Totally Normal, Not Weird At All UFC Guide to Thompson vs. Neal

Everything you actually need to know about UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs. Neal

*clears throat*

I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is some reprieve from the crushing weight of existence and maybe a vaccine so I can finally go to an overcrowded confined area and have beer spilled on an ecologically irresponsible fast-fashion garment as I wait in line to use an overflowing toilet that holds all four major germ groups and the solution to three paternity cases.

via GIPHY

For the more immediate future, however, I will settle for this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs. Neal card in Las Vegas.

A welterweight crossroads

I am distrustful of people who tackle life with a positive attitude.

I understand that this doesn’t necessarily seem like a “nice” or “cool” or “even remotely reasonable” stance to take, but hear me out: Have you seen things? Like, any of the things? Lately or pretty much ever?

They are not OK, the things. I don’t think they’ve ever been. So you can see why seeing outward expressions of joy from a fully-formed adult with a grip on reality and lived experience on this material plane would strike me as odd. Suspicious. Unnatural. Sociopathic, even.

For years, my bitterness has fueled me, powerful and all-encompassing. It’s been there to guide me through the bad times and through the other times which are also bad because I am made of chaos and darkness. It’s the foundation on which I, the core of my being. I live by one belief and one belief alone, and that is that nothing is ever good.

And yet, every now and then, I find my faith to be shaken.

That’s right, friends. I am all aboard Stephen Thompson’s colorful, joyous, perpetually peppy train. I am here for the wholesome humor and the can-do attitude. I don’t mind that he’s a 37-year-old “Wonderboy,” or that he talks like a fun-loving guidance counselor who plays the ukulele in a high school movie, or that he nearly brought upon my premature demise with one of his allegedly human-oriented home workouts. Heck (using harsh language when discussing Thompson-related matters will make your tongue grow warts), I have even forgiven him for Vicente Luque.

More relevantly to the point of this write-up, though, Thompson has long been one of the top welterweights in the world. And Saturday’s headliner with Geoff Neal is a chance to stay in the conversation as exactly that, and not a stepping stone for others hoping to achieve similar glory.

We’ve seen this movie before. The battle-tested veteran starts showing some signs of decline. They’re still respected, and not necessarily over the hill. But they have had their chance at gold (in Thompson’s case, twice) and failed at it (in Thompson’s case, narrowly). They’ve been around long enough to have a fanbase, but aren’t necessarily winning over new audiences. They aren’t beaten often, but they’ve shown they can be beaten. They’re at the stage in which the chance to lend credibility to an up-and-comer is appealing enough to outweigh the risks of prematurely dimming their shine. I’ve yet to meet a fighter who didn’t recoil at the mention of the word “gatekeeper,” and yet it’s a curse few escape.

Except Thompson has escaped it, once, when now-29-year-old Luque was thrown his way on the strength of a six-win streak comprised of five finishes. Thompson, then coming off his roughest career stretch (1-3-1 in five fights), found himself in the tricky position of having to defend his spot in the division from someone who at that point was very much looking like its future. Now, 13 months after leaving that bout with a unanimous decision and “Fight of the Night” honors, Thompson finds himself fighting an eerily familiar battle against 30-year-old Neal.

Like Luque, Neal brings in a streak — in his case, made up of seven wins. Like Luque, all but one of those wins have come via stoppage. Like Luque, Neal’s last win leading up to the Thompson appointment was Mike Perry. Even the rankings tell an interesting story, with Neal currently sitting just one spot below Luque’s No. 10. Against No. 5 Thompson, Neal has a chance to break out of promise land and into legitimate title contention.

It’s a high-stakes situation, but I’m guessing it will take a little more than that to faze Neal after the low-key almost dying of septic shock thing.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Geoff Neal (@handzofsteelmma)

That’s right. While some of us (possibly me, I will neither confirm nor deny) will use a mild case of food poisoning as a week-long pass to get out of performing basic household tasks, Neal is about to fight a full man merely months after a battle with sepsis and congestive heart failure that had him hooked to a dialysis machine and, as he recently told The Athletic, “unresponsive for about, maybe like 15 minutes.” All of which, by the way, may or may not have been linked to a previous COVID infection.

I know, it’s a lot to take in. But if your brain is having a tough time accepting the idea that a human person not only recovered but went right back to being a high-level athlete after this, please keep in mind that this a human person who is capable of doing this to other human people.

Apropos of nothing

Here’s “Wonderboy” delightfully breaking down fight scenes in movies.

The Jose Aldo dilemma

Here’s the thing: Jose Aldo is still a great fighter.

That isn’t necessarily a problem, considering that being a great fighter is a desirable quality in someone who fights for a living. Many people can say they’re good at things, but great is really not for everyone. I, for one, can only claim to be great at consuming large amounts of caffeinated beverages without showing signs of motor impairment, and even that is up for debate. Some may disagree, but I say it with the closest thing I have to confidence: Looking at the names and circumstances around Aldo’s recent three-fight losing skid, you don’t see a non-great fighter.

What you see, though, is someone who’s not nearly as great as he once was. And therein lies the actual problem.

On the one hand, I understand why someone would start crying retirement after the beating that Aldo ultimately took from Petr Yan in their bantamweight title fight. For anyone who’s witnessed Aldo’s six-year reign of terror, something just isn’t quite right about watching him crumble under the pressure of a 27-year-old Russian power drill. We’d gotten a taste of that feeling before, when Max Holloway made it clear — twice — that there was a new champion in town. And we’d gotten it in a different way almost exactly five years ago, when Conor McGregor needed only 13 seconds to undo a streak that Aldo had taken 10 years to build.

The common thread to all these moments, though?

Aldo kept coming back.

He came back from McGregor, he came back from Holloway, and when it seemed like all the roads to featherweight glory were closed, he came back to a lower division. Many — understandably — doubted that Aldo could even make the 135-pound limit, and he not only made it but fought Marlon Moraes to a split-decision loss so close that the UFC decided to just say fuck it and pretend like Aldo had actually won. So yes, Aldo is on a skid, and yes, he will inevitably run out of lives. Maybe he has run out of them already, but I don’t think we’ve seen enough to make that call yet.

Whether 34-year-old Aldo can still be champion, of course, is a whole different story. Based on the people atop both his divisions, I’d guess not, and that’s when things get tricky.

It’s hard to process the idea of a man who reigned supreme for so long presenting himself as a mere mortal, but maybe that’s what we get. Aldo may win Saturday’s main-card meeting with Marlon Vera, but he may lose. He may retire, or he may go for a few more years, winning some and losing some, perhaps taking some unnecessary damage in the process. That might not be how we wanted to remember Aldo’s career, but the thing about Aldo’s career is that it’s ultimately his.

Didn’t see you there, Marlon Vera

Remember when we blinked for a second and then Marlon Vera had finished five different bantamweights in the span of 15 months?

Time flies when the world is going to shit, but that was just last year. And while Vera has since had the streak snapped by Yadong Song, he’s also recovered in rather definitive fashion with the brutal derailment of Sean O’Malley’s tie-dye hype train. Unlike Aldo, who came into the UFC already a vetted champion, Vera had to learn on the job. Unlike O’Malley, who was an instant hit with the UFC and the fans, Vera had to fight for our time and attention. Now, after years of chipping away at the bantamweight division, 28-year-old Vera has a real chance to really etch his name on it.

The fact that this might just happen at the expense of one of the sport’s greats is both a little melancholic and somehow entirely fitting.

via GIPHY

Michel Pereira: A pros and cons list

After months of (being right while) debating people who (are wrong and) don’t believe Michel Pereira really deserves a spot in the UFC, I’ve decided to present my arguments in the most objective way possible.

Pros:

  • High-energy walkouts
  • Fun
  • Infectious joy de vivre
  • Fun
  • Flying shit
  • Spinning shit
  • Shit that spins and flies
  • Shit that makes no sense whatsoever
  • Shit you won’t see from any of the countless UFC fighters in any other of the several UFC fights you watch basically every single week
  • Finishes
  • Athleticism
  • ???!!…  What (?!)
  • Fun

Cons:

  • Missed weight once
  • Has lost and might lose again
  • Is bad for people who hate fun

via GIPHY

2020: A pros and cons list

Cons:

  • *Gestures broadly*
  • Literally everything

Pros:

  • Someway, somehow, Pereira is now set to fight a cement-handed steamroller who is literally named Khaos and for a second I will let myself believe that things might just be OK

Notes on Khaos

“If people keep sleeping on me, the doctor’s gonna wake them up.” (WILLIAMS, Khaos)

We’re all extremely old

Anthony Pettis’ Showtime Kick is now 10 years old, which means I can officially stop pretending to be interested in new music and embrace my newfound appreciation for comfortable footwear with proper arch support.

Pettis, who’s since won a UFC title, lost a UFC title, and made it his life’s mission to keep us on a perpetual cycle of awe and frustration, is set to meet Alex Morono in the preliminary card. Despite a solid recent 4-1 stretch, Morono is somewhat of a low-profile opponent for a former champion who’s fought everyone from Max Holloway to Nate Diaz and is just coming off a (victorious) rematch with fan-favorite Donald Cerrone.

I’d like to say something categorical like “This is exactly the kind of fight Pettis truly shines in,” but I don’t think there are any sweeping statements that can be made about any part of Pettis’ career. Will he blow our collective minds with a physics-defying knockout? Will he break and/or rupture something and/or bleed a lot? Will he come out unscathed with a totally unexpected submission? Will he refuse to make key adjustments thus causing us to angrily throw food items at our screens?

Who knows, and dare I say that’s kind of the beauty of Pettis.

But also:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Joe Lauzon (@joelauzon)

+

=

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Alex Morono (@alexmoronomma)

Did you know?

Sijara Eubanks helped her partner deliver a whole baby by an elevator and I just don’t think we as a community talk about this enough.

Eubanks is scheduled for a preliminary-card fight against Pannie Kianzad, who to my knowledge has never delivered any babies in elevators but is the woman behind Biggie The Notorious P.U.G.

Speaking of which…

If you are a decent person in full possession of a heart and not an id-driven axe murderer with no place in civilized society, you might want to check out Leg Kickin Tacos’ Fight Week series about fighter dogs.

And if you do happen to be an id-driven axe murdered with no place in civilized society, there’s always Paul Joseph Watson.

Tags

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.