Hot Tweets: Lawler’s perfect ending, Volkanovski’s greatness, DDP, and the rest of UFC 290

That was certainly one heck of a card, huh?

UFC 290 is in the books and there’s already talks of it being one of the best fight cards of all-time (more on that later). Alexander Volkanovski continues to roll at featherweight, Alexandre Pantoja remains Brandon Moreno’s nemesis, Dricus du Plessis shook up the middleweight division, and Robbie Lawler said goodbye. Let’s talk about all of it.

Robbie Lawler’s Swan Song

We’re going to start with Robbie Lawler, because while other things may be “more important” in some respects, in 20 years I will look back and remember UFC 290 for Lawler’s retirement. I mean this very seriously when I say it is one of the best things that has happened in my MMA fandom. Sports are, in general, cruel to their fading legends, but MMA feels particularly mean-spirited about it, because being unable to compete anymore means violent ends, not just sad exits. Lawler is a guy who meant a whole hell of a lot to me and to countless other MMA fans, and on the heels of the Frankie Edgar and Shogun Rua retirements, I was desperately hoping this wouldn’t be another one.

And somehow it wasn’t! Instead it was the most triumphant, well-executed, delightful retirement in the history of the sport. Everyone was thrilled with the outcome: The way it happened, and then the montage the UFC played for him that got even the stoic Lawler to crack into tears. It was all perfect. The rest of UFC 290 could have sucked and it would have been fine for that alone.

As for the questions, they’re very simple. Who is Robbie Lawler? He’s at worst the second-most exciting fighter of all-time. One of the very few fighters who is universally beloved by anyone who is a fan or competed in the sport and even more rare, a fighter that no part of you has to feel bad about supporting. He’s a guy who somehow won Fight of the Year three years in a row, against three different opponents (which is basically impossible), delivered one of the best feel-good moments in history by winning the UFC title years after everyone had given up on that dream, and then capped it all off with the best retirement in history. In short, he’s the friggin’ best.

As for ranking him, I don’t really care. Lawler’s career is so beyond traditional standards of ranking that it seems foolish to even try. Was he better or worse than Woodley? I dunno. Probably better, but it doesn’t matter because there are not five fighters in history, at any weight class, more beloved than this man. That may not make him the GOAT, but it sure as hell counts for something.


Coming out of UFC 290, my greatest hope is that the promotion will take a lesson from Lawler’s exit. Everyone is glowing about both the matchmaking and the result, and the UFC’s handling of the whole thing — and rightfully so. All of it was note-perfect, and that’s what has been so frustrating as an MMA fan in recent years: The UFC can do this. They know how, they just haven’t. Instead you get Frankie Edgar against some hungry young contender and sadness ensues. I hope they realize how meaningful Lawler’s exit was and try to make that happen more often. Sure, they can’t guarantee the win, but they can make reasonable bets and hope the pay off instead of hitting on 18 and hoping for the best.

As for criteria, I don’t think you really need any. Just play it by ear. No one can really define it, but we know who the legends are in MMA. Not every former champion is one but all champions probably deserve a great exit, and any Hall of Famer certainly does. So if you want to start there and say any champion/Hall of Famer retiring gets one, then I’m fine with that. Just so long as Jim Miller gets his when he bounces too.

Alexander Volkanovski’s greatness

First: I will not be debating Volkanovski’s GOAT candidacy, both because I don’t believe it’s a serious argument and because it’s simply exhausting. I have a new rule: No one is eligible for GOAT until they retire. Because until then, the die isn’t cast, and many people revered in their times are now excluded from that conversation because of end of career losses (here’s looking at you B.J. Penn and Fedor Emelianenko).

Now, to the question: It’s entirely possible.

I said it after the third Max Holloway fight: All things considered, that was possibly the best fighter and performance I’ve ever seen. Volkanovski is undeniably brilliant in nearly every area and his mind for fighting is superb. Other smarter people can break down the myriad ways he kept Yair Rodriguez guessing on the feet — out-jabbing the much taller man and clubbing him with switch counters when Rodriguez would step in — and any idiot can see the absurd dominance he showed in takedowns, control, and damage from the top. It was a complete performance and then, just when Rodriguez looked to be building some momentum, Volkanovski put him away.

MMA has had a ton of incredible champions, fighters who were well-rounded, or at least skilled in multiple phases, but very, very few who were elite at everything. Volkanovski is one of those few. He’s the modern-day Georges St-Pierre, which is about as high of praise as I can give.

Alexandre Pantoja, new flyweight champion

He does not. At least not now.

First off, what an incredible performance from both Pantoja and Moreno in the co-main event on Saturday. While it isn’t my choice for Fight of the Year thus far (Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski is), that is No. 2 on the list at the moment, and many will choose it for the top spot.

Next, just because there has been some very minor pushback, Pantoja won the fight. I’m a big Brandon Moreno guy but you can’t repeatedly give up back mount and expect to win rounds. Sure, Moreno had his moments, but he couldn’t defend takedowns or disengage from scrambles. Pantoja just seems to have his number in that respect.

Now, back to the question: While this was technically the third fight between these two, officially it was only the second, as their first fight was an exhibition on The Ultimate Fighter. That’s definitely splitting hairs, but the UFC can easily lean on that if they feel compelled. Moreover, those first two fights happened a lifetime ago. Both men are substantially different competitors than they were before. Personally, I’m more than willing to consider this the first fight between the two in that respect, because treating all those fights the same is like saying your first-grade girlfriend and your high-school girlfriend (or boyfriend) are the same. It’s just unreasonable.

That being said, there’s no need to run this one back right away. There are at least two other viable contenders for Pantoja to defend against and Moreno has spent so much of his recent time fighting rematches, it seems like a good idea to give him a fresh opponent. Let Moreno get a couple wins and then we can revisit a fourth fight, should Pantoja even still have the belt then.

Dricus du Plessis

I tried to tell y’all. All this man needed was to breath properly and now the middleweight division is on notice: Nose Job DDP is coming. Sadly, Robert Whittaker had to find out the hard way.

I’ll be honest, heading into Saturday, my confidence in du Plessis was taking a hit. Everyone was on Whittaker to get it done and that relentless pessimism was making me think I was crazy. And then the fight started and I was shocked. because while I though DDP actually had a decent chance to win, I certainly did not expect it to look like that.

DDP is a cannonball: He’s going to come out and put everything he has on you and see if it sinks the ship. But against Whittaker, he didn’t do that. He was super patient, showed an enormous leap in his defense, and just kind of beat Whittaker up. Sure, “Bobby Knuckles” started off doing Bobby Knuckles things, but du Plessis defended, waited, adjusted, and then at the end of the round just sort of casually flung him to the ground and wailed on the former champion. No one has done that to Whittaker. No one. Not even Olympic Silver medalist Yoel Romero. But DDP did it seemingly effortlessly. That was a wake-up call. And then in the second round, DDP just sparked him. Again, I thought he could win, but I didn’t think it would look like that.

So to answer your question, if you asked me beforehand, I would’ve said DDP wins three out of 10. Now? Seven out of 10. Whittaker can adjust and he’s damn good, but it’s time people put some respect on Du Plessis’ name.

Title shot

Similar to the previous question, before Saturday I would have confidently picked Israel Adesanya to beat DDP. Now? Whoo buddy. I have no idea. Izzy seems to have some stylistic advantages but if DDP can take Whittaker down, he can probably do that to Izzy and that could be rough. Plus, I’ll be honest, not a huge fan of Izzy’s performance in the post-fight. Perhaps he’s just trying to hype the fight up, sell pay-per-views, but DDP looked to be in a much better mental place for an inevitable fight than Adesanya and his unbridled fury. But that could all be nothing. Time will tell.

And as for time, I think it’s going to be awhile. While du Plessis did get out of Las Vegas pretty cleanly (shocking, considering how good Whittaker is), UFC 293 is in nine weeks. That’s a really quick turnaround under any circumstances and to do so for a title shot? I don’t think so. Truth is, DDP has actual leverage here. He just beat Robert freaking Whittaker! He is the unquestionable No. 1 contender and so he doesn’t have to agree to a rapid return. He can reasonably tell the UFC it’s too soon and just wait. Either he’ll face Adesanya later this year, perhaps at Madison Square Garden, or Izzy will fight Sean Strickland at UFC 293 and du Plessis can face the winner. I think it’s pretty close to zero percent though that we get those two in two months. And I hope we don’t. That’s a big fight. It deserves a big build.

Bobby Knuckles

I love this question because I haven’t seen a lot of people thinking about this. Where the hell does Whittaker go from here? Coming into this fight, Whittaker had already beaten basically everyone else at middleweight, and was on the cusp of a third shot at Izzy strictly by process of elimination. Now he’s lost, he’s well out of title contention again, he’s already beat all these yokels. Best guess? He fights Paulo Costa if Costa beats Ikram Aliskerov. Otherwise? Roman Dolidze? Basically, it seems like we’re about to get a few “Whittaker fights well back in the rankings in matchups that people don’t care about.”

Unless we get Whittaker vs. Kamaru Usman. Now that I would be very into.

UFC 290, the best?

UFC 290 is absolutely on par with those events, and frankly, with any event in history. I’m not willing to call this the best card ever because it’s so fresh, and often the excitement of “now” tends to overshadow historical greatness. Even so, it’s hard for me to recall an event that was more fun, start to finish, than UFC 290. Everything went as well as one could hope and in the end we got:

  • One brilliant title defense from an all-time great
  • One Fight of the Year contender and a new champion
  • One incredible upset, setting up a massive title fight
  • Another Fight of the Year contender
  • The greatest retirement in MMA history
  • FOUR sub-one minute knockouts!

Plus everything else on the card was still pretty good. When the worst thing that happens is Tatsuro Taira and Edgar Chairez go to a decision in a fine fight, you know something great happened, and given the stakes, the outcomes, and everything else, there’s a real argument UFC 290 is the best card ever, top to bottom. It was the kind of event that makes you remember why you love MMA and what the UFC is capable of when they really make an effort. Here’s to hoping they do more of that in the future.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! 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 Hot 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.