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Mailbag: UFC Louisville’s controversial stoppage and where does the middleweight division go from here?

Nassourdine Imavov and Jared Cannonier at UFC Louisville
Nassourdine Imavov and Jared Cannonier at UFC Louisville | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC Louisville is in the books, and it was a weird one. The prelims were entirely forgettable and a bit of a slog, but the main card was actually quite fun — right up until the controversial main event. Nassourdine Imavov officially gets a TKO win over Jared Cannonier, but he was helped along by a very premature stoppage from referee Jason Herzog. Oh, and Dominick Reyes finally got back in the win column.

So let’s talk about all that, plus a fun hypothetical to ponder.

The Stoppage

“After the Cannonier-Imavov stoppage, what are the upsides and downsides of immediate rematches for controversial stoppages?”

I figure we’ll start with the stoppage since it’s the biggest story coming out of this weekend.

I believe that Jason Herzog is the best referee in MMA today. That being said, Saturday was not his finest day at the office. If you haven’t seen it, Imavov hurts Cannonier with a beautifully timed right hand and Cannonier goes into survival mode, including turning his back and running away a couple of times. Imavov tries to put on the finishing touches but can’t quite, and as Cannonier finally sets his feet and swings back, Herzog steps in. It was not good.

Now, there is at least some argument that Cannonier turning and running is cause to stop the bout and that’s true. The issue is that Herzog didn’t stop the fight then. He waited until Cannonier was actually punching back. And it’s not like Cannonier was eating big shots. He was hurt, trying to work through it, and it was stopped before he could. Ultimately, I doubt it made a huge difference, as Cannonier was probably not going to overcome this to win the fight, but to not even have the chance is unfortunate.

And while all premature stoppages are tough, these sorts of ones are particularly hard to swallow, because there is no fix. The stoppage wasn’t so outrageous that it demands an immediate rematch, and it’s extremely unlikely Cannonier’s appeal (assuming he makes one) will overturn the outcome. Plus, the fight wasn’t exactly a barnburner, so I doubt the UFC even considers running it right back. In the end, this will go down as win for Imavov and it’ll stay that way. And though it’s unfortunate, I think I’m good with that.

Immediate rematches are among my least favorite things in MMA. Fighting doesn’t have a seven-game series; it’s one fight, one night, winner take all. The whole point of the sport is that wins and losses matter and immediate rematches mess with that dynamic. And it’s not a victimless thing. If this fight stands, yes, it’s a little unfair to Cannonier, but if they decide to run things back, that’s also unfair to Imavov. Remember, he did nothing wrong in this fight, and to ask him to do it again is, to me, more unfair. If Cannonier didn’t want to be in this spot, don’t put yourself in that position.

Ultimately, the thing about immediate rematches is that it’s playing favorites. So for me, you only do that when it’s so egregious that it would be a miscarriage of justice not to. And I’m sorry, Jared, but this Saturday doesn’t hit that mark.

Nassourdine Imavov’s next move

“Stoppage aside, where does Imavov fit in the middleweight division knowing that Strickland is sitting out and [Dricus] du Plessis and [Israel] Adesanya are rumored to fight at UFC 305 in Perth?”

Here’s the other thing about that stoppage, it actually screwed Imavov over too.

The UFC middleweight title picture is a bit of a mess right now, with DDP vs. Izzy not even officially booked at the moment, and Strickland saying he’s going to wait for a title shot. The problem with that is that if Khamzat Chimaev beats Robert Whittaker next weekend, Chimaev is getting the next title shot. So heading into UFC Louisville, I thought that the winner had a decent crack at getting a No. 1 contender fight with Strickland later this year, but after the way it ended? Doubtful.

Instead, it seems to me like Imavov is going to end up fighting Brendan Allen next. That won’t get him a title shot but it will get him a title eliminator next, or maybe he could sneak in if the timing breaks well for him, like it did for Strickland and his middleweight title shot.

Imavov is in a better spot today than he was this past Friday, but the best thing he can do now is stay ready. After all, the best ability is available.

Where does Jared Cannonier go from here?

“Is Jared done?”

He’s cooked.

Cannonier was trying to work his way back to a title shot, but at this point, that dream is dead. He’s 40 years old and in that sour spot of not being popular enough to get a feel-good title shot (a la Dustin Poirier) but being well-known enough that the next generation of contenders will want to make their bones on him. And they’re going to get their chance.

When push comes to shove, Cannonier’s had his chance. He’s fought everyone in the top five other than the champion and he’s gone 2-2. It’s time to give defend your position against the young pups. Michel Pereira, Caio Borralho, and Anthony Hernandez all have earned a chance to climb the ladder, and Cannonier is going to have to defend the gates for his next couple of fights.

Dominick Reyes is back!

“After his win this weekend, could Reyes could potentially make another run for the belt at light heavyweight?”

Oh God no.

Here’s the thing: Reyes was never washed, he was simply losing fights to some of the best fighters in the world. That means the man still has plenty left in the tank, and when he fights guys like Dustin Jacoby — good but not great — he can still get quality wins. But those losses to Jan Blachowicz, Jiri Prochazka, and Ryan Spann weren’t flukes.

Here’s the other thing: Reyes is not the fighter we thought he might be when he was robbed of the decision against Jon Jones. Prior to the Jones fight, Reyes was not viewed as a future all-timer. He was just a young light heavyweight in an old division who had some talent. But he got the Jones fight by knocking out career middleweight Chris Weidman, not exactly the greatest accomplishment. Then he fought (and should have beaten) Jones and we all reconsidered him. But sometimes champions have off nights and challengers have the best night of their life, and I think it’s fair to say that’s what happened with Reyes.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re all stoked that Reyes finally got a win. The man has been through a lot, career-wise, and deserved to get his hand raised again. But let’s not get out over our skis here. Reyes still has limitations, he’s a bit chinny, and he’s no longer even that young. So let’s just enjoy this for what it was and not think about title talk for the time being.

A hypothetical

I love silly hypotheticals, so this is right up my alley. If every male UFC champion (including interim (*cough* real *cough*) heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall was locked in a room together, who would be the one to walk out alive?

Derek Brunson believes it’s Leon Edwards and makes a reasonable case. But Brunson is wrong. Dricus du Plessis is the last man standing.

First off, no one is jumping anyone to start. I feel confident that everybody would look around, realize the situation, and decide that collectively they can finally force Jon Jones to fight Tom Aspinall, which is cool. So everyone from Alexandre Pantoja to Alex Pereira simply sits down and lets the two big fellas get to things.

In my head, Tom wins that fight because he’s not old and injured. But it kind of doesn’t matter who wins, because while they’re fighting, the remaining fighters then do decide to collectively jump the winner. So either way, both men are done.

But while this has all been happening, a secret alliance has formed between Pereira and DDP as they both realize they’re next on the chopping block. While Aspinall is getting pounded to a pulp. Pereira then kicks off the next phase of things and boops Makhachev out of nowhere, neutralizing the next biggest threat while DDP goes after Leon Edwards.

Leon holds his own against DDP, leaving Pantoja, Sean O’Malley, and Ilia Topuria to deal with Pereira. None of them are enthused about this but it’s now or never. Pereira clubs Pantoja but is overwhelmed by the numbers. Leon and DDP realize what’s happened and stop fighting, deciding to resume after they deal with small fellows. It’s over quickly because weight classes mean something, and then Leon and DDP get right back to it, and Dricus wins because if Nate Diaz can almost knock out Leon, I suspect DDP can.

So, when you think about it, Dricus du Plessis is actually the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in tweets (Xs?)! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again, and see y’all next week.

Валерий Сипетин

15 июня в Ростовском городском шахматном клубе на Газетном, 92 поведут рапид памяти международного гроссмейстера Сергея Аслановича Бешукова

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