Monday Mailbag: UFC Mexico City, PFL vs. Bellator, and what comes next for the flyweight division?


Another weekend gone and another pretty darn good collection of fights. First on Saturday, PFL vs. Bellator finally took place, with Bellator champions nearly making a clean sweep of things until Renan Ferreira ran over Ryan Bader in the main event. Then it was on to UFC Mexico City, where Brandon Royval and Brian Ortega authored impressive upset wins that will shake up the flyweight and featherweight division’s respectively. So let’s talk about all that, plus this weekend’s fight card.

UFC Mexico City

In case you missed it, UFC Mexico City had four split decisions, one off the record of five for a single UFC event (which is shared between three events). The most notable of those was the main event that saw Brandon Royval eke out a win over Brandon Royval in a bout where the judges only unanimously agreed on two of the rounds. That being said, the Royval decision win was one of the more justifiable of the split decisions.

Stats never tell the full story when it comes to MMA (or else Brian Ortega would never win a fight, but we’ll talk about that later), but statistically, Royval “won” the fight. He out-landed Moreno in three of the rounds and over the course of the fight. The point Moreno backers have latched onto is that a lot of Royval’s striking was empty calories, punches for punches’ sake while Moreno landed the more impactful blows. And I’m open to that argument. I scored the bout for Moreno, but the truth is there’s no clear-cut winner here. I think Moreno had the more damaging strikes, but that’s just an opinion, and if you believe Royval did more, that’s entirely justifiable.

The issue for Moreno on Saturday was not that the judges screwed him, it’s that he screwed himself. Even though I think he won the fight, it was the worst Moreno has looked in a long time, both tactically and technically. Moreno was content to shell up and deflect punches off his arms and then fire back one shot at a time, more often than not a looping overhand that resembled 2006 Chuck Liddell. Even if your opponent isn’t landing, allowing him to throw nearly 300 more strikes than you is simply not smart, particularly if you aren’t going to authoritatively win the moments when you are doing your best work. Simply put, Moreno fought a bad fight and opened the door to lose this way. The judges were fine.

Now, some of the judges in the Fares Ziam vs. Claudio Puelles fight and the Felipe dos Santos vs. Victor Altamirano fight, that’s a different story.

Judge Raul Salas put down a 29-28 scorecard for Puelles in a bout that saw Puelles attempt nine significant strikes and land four of them. I’m not saying Ziam lit the world on fire, but that was closer to 30-27 Ziam than 29-28 Puelles.

As for the dos Santos-Altamirano fight, it’s fine to score that for Altamirano, but the 30-27 from Miguel Jimenez was not good.

Flyweight title picture

Royval winning the Battle of the Brandons, Part Deux, really mucks up the flyweight title picture. Had Moreno won on Saturday, all indications were that he would go on to have a fourth fight with Alexandre Pantoja (despite being down 0-3 in the series), most likely at UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro. Now, that is obviously not going to happen, and while Royval called for a title shot after the win, I really, really hope that’s not where we end up.

No disrespect to Royval, but he’s 0-2 against Pantoja and he just lost the rematch. I’m not talking about two years ago, I’m talking about two months. Pantoja 50-45ed Royval in December, and a split decision win somehow gets Royval a third shot at the champ six months later? Let’s be serious.

Now, it might happen. Manel Kape blowing weight and Amir Albazi getting hurt have thrown several wrenches in the 125-pound title picture, and so Royval may get it by process of elimination. Unless Muhammad Mokaev runs through Alex Perez this Saturday. Mokaev is No. 8 in the UFC’s rankings with Perez at No. 7. A win would be his sixth straight in UFC (four by submission), and at only 23 years old, Mokaev appears to be the future of this weight class. Would it be a touch early to give him a title shot? Yes. But in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s the best course of action and the most likely one.

Brian Ortega, MMAnomaly

Brian Ortega has 12 fights in UFC. Do you know how many of those fights he’s out-landed his opponents in? Two! Korean Zombie and Thiago Tavares (which he was ahead by two whole strikes). This man defies everything we know about replicable success in MMA, and on Saturday, he did it again, coming back from a tough start to submit Yair Rodriguez in the third round. Brian Ortega loses fights, until he suddenly doesn’t. It’s truly baffling.

In MMA, one of the best markers for long-term success is defense. Ortega has only ever heard of the term in passing and he definitely doesn’t care for it. After all, who needs defense when you’re tougher than AP Calc? In practically every fight, Ortega gets clubbed around the cage until he either finds an opening for his predatory grappling, or his opponent simply gasses themselves out by beating the brakes off him. He’s Homer Simpson crossed with an anaconda, and there honestly only one fighter like him: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueia.

For his halcyon days (and even late into his career, really), Nogueira was most well-known for his otherworldly ability to survive punishment and then find a submission. That’s pretty much exactly what Ortega does, right down to the part where when he fights a smarter opponent who is too good to get caught (Fedor Emelianenko/Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway), they beat the bejesus out of him in a way that can be hard to watch.

Now if Big Nog started making up bird “facts”, it would be a perfect comparison.

PFL vs. Bellator

I’m not entirely sure where the “PFL vs. Bellator was a terrible failure” narrative came from, but it’s definitely not true. Was PvB great? No, of course not. But I think any clear-headed observer knew that going in. The card lost some good fights, and the gimmick, while fun, was never going to yield the most competitive matchups. Bellator has (had?) the best non-UFC roster in MMA by a WIDE margin for the last several years (just go ask RIZIN). But to call it trash is ridiculous.

First, the event was a success even before it started because they got paid handsomely to put on a show in Saudi Arabia. If you have moral objections to that, understandable, but from a business sense, that’s a win.

Second, this was the event to usher in the new era of PFL, and on the whole, it was promising. Yes, there were major issues with production (just get rid of everyone who gets in front of a camera and replace them all immediately), but a lot more people than you think were checking in on this thing, and what they got was decent. A.J. McKee and Aaron Pico looked like top-20 pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Vadim Nemkov is a top-10 heavyweight. Jason Jackson continues to impress at 170. Johnny Eblen gritted out a hard-fought win and Impa Kasanganay actually might be good now. And Renan Ferreira isn’t good, but boy is he fun. All of those are wins for PFL.

“Oh, but Bellator won. They have all the best fighters, actually!”

Yeah. Duh. We all knew that. But here’s the thing: Bellator doesn’t have all the best fighters. PFL does. They own Bellator. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. Checkmate.

“Oh, but Francis Ngannou is never going to fight Renan Ferreira! He left right after the fight!”

Maybe not, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Ngannou staunchly maintains his intention to return to MMA, and if he loses to Anthony Joshua (the most likely scenario), then it’s going to happen. Do y’all think he was really pumped to fight Ryan Bader for some reason? I sure wasn’t stoked to see it happen. Of course, I would much rather see Ngannou fight Nemkov, but if the consolation prize is that he and Ferreira trade bombs until Ferreira goes to sleep, sign me up. That sounds fun as hell.

Look, PFL is still in a hard position. UFC has a monopoly on MMA. It’s just what it is. No organization will ever compete with them unless laws change. By attempting to be the co-leader instead of a regional promotion, PFL has bought into a game it cannot win. The question is only how long can it last (or will the Ali Act come to MMA)? But I would call Saturday an encouraging sign that the promotion is getting better and can remain viable for at least a few more years.



No! Is this a joke? Ferreira is fun. Rizvan Kuniev tackled him for 15 minutes a year ago. Jon Jones would eat him. I won’t even say that Ferreira has a puncher’s chance because Jones has a great chin. Competitive is not the word for what that fight would be.

UFC Vegas 87

And finally, the week ahead. On Saturday, UFC Vegas 87 takes place, headlined by a heavyweight fight between Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Shamiel Gaziev. Woof. It’s an all-timer of a “who cares?” main event and one that has been repeatedly dunked on already. But as the esteemed Beer Cheese6900 notes, the rest of the card is low-key fire, at least for an APEX card.

This card has six ranked fighters (yes, one is Rozenstruik, but still), with four of them being fun flyweights in meaningful contests. Heck, Muhammad Mokaev might grab himself a title shot (as mentioned above). The other ranked fighter is Umar Nurmagomedov, the man many people believe is destined to hold the title at 135 pounds, if he could ever get his shot at it (no fighter is ducked more in MMA right now). That’s already a strong foundation for an APEX card and there’s plenty more.

Vitor Petrino and Javid Basharat are legitimate prospects in their weight classes, Joel Alvarez friggin’ rocks, and Eryk Anders vs. Jamie Pickett will be silly fun. Assuming 19-year-old Raul Rosas Jr. does fight on this card (he was supposed to face Ricky Turcios this past weekend but an illness forced him out on fight day), there are legitimately good things happening on Saturday. Sure, the main event is a stinker, but Shamiel Gaziev is also the rarest thing in MMA — an undefeated rising heavyweight. So whatever. It should still be a good time.

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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