Ti­tle fights are on a whole other level

UFC would be un­wise to rush up-and-com­ers into match against cham­pi­ons

The Province - - SPORTS - E. Spencer Kyte

F rankie Edgar’s post-fight com­ments fol­low­ing his de­struc­tion of Yair Ro­driguez at UFC 211 summed up the main take­away from last week­end’s event nicely.

“There are lev­els to this,” said the for­mer light­weight kingpin and peren­nial feath­er­weight con­tender, who fol­lowed up his fa­mil­iar sprint to the cage as Big­gie’s “Kick in the Door” echoed through the arena with a two-round les­son in know­ing your place in the ecosys­tem while re­mind­ing ev­ery­one that hype and flash are no sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence and skill.

Over the course of 10 pun­ish­ing min­utes, Edgar mauled Ro­driguez from start to fin­ish, deadening the mo­men­tum Ro­driguez ac­crued with six straight vic­to­ries to be­gin his UFC ten­ure.

It’s that per­for­mance by Edgar against the un­de­ni­ably tal­ented, but still un­sea­soned, Ro­driguez that the UFC brass need to keep in mind as they look to book the next bouts for cham­pi­ons Stipe Mio­cic and Joanna Je­drze­jczyk fol­low­ing their suc­cess­ful ti­tle de­fences at the same show last week­end in Dal­las.

Both ti­tle­hold­ers proved they were on a dif­fer­ent level than their com­pe­ti­tion in a dif­fer­ent way at UFC 211 — Je­drze­jczyk con­duct­ing a master class in tech­ni­cal strik­ing, foot­work and move­ment in shut­ting out Jes­sica An­drade, while Mio­cic walked down Ju­nior dos San­tos and put him to sleep with a club­bing right hand to the dome af­ter ab­sorb­ing one too many hard leg kicks.

Both chal­lengers were game, yet both cham­pi­ons won hand­ily, ig­nit­ing an­other round of con­ver­sa­tions about who their next op­po­nents should be even be­fore the dust set­tled in Big D.

Ev­ery­one pre­sumes Rose Na­ma­ju­nas will get the next crack at Je­drze­jczyk and the strawweight ti­tle, as she’s com­ing off a first-round win over Michelle Water­son and is the last re­main­ing top con­tender yet to face Je­drze­jczyk for the belt.

Per­son­ally, I’d rather see the win­ner of the up­com­ing fight be­tween Clau­dia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz get next, even though both lost to Je­drze­jczyk last year and Gadelha is 0-2 against “Joanna Cham­pion” thus far. They are clearly the top-two con­tenders in the divi­sion and a sin­gle vic­tory for Na­ma­ju­nas, who lost to Kowalkiewicz last sum­mer, shouldn’t be enough to el­e­vate her to ti­tle chal­lenger sta­tus.

Na­ma­ju­nas has also been on the busi­ness end of a bad loss in a cham­pi­onship fight once be­fore, and while there are no guar­an­tees that is how things would play out against Je­drze­jczyk, the cham­pion’s last five per­for­mances don’t ex­actly get you ex­cited about the po­ten­tial chal­lenger’s chances should the fight ma­te­ri­al­ize.

Things are less clear at heavy­weight, where Mio­cic has dis­patched three of the top four con­tenders within the last 12 months and the one that re­mains — for­mer champ Cain Ve­lasquez — is on the side­lines with­out a de­fin­i­tive timetable for when he’ll be ready to re­turn to ac­tion.

That has left many won­der­ing if pun­ish­ing prospect Fran­cis Ngan­nou will get hus­tled into the chal­lenger’s po­si­tion op­po­site the cham­pion later this year. A men­ac­ing fig­ure with five con­sec­u­tive stop­page vic­to­ries since ar­riv­ing in the UFC and tons of room to grow, Ngan­nou is an in­trigu­ing ad­di­tion to the big-boy ranks and some­one with cham­pi­onship po­ten­tial.

But as Edgar said, “There are lev­els to this,” and the 30-year-old fin­isher hasn’t proven he’s ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing on that cham­pi­onship level.

There are still a ton of ques­tion marks sur­round­ing Ngan­nou and rather than po­ten­tially halt­ing his mo­men­tum with an early ti­tle shot, get him in there with one of the more ex­pe­ri­enced names in the divi­sion and let him con­tinue to build and de­velop. One or two more qual­ity wins and he’s cham­pi­onship ma­te­rial, but for right now, the wiser de­ci­sion might be to check on the health of Ve­lasquez or look to Der­rick Lewis, should he run his win­ning streak to seven with a win over Mark Hunt next month in New Zealand.

Like Ro­driguez, Na­ma­ju­nas and Ngan­nou have elite po­ten­tial and are clos­ing in on be­ing con­tenders, but nei­ther has shown enough to con­vince me they’re ready to chal­lenge for cham­pi­onship gold quite yet.

I know the UFC needs fights that ex­cite the au­di­ence and to cul­ti­vate new stars, but hold­ing off for one or two more fights with each of these po­ten­tial stars might be the bet­ter course of ac­tion for the long-term.

E. Spencer Kyte cov­ers MMA for The Prov­ince and Sun. Fol­low him on so­cial media: @spencerkyte.


Stipe Mio­cic, top, knocked down Ju­nior Dos San­tos and scored a first-round vic­tory in their UFC heavy­weight cham­pi­onship bout at UFC 211 in Dal­las, lead­ing to the ques­tion: who’s next?

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