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UFC 216: Starring Demetrious Johnson’s armbar – Post fight analysis in six easy tweets

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The Bloody Elbow tweetdown, starring Mighty Mouse armbars, athletic commission blunders, and a sincere discussion about GOATs.

UFC 216: Demetrious Johnson (co-starring Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee) was a two fight card, and it ended up being much more than that.

Between Johnson’s suplex armbar, and Ferguson’s callout of Conor McGregor, UFC 216 achieved that rare combination of quality, action, and narrative.

Granted, senseless lunacy, aggressive idiocy, and governing malfeasance were all part of the Vegas mixed martial arts plot too, but hey — this wouldn’t be the sport we all know and love if there wasn’t something challenging us to disregard it. Besides, flying armbars!

Within cells interlinked

What Demetrious Johnson did to Ray Borg was nothing short of…well, to be honest, expertly worded metaphors wouldn’t do the submission justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Johnson suplexed Borg. Impressive, but nothing mindblowing. Except instead of settling for a violent bounce off the canvas, a scramble flurry, or just some vanilla top control, Johnson locked Borg’s left shoulder in midflight to setup a successful armbar. It’s a suplex armbar. It’s a reverse flying armbar. It is, the Mouse Trap (copyright, DJ 2017). And you won’t see this move again in your lifetime. Not even two guys cooperating to make each other look good – in a movie or in the pro wrestling ring – could make this submission look this good.

And that’s with Borg, an extremely talented grappler, doing everything in his power to keep from having his arm ripped off. Which brings this discussion about history (inevitably) into the following:

GOAT in a MOAT

Chad Dundas is one of my favorite voices in MMA — literally. On the CME podcast he sounds like an 80’s dadfaced comedian with a millennial’s sense of wit, minus their umm – weaknesses. But even Dan Aykroyd screwed up from time to time. Dundas expanded on the narrative even Joe Rogan was making a verbal meal of during the fight — that in order for Johnson to attain religious status, he needs to “step up.”

If Johnson is ever going to convince his doubters he is the greatest and have a chance at locking down the popularity he deserves, he needs bigger challenges.

There has been talk that his next fight might be against the winner of the men’s bantamweight title bout between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw at UFC 217 next month. By all means, it’s time for the UFC to book—and for Johnson to accept—that fight.

GOAT discussions don’t really interest me; barely over three decades of sport is not enough to fully articulate history. I’m more interested in the logic.

If being the champion buys you anything, isn’t it that your hard work in the ring is rewarded by having the challenges come to you?

I wonder if this mentality isn’t warped by MMA’s origins, with legends like Kazushi Sakuraba fighting for an hour and a half, or taking on verified heavyweights despite being the size of a welterweight. Maybe the images of Royce Gracie beating men outweighing him by two late arrival loading docks of szechaun sauce has conditioned fans to accept that MMA greatness exists within a dystopia of no rules pugilism.

That has always been part of the sport’s allure. And maybe it’s burrowed its way right down into the amygdala of everyone who is a part of it.

Kevin Lee overcame a brutal weight cut with staph!”

If you pressed your ear against the athletic commission’s late night poker game you could probably hear the chorus “CHASE THE PAIN NOW STEP TO THIS!!”

Weight divisions are just features of bureaucracy, after all. And how boring is that? The sport’s most defining characters are fighters like Penn, McGregor, Couture, Sakuraba, and the Diaz brothers. And what they all have in common is that they remind fans of the sport’s icons, accepting challenges against the odds. That makes them special, yes.

But it shouldn’t be the defacto standard for greatness. Especially when there are perfectly reasonable standards already; like consecutive title defenses, incage defense, incage offense, wins, dominant wins, and quite possibly one of the greatest martial arts maneuvers of all time. If stepping up and ‘getting blasted in another sport’ is good enough to earn god status, I see no reason to ignore the submission equivalent of splitting the atom.

In addition, nothing about Anderson Silva, GSP, or Jose Aldo’s greatness was ever defined by their out-of-division success. Yes, Silva turned Forrest Griffin into a gif in bullet time, but Irvin, Griffin, and Bonnar? Erase these wins from his record, and nothing about Silva’s status changes.

Would I like to see Johnson tested against bantamweight challengers/champions? Sure. But if his greatness hinges on these divisional adventures, perhaps that says more about the sport’s legitimacy than DJ’s. Johnson’s path towards greatness has been defined by his journey at flyweight. How does it follow that only a sudden detour is enough to solidify it?

McNuggets

As Phil and I discussed, Ferguson – for all of his bombast and suncheaters to accompany his cheater arms – is an intelligent fighter. He may look akward and unorthodox but he has a great sense of timing, rhythm, and pressure – made more effective by his ability to disrupt and counter his opponent’s timing, rhythm, and pressure.

There’s no question he deserves a shot at the title while Dana pretends Nate Diaz has priced himself out of a rematch. And to be fair, Ferguson is earning that shot. With a piercing jab, and guard pressure, he took apart Lee with great work in all facets of the game.

There’s not much more Ferguson can do except get a payday. It sounds like it’s coming.

Gaffe Detection

I thought Rogan was on his usual stoner observation routine when he noticed a knot of Lee’s chest, but lo and behold – good call! I stand corrected. Lee looked good last night too – his movement and authority on the ground are first rate and his otherwise rote striking looked a little more dynamic. Eventually he faded thanks to Ferguson’s attack, but also because athletic commissions can’t be bothered to do their jobs. These things happen in MMA.

Bait Notice

Fabricio Werdum made quick work of Walt Harris, who had to fill in for Derrick Lewis. There’s not much more to unpack except that Werdum will get a shot at some point if the rest of the division is constantly injured. Unless he slurs himself into a bar fight.

Best of the Rest

Bobby Green and Lando Vannata put on a hell of a show. Green’s shoulder roll defense is obviously effective. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing fighters should readily select. The smaller gloves make it easier for fighters to get chipped on the side of the head, or weave right into a head kick, but Green makes great use of it even though he can be clunky with it. As for Vannata, he’s an exciting fighter but without a real dedicated defense, I can’t imagine him being anything more than upgrade Makdessi.

  • Mara Romero Borello looked great. Fluid movement on the ground (a welcome theme of the night) ruled the day, and for Kalindra Faria, a date with the drawing board.
  • Speaking of pleasant surprises, I’m fairly pro-draw. I don’t like draws, but they force judges to analyze more carefully in more circumstances than not just by virtue of consequence. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.
  • John Moraga caught a fighter as clean as possible with that blistering left hook. He had a pretty human moment in his post-fight interview; like the rest of us, dragged by politics of the day, just wanted to get home and be with family. Daniel Cormier did a good job of cheering him up, and for once, the sport exchanged something more than violence and callouts, but sincerity.
  • Brad Tavares pieced up Brazilian Aaron Lewis with a brutal jab, cementing Leites’ status as a once gifted gatekeeper increasingly concerned with swinging bombs to substitute for pressure.


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