A Totally Arbitrary, Not at All Complete List of UFC ‘Fight Island’ Moments

Good... Bad... I'm the one with the list.

This Saturday, Khabib Nurmagomedov will put the UFC lightweight title on the line against Justin Gaethje in what will be the last of the currently scheduled* events at “Fight Island” — which I know sounds like the type of badass setting where high-school kids armed with katanas would engage on to-the-death tournaments, but is really just a place called Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

Now, I can see how a katana-less reality with not-to-the-death fights just sounds kind of lame now. Once you get over the initial disappointment, though, the stuff we did get at the Island was actually kind of cool, too.

And it’s that lamer, but still kind of cool stuff that we are celebrating today! Yay!

Now, as you may have astutely inferred from the column’s very subtle title, I wanted to reinforce the arbitrary aspect of this list. Meaning: It was generated entirely in my head, with no other basis than my own twisted thoughts. Meaning: It doesn’t present itself as objective in any way. Meaning: I am not saying different choices than the ones I made would be wrong or stupid. Meaning: I don’t want to have this debate, please don’t make me do it.

With that settled, below is a VERY PERSONAL selection of 10 “Fight Island” moments that AREN’T OBJECTIVELY GOOD OR BAD. YOU MAY OR MAY NOT AGREE WITH THAT and it is ABSOLUTELY OKAY.

*This is the promotion’s second trip to the Island, after a four-card “cycle” back in July. For this column, I selected moments from both.

Can We Keep Him?

Here’s the thing about MMA: We are not really used to getting nice things. So, when we do, we tend to hold on to them. Tight. Very tight. So tight, some would argue, that we inevitably break them.

And then proceed to whine about how all of our things are broken.

Considering we’re now putting pressure on Top 10 welterweights to take senseless fights against a terrifying and relatively unknown newcomer, I’d say we’re juuuust about to break the joy of having Khamzat Chimaev around, too. In the meantime, though, let us bask in the glory of our Fight Island talisman.

Chimaev first descended upon the octagon on July 15, in the first round of “Fight Island” events. At 26 and still undefeated, he was a massive favorite against John Phillips. We quickly realized why; overwhelmed by what some would call wrestling, but that I would call witchcraft, Phillips did a total of zero things before being mercifully submitted in the second round. Chimaev had our curiosity then, but he really got our attention just 10 days later, when he needed even less time to stroll past Rhys McKee. With that, Chimaev earned his second $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus, the record for quickest turnaround between two wins in the UFC, and the honor of being the thing that a bunch of nerds on the internet won’t shut up about for months.

If the fact that a person made of the same basic materials as you needed less than two weeks to collect $100,000 and captivate an entire sports community makes you feel bad, prepare to feel worse. About two months later, this time in Las Vegas, Chimaev did it again. Except this time he needed only 17 (S-E-V-E-N-T-E-E-N) seconds to earn his THIRD post-fight bonus.

Although Chimaev didn’t get to fight in the second round of “Fight Island” events, that didn’t stop him from being one of its main stars. Whether it’s watching the fights next to UFC president Dana White or being mentioned a minimum of six times per broadcast, Chimaev became more omnipresent in our screens than that unbearably overused laughing Mike Tyson gif.

While that would normally annoy me to no end, I say we cherish this moment. We know, after all, how these things go. Chimaev will probably eventually lose, or fight boring, or miss weight, or figure out some other way to be demoted from Fight God Supreme™ to *pure hype* faster than we can say Johnny Walker.

Until then…

Somebody That We Used to Know

It seems almost difficult to go back to a moment in time when our first thought upon hearing Jorge Masvidal’s name wasn’t “Oh no what did he tweet now.” Alas, such was our reality just a few months ago, when Masvidal’s main gig was wreaking the good kind of havoc as our Designated Doer of Cool Shit.

In a way, it’s odd that a guy who had been around for that long, saying pretty much the same things and acting the same way, only started to get some real attention in 2019. In others, though, it made perfect sense; after years of living under the Conor McGregor rule, constantly bombarded by all kinds of grandiose self-promotion and semi-convincing vendettas, Masvidal’s effortless confidence was a sight for eyes that couldn’t handle another overpriced three-piece suit.

Unfortunately, the world didn’t end in 2019, which meant we also got to witness Masvidal’s hard-earned popularity taking a real turn for… Whatever the hell this is. But that is now. For just a second, I want us to get back to the much simpler times of July, when our DDCS came through once more.

The event was UFC 251. Negotiations for a title fight with champ Kamaru Usman had been contentious, and Masvidal’s relationship with the UFC seemed to be on the rocks. On-the-rise Gilbert Burns was picked as the title challenger instead. Just as Burns prepared to make his way to Abu Dhabi, though, the 2020 thing that we never want to happen (but always kind of expect to happen) did, in fact, happen. Burns tested positive for COVID. Considering travel, mandatory isolation and all the testing, an eight-day window seemed like an impossible timeline to find Usman any opponent — let alone one that made actual sense.

But then… Masvidal.

Let’s face it: We weren’t really expecting the fight to look much different than it did. We knew the challenge that the champ’s wrestling would pose to Masvidal even with a full camp and well-planned weight cut, let alone under that kind of extreme short notice. Usman was the clear decision winner, via just the kind of pressure we anticipated, while Masvidal snapped a three-fight streak.

But the thing is, this really wasn’t about Masvidal winning. Given the events of that week, in fact, I’d dare say the fight itself was almost an afterthought. What we really wanted to see was whether they could pull it off. The whole thing unfurled like a telenovela, each chapter met with a touch of apprehension and excitement.

”He’s on the plane. He’s in Rome now. He’s… Eating pizza now? He made it to Abu Dhabi. He passed a test. He passed another test. Maybe this is happening. Wait, is this… A belly under that tracksuit? Oh god he’s making weight, is he? Wait, he did make weight! Okay, there’s no way nothing happens until fight time. Oh. Well. I guess this is fight time?”

The fight wasn’t nearly as riveting as the buzz around it. I’d argue that is beside the point here. As multiple Instagram influencers have wisely said under pictures of their butts, ”It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

Gravity? I Don’t Know Her

We all knew this was going to be here. Might as well get it out of the way.

Also, while we’re here, let us all take a second to appreciate the fighter on the unfortunate end of that foot. Rather than give in to what could have easily been one of his lowest career lows, Impa Kasanganay has been using his time in the spotlight to spread inspiration and bless our timelines with pure art.

 

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When there’s only one cookie 🍪 left! ➡️ [ 📸: @kayliefostermedia ]

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The Night of 1,000 Knockouts

The problem with Buckley’s knockout is that I have yet to figure out a way to dispense with all the unnecessary clutter in my brain, so that the knockout may be the only thing playing inside it over and over again in one eternal loop.

The other problem with Buckley’s knockout is that it obfuscated the other finishes of the Moraes vs. Sandhagen card. It’s about time we right that wrong. Here are all of that night’s knockouts, rated according to the following criteria:

  • Aesthetic Appeal
  • Difficulty Level
  • Nope, Nope, Nope
  • Could I possibly maybe ever be able to survive this? (Ten being NO and zero being not really, no.)
  • Precision & Accuracy

Chris Daukaus vs. Rodrigo Nascimento

Assigned with Buckley’s inglorious follow-up spot, Daukaus rose to the occasion with a stylistic counterpoint; no flying, no spinning, just some good ol’ DMWH (Dropping M’efers With Hands). Although the word “luck” might not exactly apply to the situation, one could argue his opponent did get some cosmic reprieve when, just as he first collapsed from the impact of Daukaus’ hellish left hand, the probably-just-as-hellish right one narrowly missed his head. Unfortunately, not a lot of the other shots missed.

Aesthetic appeal: 8
Difficulty level: 10
Nope, nope, nope: 10
Could I possibly maybe ever be able to survive this?: 15
Precision & Accuracy: 10

Tom Breese vs. KB Bhullar

Remember when we were all like, “Jabs are mostly distance-measuring tools and aren’t really supposed to knock people out?”

Yeah. About that…

Aesthetic appeal: 10
Difficulty level: 15
Nope, nope, nope: 10
Could I possibly maybe ever be able to survive this?: 8
Precision & Accuracy: 12

BONUS: Breese gets an extra three points for uniqueness, plus another 250 points for being one of the writer’s favorites (sorry, I don’t make the rules).

Tom Aspinall vs. Alan Baudot

In a world where flashy one-strike knockouts dominate highlight-reels, one often forgets to admire the understated beauty of a 250-pound cross between a weighted blanket and a tarantula methodically chipping away at its prey.

Aesthetic appeal: 8
Difficulty level: 10
Nope, nope, nope: 10
Could I possibly maybe ever be able to survive this?: 80,000
Precision & Accuracy: 9

Dricus du Plessis vs. Markus Perez

Well… I guess if you’re going to be knocked out for the first time in your career, might as well do it with some flair?

Aesthetic appeal: 10
Difficulty level: 10
Nope, nope, nope: 10
Could I possibly maybe ever be able to survive this?: 28
Precision & Accuracy: 10

Cory Sandhagen vs. Marlon Moraes

I just think it’s unfair that technology has come this far and we still aren’t allowed to get tattoos that move.

Aesthetic appeal: 10
Difficulty level: 10
Nope, nope, nope: 10
Could I possibly maybe ever be able to survive this?: 35.5
Precision & Accuracy: 10

Long Live Our Uncrowned King

Deiveson Figueiredo, I’m really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but if the sheer power of collective thinking had any real-life impact, Joseph Benavidez would have probably won this past July.

Again, nothing personal against Figueiredo: the buffalo-tamer-turned-security-guard-turned-hairstylist-turned-sushi-chef-turned-human-wrecking-machine that MMA we never knew we needed. Figueiredo, himself a textbook tale of against-all-odds success, beat Benavidez. He did it, in fact, twice — making sure to put a bow on the rematch after their first fight was marred by a weight miss and a head butt. He is a champion because he made himself into one. There is no taking his credit there.

But still…

The answer is that it is, of course. As bitter internet men with disturbing porn searches and no source of income would say, “facts don’t care about your feelings,” and such are the ways of MMA. After so many years, and so many close calls, and so much success at being one of the very best at what he does, a Benavidez championship was not just the proper and fair thing to happen. It was the logical one, too. He deserved it. We deserved it.

In any case, this isn’t about lamenting things that didn’t happen. Yes, champion Benavidez would have been an inspiring story, but who’s to say non-champion Benavidez isn’t one, as well? Yes, that image of him struggling on Figueiredo’s grip as the choke tightened around his neck will probably haunt our dreams forever, but what about another image that made the rounds that night?

Olivi, for those who don’t know, is also a UFC reporter. She is also apparently a great cook, and mother to a most adorable doggo, and can pull off faux leather pants like nobody’s business. Yet the fact that she is a perfect angel person who is too good for this Earth is besides the point. That night Olivi was also, both in that image and after the lovely declaration she made shortly after on Instagram, a reminder of something we tend to forget in a sport that so often forces us to operate in black and white.

She was a reminder of all the stuff in between.

Undaunted in the task of tugging at our heartstrings, Olivi later discussed why they hadn’t yet watched the UFC’s “Declassified” documentary. Reliving “the worst day of our lives” was of no interest to them, she explained, but she was still glad those images were out there if that meant helping someone through their highs and lows. Yes, Benavidez lost a fight and a dream that night, but they still had so much, from their health to their families, to be grateful for. Her husband, Olivi added, was still “a beautiful example” to a lot of people — not to mention a fully-formed human with multiple interests and a whole personality outside the cage. If having so much of their personal life out there meant helping us remember that, then she was cool with it.

While being part of an impossibly gorgeous power duo isn’t necessarily in the cards for most of us, you might have gathered that this isn’t really about their relationship. It’s about perspective. It’s about the reminder that winning is cool and all, but that it isn’t always possible. And that it doesn’t make us who we are.

Cheesy, I know, but I apologize for nothing. This is 2020, everything is falling apart, and I’ll take my heart snuggles where I can get them.

We Don’t Deserve Israel Adesanya (But Since You’re Offering…)

I don’t think I really need to detail why middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is a treat. The man is simply a generational talent, a fighter both skilled and intelligent, and any attempt to argue otherwise constitutes unacceptable, irrational, and possibly criminal behavior.

These are objective and definitive truths that, as such, should require no evidence. But since I am a woman of science, I shall offer some anyway.

Mind you, the man that Adesanya thoroughly dominated at UFC 253 is the same Paulo Costa who took the worst of what Romero had to offer and still came out with a decision win. It is the same Costa who had finished every UFC opponent up until then. It is also, it turns out, the same Costa who had never lost a fight and apparently hits with the force of a thousand broke right-wingers defending rich people’s right not to pay taxes.

If it looked easy, it’s because Adesanya made it so. And while the extra $50,000 for his “Performance of the Night” efforts were probably welcome, I’m sure they pale in comparison to the honor of being on this list.

Violence Soup for the Soul

Imagine you’ve been lost in the desert for two days.

Your feet burn. Your skin blisters. You have no food, you drank your last sip of water about six hours ago, when finally you notice the colors change in the horizon. Along with the perspective of another night exposed to the elements, a feeling of hopelessness creeps in. How can you possibly survive this, you wonder. How could anyone?

But then you notice a spark. A few steps ahead, in the middle of all that sand, an object reflects the sun. You approach it carefully, thinking perhaps it’s a venomous creature, or just your eyes playing tricks on you. But you realize it’s neither. You touch it. You open it. It’s a canteen, miraculously filled to the brim with water.

It isn’t much, you know. You’re still stranded in the middle of the desert, alone, thoroughly fucked. But it is… Something. Just for that moment, it will do.

The desert is 2020.

You are MMA.

And the canteen is Carlos Condit winning his first fight since 2015.

Hardy vs. Dean

Since Buzzfeed took a pass on my perfectly good “Pick your favorite Halloween candy and we’ll tell you who you are in the great Dan Hardy vs. Herb Dean debacle of 2020” suggestion, I guess it’s up to me to address this.

About 459 years ago, way back in July, a fight ended in *gasp* some controversy. After being on the losing end of most of his UFC on ESPN 14 bout with Jai Herbert, Undisputed International Treasure Francisco Trinaldo found a massive overhand that, for a split second, seemed like it would mean the end of the match. Referee Herb Dean felt differently, however, and allowed Trinaldo to add a few more punches before officially calling it.

Cageside commentators Paul Felder and Dan Hardy joined the internet in feeling some type of way about it. We heard so immediately in the broadcast. Hardy, however, took his dissatisfaction a step further and decided to take it up with Dean himself. The internet, still undefeated, also felt some type of way about that, and soon Twitter was flooded with dueling pink and blue ribbons like in that episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai and Luke broke up for the first time.

No?

Highly specific reference that carries little to no cross-over potential?

Oh well.

Dean later put out a video explaining his reasoning for the stoppage. Meanwhile, Hardy issued explanations of his own as to why he blew up the way he did. And while I can absolutely understand Hardy’s impulse to demand accountability and want to protect fighters, especially having been one himself, I must say I am personally not a fan of the idea of anyone in the UFC broadcast team — or any team, for that matter — publicly confronting a referee in the middle of an event. Hardy had a mic in front of him, and I argue that it would have been a more effective instrument in getting his point across.

In any case, who cares what I think? Fact is, Hardy went back to commentating, Dean went back to officiating, and we all went back to wandering around aimlessly trying to make sense of our pathetic lives. Order, at last!

Behold the Polish Power

If you had told me two years ago that Jan Blachowicz would be the successor to Jon Jones’ throne, I would have laughed at your face.

And yet…

Thankfully, I take no issue with being wrong when it’s for a good cause. We can now add “Crowning delightful Polish 205-pound king” to our list of good things that happened in 2020, bringing us to a grand total of *checks notes* five.

Put Some Hespect in Her Name

As you may recall, Holly Holm did this kind of amazing thing back in 2015.

At a time when the mere notion of a Ronda Rousey-less throne seemed all but impossible, Holm head-kicked her way to the bantamweight title — and into UFC history. Unfortunately for Holm, her reign was as shocking as it was brief; less than four months later, she lost the title to Miesha Tate. And after another pair of losses, including one for the featherweight title, you could hear the entirely predictable question being asked in the dark corners of MMA forums.

Was Holm the “Buster” Douglas of MMA?

From then on, Holm went on a somewhat unique career path. A bantamweight win accredited her to another shot at the featherweight title… which she lost. Then a featherweight win led her to another shot at the bantamweight title… which she also lost. Then she won again, leading her to a bout that wouldn’t put her right back into title contention, but would most likely get her close.

All she had to do was get past Irene Aldana on Oct. 3, 2020.

A win by Aldana would make things simple. Fresh off a knockout over Ketlen Vieira, with a single loss among her six most recent bouts, Aldana would be an interesting addition to the title mix. After all, the 32-year-old Mexican fighter is one of the few contenders who has never faced two-division champion Amanda Nunes. Whereas Holm, 39, not only had quite a few shots at the title, but had also perished to Nunes herself in a quick four-minute affair.

Holm, however, had no time for our simple solutions. Not only did she beat Aldana, she did it flawlessly, thus reminding us that there’s a reason why she refuses to leave the title scene — or, as some have called for, the sport altogether. Holm can still compete, but, most importantly, she still wants to. And neither her nor her magnificent set of hair have any time for our negativity.

“You always have to believe you can do it,” Holm told MMAFighting during a media day ahead of the fight. ”And the day I don’t believe I can do it, is the say I need to retire. Setbacks doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s done.”

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