Narrative Shift in Topuria vs Pimblett Rivalry
Hey all it’s Chris Rini with another MMA Squared. Before talking about Ronda Rousey, I’d like to tip my cap to the next generation of title challengers, Ilia Topuria and Maycee Barber. Not long ago, I joked about Topuria’s unfulfilled rivalry with Paddy Pimblett, drawing the Liverpudlian aboard a hype train that’s leaving Topuria at the station.
For a minute in 2022, the duo of Pimblett and Molly McCann became Warhol-famous. Both McCann and Pimblett were given what was perceived by some fans and editorial cartoonists as favourable matchmaking. McCann scored two spinning elbow knockouts before succumbing to the absolute steamroller that we now know as Erin Blanchfield.
Pimblett’s career has taken a much slower arc, and his finishes of Rodrigo Vargas and Jordan Leavitt were overshadowed by a heavily criticized decision win over Jared Gordon to wrap up the year. All this leads us to Ilia Topuria who has been feuding with Pimblett for some time and may have finally turned himself into this beef’s A-side.
“El Matador” has turned in six stellar performances for the UFC against increasingly tougher competition culminating in this past Saturday’s brutalising of Josh Emmett. Topuria showcased the type of onion-peeling revelation of skills that is the mark of future title contenders and champions. With each passing round, Topuria showcased both his offensive and defensive depth. The speed and accuracy of his boxing served to disfigure Emmett to the point that the ringside doctor was called in before the fifth round just to make sure continuing the fight was not medically inadvisable.
Emmett came out in the fifth with a vengeance seeming to put younger fighter momentarily on his heels but Topuria seemed to accept that this old veteran was not going to be stopped tonight and switched gears. Takedowns, ground and pound, along with a healthy dose of top control helped him cruise to a dominant decision victory. Topuria is the real deal, it will be interesting to see how the UFC steers his title aspirations now that the world is watching.
Matchmaking with feelings, not facts
Now, to address a couple of the stranger headlines from the weekend, we’ll turn our attention to the PFL. The upstart promotion grabbed the attention of MMA Twitter this weekend after announcing that Nathan Schulte and Raush Maufio would be suspended after the quality of their fight was deemed substandard and Shane Burgos would be pushed ahead in their featherweight tournament.
With all due respect to those outraged souls, we just saw something eerily similar in the UFC Light Heavyweight division when Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev fought to a split-draw in December of 2022. The UFC declined the fighters a chance to run it back because the fight was “terrible”. Instead, the promotion candidly admitted booking Jamahal Hill vs Glover Teixeira in an attempt to “cheer up” a group of bummed out UFC executives. I guess what I’m saying is, if you didn’t speak up back then, miss me with the PFL critiques.
Ronda Rousey… back in the UFC?
Finally, I read the name Ronda Rousey.
The idea that since UFC parent company, Endeavor recently purchased Ronda Rousey’s sometimes-employer WWE, that we might see a synergistic return of the Rowdy one, now that Amanda Nunes has vacated the bantamweight title.
I cannot say whether Ronda Rousey should or should not return to mixed martial arts competition. Perhaps she’s had enough concussions, perhaps her ignominious exit from the sport soured her relationship with the fans. Heck, the UFC fan retention is so short-term, it’s possible a sizeable chunk of their current audience wasn’t around for her downfall, let alone her ascendance.
What I would suggest if the UFC and Ronda Rousey do want to get into business together is to give her a matchup proportionate with her age and marquee level. Run it back one more time with Miesha Tate. Their second fight ended with one of the coldest post fight interactions in UFC history and that storyline could be picked up right where it left off.
For the uninitiated, the two women coached a vitriolic season of TUF which culminated in a Fight of the Night affair ending with Tate tapping out to an armbar. The ref called the fight and as Tate stood, she extended a handshake to her rival. Unlike many MMA rivalries that are either squashed through combat or revealed to have been a ‘work’ just to promote the fight, Rousey looked at Tate’s hand and turned her back. It was scintillating television, and the UFC should make like its parent company, Disney: dredge up some existing IP and run it back out there for a new generation of fans.
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