The UFC's heavyweight division was a hot topic of conversation Monday on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show as Daniel Cormier and Curtis Blaydes discussed Stipe Miocic's inactivity and what should be done with his championship belt.
Former champion Tyron Woodley looking for respect
After accepting the fight against Edwards, Woodley was looking to simplify his life in the lead-up to the bout. That's what drove him to the opposite side of the world to train with retired UFC veteran Mike Swick at AKA Thailand.
What started as a two-week pre-training camp excursion has turned into a lot more.
"It was just something that I needed," Woodley told Ariel Helwani on Monday. "I've already lost 15 pounds since I've been out here. My cardio is insane. I'm training my ass off.
"I just really feel good about it, so I asked Mike if he would be OK with me coming back," Woodley continued. "So I'm going to go home for a couple weeks, hug up on my kids, especially after the tragedy with Kobe Bryant, and then I'm going to hop back on a bird and I'm going to come back out here."
He's even going to stray from his typical prefight routine of going home just before heading out to a fight in order to squeeze as much time in Thailand as he can. Woodley plans on flying straight from Thailand to London in the lead-up to the Edwards fight. Once he get there, he plans on taking care of business and fighting his way back to the top.
While Woodley feels he's done enough in his career to be close to a title rematch without grinding his way back from the bottom, he's a realist about the current state of the 170-pound division -- even if he doesn't like it.
"I'm not even guaranteed a title shot after beating Leon Edwards. How does my deck of cards [stack up] when I'm the one who actually defended [the belt] four times and won four title fights in a year?" Woodley said. "Not, 'OK, you look so awesome ... Colby's so tough because he got his jaw broken and kept going.' Nah. I tore my labrum in a world title fight and I went on to defend 20-plus shots. I busted my foot against Kelvin Gastelum, and I went on to win that fight. I don't get the credit for enduring and winning. We give so much credit for losing in our sport, it's hilarious. No other sport does that.
"This sport is about being the best of the best, and [with] the world title belt, before they started incorporating new belts and doing different things, you were supposed to be the top dog. And in no other sport are you going to see Stephen Curry making less than somebody because they're talking crap and they're wearing a fly suit to the presser. No, he's going to make the most because he's draining 3s in your face."
Woodley has taken to channeling something American Top Team founder and owner Dan Lambert told him a long time ago. "Just win. Focus on winning and everything else will fall into place."
That being said, Woodley has no love lost for his competition in the welterweight division.
"This f---ing division is getting so corny, and it's starting to irk me so bad. I just really need to come back and try to f--- everyone up," Woodley said. "Who makes the most money in our sport? Not the world champion Kamaru Usman ... [Jorge] Masvidal, he's finally making his paydays. He's at the top of the list now. So [are] the Diaz brothers, so is Conor McGregor. Some of these people have never had a belt. Cowboy Cerrone just earned a big payday, never been remotely close to a world title in the UFC.
"A Leon Edwards, a Kamaru Usman, a Colby Covington, none of those guys are going to make me that much more of a great than a Carlos Condit, a Robbie Lawler, than a Josh Koscheck, than a Dong Hyun Kim. People that are going to put my name into the record books are the people I've already defeated. This s--- is just personal now."
Cris Cyborg excited for a Cat Zingano fight
Cris Cyborg's Bellator debut this past Saturday was a rousing success, to say the least. She stopped Julia Budd early in Round 3 to capture the featherweight championship, becoming the first fighter to win titles in four major promotions.
So, what's next for the grand slam champ? Cyborg said she wasn't calling out anyone. The Bellator talent pool is deeper in her division as compared to the UFC, and Cyborg said she has several options, but she acknowledged that one opponent in particular stood out -- Cat Zingano.
"Zingano, she's an amazing athlete," Cyborg said. "She beat Amanda Nunes. Gonna be a perfect match if it happens. ... She's going to be a great challenge because she beat Amanda Nunes."
Beating Nunes was something Cyborg was unable to do in December 2018, but she looked impressive over the weekend.
Perhaps the only concern was what the public saw during Friday's weigh-ins. Known for having to cut a lot of weight to meet the 145-pound limit, Cyborg tipped the scale at 143.8 pounds for her fight with Budd. The low number opened the eyes of many, but Cyborg said her strength was far from sapped heading into the bout.
"I felt great," Cyborg said. "Every time my cuts are getting better and better. I don't feel tired one moment at the fight."
Curtis Blaydes wants the heavyweight division to keep moving
Curtis Blaydes had just knocked out former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos on Saturday night, and he was being interviewed inside the cage, talking about what this win meant for his future.
"I want the title shot," Blaydes said. "I'm next."
It was an awkward moment, because the man holding the microphone in front of Blaydes was Daniel Cormier -- who is actually next.
"This is my prime. I don't have time to wait for old men to soak up the limelight. You need to get out of the way and make room for the new blood."@RazorBlaydes265 respects heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, but is frustrated by the division's uncertainty (via @arielhelwani) pic.twitter.com/Z0gFsAf3TT— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 27, 2020
There's been no official booking of Stipe Miocic's next title defense, but UFC president Dana White has said it will be a third fight against Cormier, the former heavyweight and light heavyweight champ. Problem is, Miocic has an eye injury that is still on the mend, creating a logjam of potential challengers.
Blaydes, who is No. 4 in ESPN's heavyweight rankings, would be OK waiting until second-ranked Cormier has had his shot, but he doesn't want to wait forever. The time is near, he believes, for Miocic to either defend his belt or vacate.
"No disrespect to him," Blaydes said. "He's an amazing fighter and a really good dude, but this is my prime and I don't have time to wait for old men to soak up the limelight. You need to get out of the way and make room for the new blood."
Among that new blood is No. 3 Francis Ngannou, who owns two victories over Blaydes. How can Blaydes get a title shot ahead of Ngannou? He'll need some help from ninth-ranked Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who faces Ngannou on March 28.
"If Jairzinho wins, that's the perfect storm," Blaydes said, "especially after seeing him go against Alistair."
Rozenstruik struggled against Alistair Overeem last month before pulling off a knockout victory with just four seconds remaining in the fifth round. Blaydes dominated and knocked out Overeem in 2018 and now trains with the Dutchman.
"Based on watching that fight, I am supremely confident I would be able to destroy Jairzinho [in a No. 1 contender fight]," said Blaydes. "We saw what I did to Alistair, and then we saw how long it took for him to really, really hit Alistair. It took him the entirety of five rounds to really hit Alistair. I just think there are levels to this."
Broken nose didn't stop Chiesa, who's eager for Covington
Michael Chiesa pushed himself into the conversation for some big fights in a deep welterweight division with a win Saturday over Rafael dos Anjos, and what he revealed Monday made the victory even more impressive.
"I kept this one kind of close to my chest, but I broke my nose six weeks before the fight," Chiesa said. "With the type of opportunity that was ahead of me, I just did not want to pull out of the fight. To go into a fight against a guy like Rafael dos Anjos with a broken nose is a little intimidating. It was a very trying camp, it was very stressful, and I'm just really happy things went my way."
The injury happened early in his training camp, as Chiesa traveled to Chase Hooper's gym, Combat Sport Fitness, in Enumclaw, Washington.
"I was going with one of [Chase's] training partners, Ian Williams, and I just was trying to set up a crash to get into a clinch and Ian ducked his head to throw a left hand and I just ran my face into the top of his head. It was the first round of sparring. I felt my nose break. Spit out a bunch of blood. Got up, finished the round and then finished [the rest of] my rounds. And then when I looked in the mirror, my nose was just ballooned up. Sure enough, I had two fractures in my face."
With one of the biggest fights of his life ahead of him, and severe limitations to what he could do in training, it would have been easy for uncertainty to slip in. But in his moment of need, his team stepped up and got him ready by altering the plan.
"I could only run and hit mitts so much, so we just did a lot of modified technical training sessions that were really long, which were able to keep me stimulated and focused," Chiesa said. "I actually only sparred full contact two times in camp, and it still went good."
Dos Anjos re-broke Chiesa's nose during the second round of the fight, but it wasn't enough to keep Chiesa from pushing through.
Chiesa doesn't believe he'll need surgery for the injury, as his nose isn't displaced. He'll let the fractures heal themselves, and then he'll line himself up for his next fight. If he has his way, Chiesa wants Colby Covington next, as he proclaimed during a brief postfight interview.
Chiesa feels ready for the physical portion of the fight, but he's well aware that's only a portion of what Covington does best.
"I'm not going to get in a verbal pissing match with the guy, because he'd shut me out," Chiesa said. "I'm not good at the trash talking stuff. I've shown that. But I think the guy's a phenomenal fighter, and I think it would be a big test for me. Not only would he test me physically as a fighter, but mentally, he's going to put me through the wringer."
Barber ready for surgery, still focused on her goal
Barber: I'm not as nice as Modafferi
Maycee Barber says she wouldn't have been as gracious as Roxanne Modaferri was if she knew her opponent was injured.
Nine days after suffering a torn ACL during her first professional loss, Maycee Barber is ready to take the next step in her recovery. Barber, 21, lost to Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 246 in Las Vegas and is scheduled to meet with doctors on Friday ahead of surgery next week.
Barber expects to be out of action for nine months and doesn't regret her decision to keep fighting despite injuring the knee at the start of the fight.
"I never once thought of quitting," Barber said to Ariel Helwani. "That's what I signed up to do. This is a life I chose. When you step in there, you know there's a chance that you're going to have an injury, you're going to have something happen that could put you out. That's what we choose to do. I didn't sign up to have perfect days every single day."
Despite the setback, Barber still harbors hopes of breaking Jon Jones' record as the youngest UFC champion. When she returns to action, Barber will be only 22 and will refocus her goal on claiming the gold before Jan. 17, 2022.
"I'll do everything in my power to achieve that," she said. "I'm on the track to doing that, but this is just a mountain that I was presented with. I have to climb it and I think it'll make me even better as a champion. It'll make me better in the gym. It'll make me stronger and more mentally prepared for when I do reach that title fight."
Barber complimented Modafferi on her victory, but stated that if she was similarly faced with an injured opponent, she wouldn't have made the same choices.
"If I was in Roxanne's situation, I'm not as nice as her, especially in the fight," Barber said. "I know it's a 'I'm going to win or you're going to win' situation, and if there's someone who's hurt, I would capitalize on that. I would've stood her up and I'm going to kick your leg until you fall over. I'm thankful she's not that kind of person and that mean."
AJ Agazarm not sure if Nick Diaz will compete in 2020
AJ Agazarm is a proud member of the Nick Diaz Army. He put his lessons to good use during the weekend, earning a submission win in a three-round thriller over Adel Altamimi on the Bellator card in Los Angeles.
Agazarm, however, didn't seem to be getting his hopes up when it comes to seeing Diaz get back in the cage. Diaz had talked about a fight with Jorge Masvidal not long after his brother Nate lost to Masvidal last November. But Agazarm said on The Helwani Show that Nick Diaz has other interests outside of fighting and he doesn't know if one of MMA's most popular stars will compete in 2020.
"Nick's going to fight when Nick wants to fight," said Agazarm, who told Helwani that he was offered a four-fight extension by Bellator following his win. "Right now he's focused on business, he's focused on building up the Nick Diaz Army. ... He's an OG, he's a special dude. He knows the fight game better than anybody. He knows when to strike."
Jessica Penne hoping to find resolution with USADA
"It's heartbreaking and I can't help but feel defeated in these moments."@JessicaPenne on facing retirement due to USADA sanctions for anti-doping policy violation (via @arielhelwani) pic.twitter.com/Vua9CvtemK— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 27, 2020