Stand and Deliver: UFC 270

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    Every fight matters, but some matter just a little more.

    In some ways, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. The difference
    between one fight and the next lies in what’s at stake. Picture the
    fighter on a losing streak who knows he or she is likely fighting
    for their job; or conversely, any title fight in a top regional
    organization, where the combatants know they are almost certainly
    being scouted by the big boys. At other times, a fight feels
    especially important for reasons that are harder to quantify, but
    no less real. Whether it’s the symbolic heft of being a pioneer in
    MMA from one’s country, or the simple added spice of two fighters
    who really hate each other’s guts, that fight means just a little

    This Saturday, the Ultimate Fighting Championship serves up its
    first pay-per-view offering of 2022, as UFC
    takes place at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. In some
    ways, the promotion itself is under the gun to stand and deliver as
    much as any individual fighter on the card, as UFC 270 is also the
    first event since the UFC’s broadcast partner in the U.S., ESPN,
    hiked the price of pay-per-views from $69.99 to $74.99, after a
    similar $5 increase just a year ago. Considering that ESPN has
    levied these price increases during a global pandemic, when
    catching a UFC at your local wings n’ boobs — or hosting a watch
    party at home and splitting the bill with a couple of friends — may
    not be advisable or even possible, fans might be forgiven for
    asking, “Is this card worth it?”

    However, that’s between the UFC, ESPN and the fans. The 24 men and
    women who make up the lineup of UFC 270 have the same brief as
    ever: Win the fight, entertain the fans — preferably both. From the
    grip of debuting Dana White’s Contender Series graduates on the
    early prelims all the way to the monstrous title doubleheader at
    the top of the card, some of those fighters need a win more
    urgently than others, for a variety of reasons. Here are three
    fighters under just a little extra pressure to stand and deliver at
    UFC 270.

    If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably noticed that this
    column almost never features title fight participants. That is
    because the stakes are usually so obvious as to not be worth going
    over; everyone’s ultimate goal is to win — or keep — a belt.
    However, sometimes the stakes are high, but not equally so for both
    participants. Such is the case in Saturday’s co-main event, as
    , Figueiredo’s opponent at UFC 270, is risking far less,
    even though he is the one putting the belt on the line. If Moreno
    loses, their series will stand at 1-1-1. It is a near-certainty
    that we would get the first quadrilogy in UFC history, and we would
    probably get it immediately. Add in the fact that the Mexican is
    six years younger, and no matter what happens in Anaheim, you get
    the feeling that he will have many more chances to win and defend

    The same is not true of Figueiredo. If he loses, the series will
    stand at 0-2-1. Never say never, considering that we were about to
    see Alexander
    vs. Max
    3, but he will have a hard road back to a title shot
    for as long as Moreno is around. At 34, with a history of
    difficult, draining weight cuts, “Deus da Guerra” will have a tough
    choice: hang around as an ultra-elite gatekeeper and hope that
    Moreno loses or the stars somehow align to necessitate a late
    replacement or interim title, or move up and try his luck at
    bantamweight. That’s some kind of pressure.

    : Smaller “Problem,” Bigger Gamble

    Speaking of forced and unforced weight shifts, if anyone had been
    screaming that Giles needed to drop to welterweight in order
    to salvage his career, I sure missed the outcry. He was not a
    particularly small middleweight, and in fact made his UFC debut at
    light heavyweight — and won. His undefeated pre-UFC run included
    wins over big n’ tall future co-workers Brendan
    , Ike Villanueva and Ryan Spann.
    While he had a rough night at the office in his last outing,
    getting knocked out by Dricus Du
    at UFC 264 last July, he rode into that fight on a
    three-bout win streak that saw the Houston cop reach the fringes of
    the Top 10. Ironically, the last of those three wins was against
    , whose own drop from light heavyweight to middleweight
    had similarly come out of the blue.

    Yet here we are, with “The Problem” set to make his 170-pound
    debut, and the risk that if he loses, the move will look
    unnecessary at best, actively harmful at worst — especially if he
    misses weight or seems obviously compromised by the cut. The margin
    of error is made even narrower by the matchup: undefeated Contender
    Series alumnus Michael
    , who has every appearance of being the real deal and is
    actually the slight betting favorite as of the beginning of fight

    There is upside to Giles’ decision. Whereas some fighters try
    dropping in weight as desperation move to turn around a career in
    its final chapter, in competitive free-fall or both, Giles is just
    29 and as noted, is 3-1 over the last two years. If he wins on
    Saturday, as a fringe contender in his previous division, he will
    get to jump the line just a bit at welterweight, which is otherwise
    probably the hardest division in the UFC for a fighter to work his
    way up from the bottom. Think of Gilbert
    or Michael
    , who received similar benefit of the doubt after coming
    to 170 from the opposite direction. The risk and reward are both
    crystal clear — and prodigious.

    : Short Notice + Long Odds = Zero Margin for Error

    It seems as though just about every week, this column ends up
    highlighting a fighter who is a massive betting favorite, or a
    fighter facing an opponent who accepted the booking on short
    notice. Topuria is both, and now shoulders a double load of unfair
    expectations, as he takes on late replacement Charles
    . Even though both fighters in a short-notice matchup
    are cramming for the same pop quiz, the already-booked fighter has
    been training for the date in question, and is expected to be at
    their best, at least physically. Meanwhile, stepping up on short
    notice is in as close to a no-lose scenario as there is in the UFC.
    The short-notice fighter is perceived to be doing a favor for the
    promotion as well as their opponent, picking up a surprise paycheck
    for themselves, and is at no real risk of losing their job, win or
    lose, even if they miss weight.

    Similarly, fair or not — it’s usually not — when a fighter is a
    huge favorite, there is an expectation of lopsidedness. The
    difference between a -150 money line and -1500 is in how likely the
    bookmakers think one fighter is to win, not how badly they think
    the fighter is going to beat the other up. Yet when Jennifer
    made it to the final horn against Valentina
    , just to name one example, there were plenty of
    observers declaring the mostly one-sided drubbing a moral victory
    for the challenger or, worse yet, a sign that “Bullet” was

    In light of those two narratives, consider the situation in which
    Topuria now finds himself. Previously set to face Movsar
    in a matchup of undefeated featherweight blue-chippers,
    Topuria must now reckon with “Air” Jourdain. After a camp spent
    preparing for a relentless wrestler and grappler, he now gets to
    turn on a dime and get ready for a high-flying, quick-strike
    knockout artist. It’s also worth noting that if Jourdain follows
    the short-notice fighter gameplan of, “throw the kitchen sink at
    him until one of you goes down,” he is far, far more dangerous in
    that setting than Evloev would have been if the roles were
    reversed. Oh, and with the opponent change Topuria goes from being
    the slightest of underdogs in a near pick ‘em fight, to being the
    biggest favorite on the card at a ludicrous -600. He gets to choose
    his poison: Try to put on a highlight-reel performance, running the
    risk that he ends up the object rather than the subject of the
    highlights, or go out to survive, advance — and weather the
    inevitable cries that he underperformed.

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