Champ vs. Champ: Why UFC fighters always try to pick on someone bigger

When an athlete wins a championship, the spectators watching him from the stands tend to view this achievement as the achievement of the ultimate goal. Some champions think so themselves. They have risen above the masses, and their dominance in higher places defines their legacy.

But a few notable athletes give a different meaning to the championship. These elites see it as a launch pad.

There is always more to martial arts. Big salary. Large fan base. Or a more serious test against a larger opponent representing a larger legacy.

Boxing has a long tradition of champions challenging bigger champions. There are many more weight divisions in boxing than in MMA, some of them separated by only a few pounds, and there is a much broader history to lean on. I remember my grandfather regaling me with a century old story, handed down from his older boxing fans, about Jack Dempsey winning the heavyweight championship by mauling Jess Willard, who weighs about 50 pounds. An extreme example, of course, but the story stuck in my memory.

In MMA, we constantly see the jumps between weight classes, but usually these are not champions. As a rule, fighters change the situation when they reach a dead end on the path to opportunities. They lost a pair in a row in their natural weight class. They are close to the top, but they can’t beat the champion. They cannot gain weight. Usually a fighter in a new division is pushed from behind with a rough push.

There will be a much more impressive dynamic at UFC 284 this weekend when featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski takes on lightweight belt holder Islam Makhachev (10 p.m. ET Saturday on Sportzshala+ PPV). This is a rarity in MMA, only the seventh time that reigning UFC champions have met in the octagon.

It used to be even more rare. In the first 23 years of the promotion’s existence, there was only one superfight between champions. But in the last six years or so — perhaps notably, the time since entertainment giant WME-IMG (now known as Endeavor) bought the UFC — there have been five more superfights, and another one is about to take place.

Here’s a little history of lesser champions fighting big champions – how the fights played out, how they played out, and what they meant in the end.

BJ Penn vs. Georges St-Pierre

Welterweight Championship UFC 94 Jan 31, 2009

Scene setup: The champion’s first superfight against the UFC champion was not a real breakthrough because it was a rematch. Penn and St-Pierre met nearly three years ago when neither had a belt, and St-Pierre won by split decision. And while that first fight was also in the 170lb division that GSP later ruled, Penn was coming out of a couple of fights at light heavyweight and one at middleweight. Before that, he reigned in the welterweight division for a while, dethroning Matt Hughes at UFC 46. So the Wunderkind already existed. But now he was a man at 155 pounds and set his sights on adding a second belt.

Smaller Fighter Rating: “Jiu-Jitsu is made where a small person can beat a big one,” Penn, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, said before the fight. “I know that something has to happen. The guy makes a mistake and I get an armlock, I get a choke and you’re done.”

How it was: St. Pierre didn’t make a mistake, didn’t hit the armlock or hit the choke. Instead, he used his welterweight muscles to savagely beat Penn for four rounds before the smaller man’s seconds mercifully completed the beating.

Conclusion: “After the second round, I was on the verge of a knockout,” Penn said in an interview on his website. “Third and fourth rounds I don’t remember.”

A few years later, Penn called for a third fight – this time in his domain. “Hello [Georges St-Pierre] if you can easily make 155 pounds,” he tweeted, “I am free in November and would love the opportunity to fight you at 155 pounds in New York.” .. I want to have a fight where people want to see me fight, something that, if I win, will lift me up.”

Conor McGregor vs Eddie Alvarez

Lightweight Championship UFC 205 Nov 12, 2016

Scene setup: McGregor became the men’s featherweight champion in December 2015 with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo, a 145-pound KOZA. McGregor then capitalized on his newly boosted star power, earning a pair of welterweight bouts with Nate Diaz, losing the first and winning a rematch.

At this point, Infamous saw an opportunity to improve on its legacy by doing something that no one had done successfully before. He challenged Alvarez, a lightweight belt holder. “Potential champion in two weight divisions,” McGregor said. “Superboy. Champion against champion. For the first time the champion has risen. These are historic moments.”

Smaller Fighter Rating: “The only weight I don’t care about is the weight of checks. And my checks are heavyweight,” McGregor said ahead of Diaz’s first fight at UFC 196, which was reportedly the biggest-selling fight. pay-per-view in company history.

By the time McGregor got to the Alvarez fight, the checks were even bigger. And this remained the Irishman’s only concern about size.

How it was: McGregor knocked out Alvarez twice in the first round and defeated him by TKO in the second, becoming the first fighter to reign in two UFC divisions at the same time.

Conclusion: Immediately after that, in the octagon, McGregor was annoyed. He was not satisfied only with his achievement. He also wanted his moment. So when he received just one title belt, he saw that an unprecedented opportunity was slipping away. Someone had to run backstage and grab a second strap so McGregor could climb onto the cage for his photo shoot with the strap slung over each shoulder.

By the time he appeared at the post-fight press conference, McGregor had stopped talking about just making history. Now he wanted to talk about making money. WME-IMG recently paid over $4 billion for the UFC and the biggest star on the roster wanted a cut. “Where is my capital? If it’s me who brought it, they should talk to me, that’s all I know,” McGregor said. “You want me to stay and keep doing what I do? I want what I deserve, what I’ve earned.”

McGregor hasn’t competed in the octagon for nearly two years since that fight and hasn’t been very active lately. After another nearly two-year hiatus, he is expected to return later this year after working on The Ultimate Fighter.

Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic

Heavyweight Championship, UFC 220, Jul 7, 2018

Scene setup: Cormier began his career in heavyweight MMA, including Strikeforce, during which he won the 2012 Heavyweight Grand Prix. But the very next year, he moved to the UFC and soon became a light heavyweight. Why? Because his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez was the UFC heavyweight champion.

Cormier became the light heavyweight title champion in 2015, and three years later, with Velasquez no longer in possession of the big boy belt, it was the right time for DC to fight for championship status against Miocic.

“It’s the best thing you can do in this sport,” Cormier said.

Smaller Fighter Rating: “Less” has nothing to do with it. Although Cormier always weighed in at 230 pounds early in his heavyweight career, he came in at 245 pounds for this fight, heavier than Miocic. But DC had to overcome the 8-inch reach gap. He believed that he could do it with speed and condition.

“I train like I’m fighting at 205 pounds,” Cormier said. “Heavyweights don’t train like that.”

How it was: In the final minute of the first round, as the fighters grappled in the center of the cage, Cormier right-handed Miocic’s defender and he went down, making DC the knockout winner.

Conclusion: “I was a heavyweight for a long time and left the division. I never knew what I could become. I received an answer tonight,” Cormier said. “I’m a two-weight champion, baby!”

He was also suddenly targeted by longtime former champion Brock Lesnar, who was present in Las Vegas and stepped into the octagon to challenge DC with a punch straight out of the WWE playbook. But this fight never took place, and instead Cormier fought Miocic twice more, losing both.

Amanda Nunes vs Cris Cyborg

Women’s Featherweight Championship UFC 232 on Dec 29, 2018

Scene setup: Nunes won the bantamweight title in 2016, and over the next two years she defended her belt three times, including knocking out Ronda Rousey at 48 seconds and defeating flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko for the second time. How could Nunez surpass that?

She figured out how. “There is no doubt that I will be the greatest female fighter of all time when I defeat Cyborg,” Nunes told Sporting News. “I will be the first woman to have two belts at the same time.”

Smaller Fighter Rating: “If I’m Amanda, I’m not going to get much bigger,” Misha Tate, the woman against whom Nunes won the 135-pound title, said on her SiriusXM radio show. “I will stick with what works for me and try to rely on speed and the fact that I have a slight reach advantage. I want to hit faster. She’s already hitting hard enough to hurt.” People.”

How it was: Call her Mystic Misha because speed mattered to Nunes. She and Cyborg exchanged blows from the beginning, and Nunes’ punches hit their target first. Cyborg fell, then fell again, and less than a minute later, Nunes hit an overhand right that dropped Cyborg for good, inflicting her first loss since her professional debut, 22 fights earlier in 2005.

Conclusion: “Nothing could stop me from doing what I wanted to do tonight,” Nunes said. “When she threw a couple of punches, I just said, ‘I’ll go through her.’

It is easier…


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