night, one APEX card, one off week. That is a near perfect schedule but it will also never happen. Oh well.

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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