Real or not: Will Nunes close out the 145-pound division? Will Jones thrive at heavyweight?

MMA

Does the future of the UFC’s women’s featherweight division depend on Megan Anderson upsetting champion Amanda Nunes? And does Anderson have much of a chance?

Those are two questions that surfaced from this past Friday’s news that the fight is being targeted for December.

And what about Fedor Emelianenko protege Vadim Nemkov upsetting Ryan Bader for the Bellator light heavyweight title. With Jon Jones moving to heavyweight, does Nemkov become the best light heavyweight on the planet?

How will Jones fare in his new division? No. 1 heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani that he expects Jones to have an easier time because he won’t have to worry about cutting weight, and his speed and skills will translate well to heavyweight.

ESPN’s panel of Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Phil Murphy sort out what’s real and what’s not in the wake of the developments over the past week.


Real or not: This will be the UFC’s last women’s fight at 145 pounds

Helwani: Most likely, but it depends.

Here’s the deal: This is the last fight on Megan Anderson’s contract, sources say. Typically, the UFC will attempt to extend someone’s contract in this position before giving them a title shot, but that’s not the case this time around.

Why?

Because this allows them to make a clean break from the weight class. So, if Anderson loses, I say the UFC shuts the division down for good. There will be no one else out there for Nunes.

There were always only three logical fights for her at 145: Cris Cyborg, Felicia Spencer and Anderson. She beat the first two convincingly, so that will likely be that.

Now, if Anderson wins, she won’t be able to just walk away with the belt. The UFC champion’s clause will kick in, extending her deal for three fights or a year. If she does pull off the upset, they can do the rematch and that will breathe some new life into the division … for now.

But yeah, the writing is on the wall. The fate of the 145-pound women’s division rests on Anderson’s shoulders. And this isn’t a Henry CejudoTJ Dillashaw gimmick where there are still 10 or so fighters left in the division. There’s pretty much no one left for Nunes, if Anderson loses.

Real or not: Megan Anderson has more than a puncher’s chance to beat Amanda Nunes.

Murphy: Amanda Nunes is the unquestioned greatest female mixed martial artist ever. Neither Cris Cyborg nor Ronda Rousey lasted a full minute against Nunes. The only women’s champ-champ has beaten every other women’s featherweight and bantamweight champion. And if not for Nicco Montaño, you could add “women’s flyweight” to that stat.

Taking out the Lioness is a tall order.

To beat Nunes, you need a few things: the ability to control range, a chin, power and a gas tank (among other attributes, but I’m on a word count). Among those, the only relative unknown for Megan Anderson is her cardio. Dating back six years, 11 of her last 12 fights were decided inside the distance, seven in the first round.

Anderson has size; her 3.5-inch reach advantage will be greater than any opponent Nunes has faced in 24 pro fights. Anderson has a chin; she’s never been knocked down in her career, let alone knocked out. And six of her seven wins in UFC and Invicta Octagons came via knockout or TKO. She has power.

I’m not calling for the upset — or even suggesting taking the to-be-determined plus-odds — but there is an avenue for Anderson to shock the world. And it’s greater than a “puncher’s chance.”

Real or not: Vadim Nemkov is MMA’s best light heavyweight

Okamoto: Woah, woah, woah. Everyone just calm down a second. I get it. Jon Jones just vacated the UFC’s title, and Nemkov just dominated Ryan Bader in a way I don’t think anyone saw coming. Those are two big developments at 205 pounds, but let’s not lose our minds here.

No, Nemkov is not (yet) the best light heavyweight in MMA. I didn’t even have him ranked inside my top 10 last week — and perhaps that was an oversight, but also, perhaps not. He’d only fought once in 2019 (against Rafael Corvalho, who is more of a middleweight) and twice in 2018, one of which was a very close split decision against Phil Davis. Nemkov will certainly jump up the rankings after this win, and I’m looking forward to seeing him fight newly signed Corey Anderson or even Davis again.

But for me, the No. 1 light heavyweight — if we’re already counting Jones a heavyweight — is the man who a lot of people think beat him in February: Dominick Reyes.

Real or not: Jon Jones actually will have an easier time at heavyweight, as Francis Ngannou said

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Dana White says Jon Jones must wait for the outcome of Stipe Micoc vs. Francis Ngannou 2 before possibly getting a shot at the UFC heavyweight title.

Raimondi: Maybe this is somewhat of a hot take, but I’m going to call this one real. I completely understand what Ngannou is saying. Frankly, the depth at heavyweight is not what it is at light heavyweight. And Jones has been fighting a murderer’s row at light heavyweight for a decade. The one thing I’ll note in opposition is that when Jones moves up to heavyweight he will only be fighting the absolute best of the best, which includes champion Stipe Miocic and Ngannou himself.

There is nothing “easy” about those fights. But to Ngannou’s point, Jones is getting older. His body is getting denser, the weight cuts were getting more difficult and Jones is just not going to be as athletic and fast as he continues to move deeper into his 30s.

So, Jones is making a very natural move up a division as he gets older, which is customary in boxing. At this stage in his career, the matchups there might be a little more favorable for him in terms of physical attributes. Jones is a young man at heavyweight. Miocic is 37 years old; Jones is 33. There is more longevity at heavyweight without those weight cuts. It was a very wise decision. Maybe “easier” isn’t the right word, but Ngannou has a legitimate point.

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