Have you ever finished reading a thoughtful, well-researched fight breakdown and thought “Damn, this is just too thorough and informative. I learned too much. This may even help me place bets and reap real-life benefits! I wish I had something that wasn’t like that at all to prepare me for UFC events.”
Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.
The bad news is that I am not a licensed therapist and therefore can’t do much in terms of helping you deal with whatever caused you to get this way. Here’s the good news, though: If it’s questionable, unreasonable, borderline intellectually insulting content that you want, you have come to the right place.
Welcome to Fanbyte’s Totally Normal, Not Weird At All pre-fight guide!
For those who have followed the guide from The Athletic, I am happy to inform you that these months spent apart have not translated to any kind of personal growth or increased maturity. There have been no epiphanies or mindful journeys to the inner self. Adversity has brought no awakening nor enlightenment. Honoring my lifelong commitment to emotional stunting and never getting better at any of the things, the guide will stay the same.
And while I’m not sure if that’s what “normal people” would qualify as “a positive,” I do believe that we can all use some consistency in our lives right now.
For those who are new here (Hi! Welcome! Apologies in advance!), here is a preview of some of the top-notch content you can expect, in no particular order: GIFs, mildly amusing jokes, more GIFs, jokes that will not amuse you in the slightest, disturbingly deep dives into people’s social media accounts, outdated memes, disturbingly deep dives into the inherent pain of being, gratuitous attacks on corporate greed and wealth accumulation, shout-outs to Karl Marx, gratuitous attacks on the comedy of Dane Cook, shout-outs to Jean-Claude Van Damme, gratuitous attacks on the music of Josh Groban and/or Limp Bizkit, puppies wearing top hats, and the occasional fight-related content.
Now that we’ve adjusted our expectations and legally covered our bases, we can get on with discussing some of the highlights of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Moraes vs. Sandhagen card at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Enjoy it, or don’t, just please remember that only assholes say mean things to people online.
He’s not mad, just disappointed
See, sometimes you have a main event that is so good that you don’t want to jinx it by talking too much about it in advance. Also, sometimes you’re writing about an entire card and you leave the main event for last and realize you’ve run out of creativity and need to concoct a half-baked excuse for your readers.
So which one is really the case here?
In my defense, as far as pre-fight talks go, neither Marlon Moraes nor Cory Sandhagen are known for their keenness to make headlines. Despite having his close split-decision win over former champion Jose Aldo basically erased from our collective memories, Moraes remains as committed as ever to his role as the UFC’s unimpressed mom. He won’t call people names, he won’t raise his voice, but his casual, stone-faced delivery will somehow sting that much more. He won’t get mad; he will get disappointed. And he won’t waste too much time preaching, as his lessons will be taught, swiftly and sternly, in due time. Lest we forget, there is often ample potential for damage in compact, God-fearing frames.
When it comes to Sandhagen, most of the pre-fight talk has revolved around his surprisingly quick loss Aljamain Sterling. Sandhagen, an intellectual, used the concept of “arousal continuum” as an explanation for the display — which I, a simpleton, have taken to mean that he was excessively chill going into it. As someone who has never been even moderately chill about anything ever, I can’t say I relate, but the part where he referred to his own performance as “ugly” and “pretty pathetic” does strike a chord.
Unfortunately, being unnecessarily harsh on myself is pretty much the extent to which I can relate to a high-level athlete who remains very much among the elite of the UFC’s bantamweight division. Prior to Sterling, Sandhagen was riding seven consecutive wins — five of them in the UFC, including decisions over longtime expert fight winner Raphael Assuncao and Our Lord and Savior John Lineker.
Moraes, for his part, is coming off the win over Aldo that the UFC decided to pretend was really a loss, which followed a failed title shot against Henry Cejudo. Sandhagen’s intelligently-paced, footwork-heavy style has gotten some high praise from Moraes himself, who recently called his opponent a “better version of Dominick Cruz.” Moraes, for his part, has been known to send an opponent or two to the shadow realm with his power and speed.
Basically, both men are getting a new chance at a high-stakes opportunity, in a match-up that is both divisionally meaningful and stylistically promising.
I hate to be the one to bring this up, but I think we might have been misplacing our collective intellectual resources.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of despairingly cyclical GOAT conversations in which subjective personal opinions are presented as objective truth and nothing is ever accomplished. And, of course, how could we go a full year without speculating about a Brock Lesnar return that is just about as realistic as meaningful climate change action by the ruling class? Trust me: There’s no bigger fan of the real-time dissection of Jon Jones’ biweekly social media unraveling, and I certainly have no desire to live in a world in which every sign of mild Twitter hostility isn’t grounds for a headline.
Sometimes, however, I feel like our fixation with these very important conversations distracts us from other, equally important conversations.
Like, for example, Makwan Amirkhani’s Tapology picture.
As someone who has long enraged Men on the Internet™ with my pesky little habit of reminding them that women are fully-formed and complex human beings, my first instinct is to take issue with this picture. It is, after all, what kids these days would call a “flex” based basically on having women as props.
I am, however, willing to give Amirkhani something close to a pass based on the… On-brandedness of it all.
See, Amirkhani is good at fighting. It takes, after all, a person who’s good at fighting to amass a 6-2 record in a division as competitive as featherweight — especially when you consider four of those wins were finishes. He is not exactly the most active fighter on the roster, but he’s made sure to show up at least once every calendar year since his debut in 2015. He’s only 31 and he’s recovered from every one of his career losses. Record-wise, Amirkhani is sturdy. Respectable. Solid. Like that back-supporting mattress that you buy with money that could have gone to something fun and makes you almost feel like an adult.
“Solid,” however, doesn’t ensure that a fighter keeps his spot on the overcrowded, structurally compromised branch that is the MMA fan’s memory. There’s more to what keeps us interested. There’s just something about the way that Amirkhani just appears every year, with his impossibly symmetrical face and swanky eyewear, and commands our attention. As a matter of fact, Amirkhani is the kind of person who doesn’t just enter a room; he waltzes in.
There’s something about how Amirkhani arches his perfectly-tweaked eyebrows in just the right angles while fielding media questions, as if he’s almost too cool to answer them but too polite not to. Amirkhani doesn’t attend an event or a function; he graces them with his presence. Then, he does the fighting thing, and win or lose you can expect two things from the aftermath: His hair will stay intact and we won’t hear much about him for months. Only Armikhani’s Instagram will tell us that he is training, living and existing concretely in reality, and isn’t some apparition that we collectively hallucinate once or twice a year.
So. damn. cool.
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Why am I going on and on about Amirkhani’s coolness, you ask?
If you ask my therapist, she will probably tell you something about projection and an unhealthy obsession with the kind of people who tortured me in high school. My official explanation, though, is that coolness is an important factor in his upcoming match-up with Edson Barboza.
See, Barboza might not be the kind of guy one would immediately brand as cool. His outfits are unremarkable. His hairstyle is nondescript. His Instagram is basically pictures of his family, his training, and the infallible “hyper-focused fighter on his way to the octagon” shot. He doesn’t really call people out, or allow himself to be dragged into taunts and Twitter Beefs.™ For the most part, aside from the rare promotional grievance and the understandable post-split-decision-loss disgruntlement, Barboza is just… There. Chilling. Doing his thing.
Yet, think of the damage that this gloriously unbothered capybara of a fighter is capable of within the confines of a cage. Think about how this wide-smiling family man has been a professional wrecking ball since he was a literal child. Consider how this gentle-eyed human person softly thanks Jesus Christ for his ability to remodel human cheekbones with his shins and look me in the eyes to tell me that he isn’t a) absolutely terrifying and b) the. damn. coolest.
The answer is: You can’t.
Barboza isn’t exactly at the best stage of his career, having just come off three consecutive losses and an overall 1-5 recent stretch. Still, the fact that he is still the co-main event says something about where he stands with the promotion and fans. And that is, obviously, in that dear corner of our hearts where chaos and depravity reign. Barboza is to senseless in-cage violence what basically every American president is to senseless violence in foreign countries, and that doesn’t seem to have changed despite his decision to shrink his zero-body-fat frame down to 145 pounds. Add Amirkhani’s fight-finishing skills on the ground to the mix and this pairing might just be crazy enough to work.
Speaking of crazy*…
Remember that one time when Markus Perez’s gimmick was so good that we briefly allowed ourselves to have fun and forget that The Joker is one of the most troubling cultural icons of our time and should be stopped immediately?
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) November 16, 2019
*sighs longingly* Fun times, fun times.
At least now we have… Masks and… Distance… And… The precarious balance between our desire to follow and enjoy violence with the persistent guilt of supporting a particularly unsafe sport during particularly unsafe times?
*This is not an insensitive reference to legitimate mental health issues. Markus’ nickname is “Maluko”, which literally means “Crazy” in Portuguese. Well, “Krazy”, if we’re being technical. Fittingly enough, Perez is set to fight UFC newcomer Dricus Du Plessis, who once held a title at KSW. For those unfamiliar with the Polish promotion, they put on gloriously unhinged pyrotechnical shows that make you question your sanity and challenge your fundamental notions of space, time and reality itself. It’s awesome.
Heavyweights: How do they work?
At this point, it’s pretty safe to say that we’re leaving 2020 as changed people.
I, for one, wasn’t expecting to be in a different country, sharing a living space with a male human, typing terms like “paprika + marinade + medium-firm tofu” into search bars and actively missing the days when strangers invaded my personal space with their disgusting breath particles. Amid all the developments of this raging dumpster fire of a year, though, few have surprised me more than my newly-acquired soft spot for Ben Rothwell.
I guess there is nothing like constant exposure to people’s most outrageously dumb thoughts to help us appreciate those who aren’t complete asshats.
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I do not support organizations, violence, or destruction. I support the movement for change. I’m just trying to support my friends and have a better understanding of what people are going through and why they feel what they do. I’m looking for unity and instead I see nothing but division. I had many great conversations that brought me here, all I ask is everyone bashing me should go and speak with others to understand what they are going through and why they feel what they are. Listen , be compassionate and see if you feel differently after. #unity
Is Rothwell the Marx-loving, authority-toppling, millionaire-eating UFC icon that I wish for every night when I go to bed? Not quite. Am I still doomed to a life of heartbreak and disappointment? Yes, for multiple reasons. Still, between the measured approach to the situation in his native Kenosha, his somewhat humorous social media and what seems to be a general lack of public COVID denialism, I will allow myself this six-foot-four, 260-pound dose of comfort.
Also, don’t look now, but Rothwell could very well come out of Saturday’s main card on a three-fight winning streak. That might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is nothing to scoff at considering a 38-year-old heavyweight who not long ago was on a three-fight skid — with a contentious two-year USADA suspension in between. While we’re talking numbers, it’s also worth mentioning that this will be Rothwell’s 51st professional MMA bout, which is just an objectively insane amount of violence. To put it into perspective, he’s fought 20 times more than the second most active fighter on the card (Marlon Moraes), twice as many times as opponent Marcin Tybura and 50 times more than the vast majority of reasonable human beings on planet Earth.
With Tybura himself coming off two straight wins, I wish I could tell you that this is an important match-up for the UFC’s heavyweight division. But that would be a lie. The truth is that I have no idea what this means for the UFC’s heavyweight division, as I have long given up on figuring out what anything means for the UFC’s heavyweight division. Between the constant snubbing of Curtis Blaydes and the omnipresent specter of one Jonathan Dwight Jones, I say it’s best that we just abandon our silly human logic and embrace the chaos.
I’m just going to leave this here…
While you’re at it, check out the rest of Alan Baudot’s Instagram page. He smiles all the time and it’s absolutely delightful. Baudot fights Tom Aspinall in the main card and my official prediction is applicable to many a UFC heavyweight encounter: Approximately 85 seconds of fun interrupted by profound weirdness.
Ain’t no party like a mental health awareness party
Look, I enjoy some good ol’ trash talk as much as the next guy. Disjointed skatepark-level insults, misguided metaphors involving the animal kingdom, death threats that somehow turn weirdly sexual: I am here for all of it. Every now and then, though, the beta-cuck-SJW-soyboy in me enjoys getting freaky and listening to adults help shed light on taboo themes such as emotional hardships and mental health struggles.
If you also like to get down like that, boy do I have a treat for you. Well, technically it’s TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter who has the treat, but I think I deserve some points for so generously sharing my findings. Bronsteter talked to middleweights Tom Breese and KB Bhullar, who are set to fight each other in Saturday’s preliminary card, both of which have dealt with some mental hurdles. Breese, who’s has had two health-related last-minute withdrawals from UFC fights, discussed his dealings with anxiety, while Bhullar addressed his five-year break from MMA after his brother suffered serious injuries on his debut.
Enjoyed speaking with Tom Breese today, who opened up to me about his struggles with anxiety during his UFC career.
The full interview will be available on this week's TSN MMA Show podcast. pic.twitter.com/Xycjc7x1HH
— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) October 7, 2020
Undefeated Canadian KB Bhullar makes his debut on Saturday, but it was a long road to the UFC, which included a 5+ year hiatus from the sport.
He discusses why he took the time away and what brought him back.
— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) October 7, 2020
Ah, I sure do love the smell of toxic, outdated ideals of masculinity being slowly dismantled in the morning.