This upcoming weekend, the UFC will end its 2020 campaign with the final fight card of the year, and the biggest MMA organization in the world is attempting to exit their most tumultuous year on a high note. UFC Vegas 17 features a litany of former champions and title challengers, all headlined by the main event of Stephen Thompson taking on Geoff Neal in a pivotal welterweight matchup.
That wasn’t always the case though. Originally, Thompson vs. Neal was set to to be the co-main event to another high-profile welterweight matchup, Leon Edwards vs. 2020’s Breakout Fighter of the Year, Khamzat Chimaev. That bout was cancelled when Edwards tested positive for COVID-19 and now is being targeted for early next year, and while that’s unfortunate for fans who were excited to see Chimaev take on his first ranked opponent, the new main event headliner thinks it’s a little ridiculous that Chimaev was even in that position in the first place.
“I think he was ranked No. 15, which doesn’t make sense to me,” Thompson told MMA Junkie. “I know he’s had one fight in the welterweight division, and his opponent (Rhys McKee) is 0-2 right now and normally a lightweight, a 155er, so it just doesn’t make sense how this guy can jump past everybody who’s worked their behinds off to get to where they’re at, and now he’s ranked No. 15 fighting the No. 3 guy, I believe. It’s just ridiculous to me.
“I had to fight through murderer’s row to get to where I’m at and so did Leon Edwards. He was on a (eight-fight) winning streak to get to where he’s at. I had to fight a slew of guys, I mean tough opponents. Robert Whittaker, Jake Ellenberger, Rory McDonald, Johny Hendricks to get to where I’m at, and then this guy just jumps past everybody. I think it’s a slap in the face to everybody who’s worked their butts off.”
Chimaev’s ascendancy has been the source of much consternation in 2020. “Borz” made his UFC debut in July to minor fanfare, submitting John Phillips with a D’Arce choke. He then set the record for quickest turnaround in the modern UFC era, stopping Rhys McKee just 10 days later. Following those two wins, UFC President Dana White obviously saw something he liked in the new talent and began promoting him aggressively, and Chimaev rewarded their faith in him with a 17 second KO of Gerald Meerschaert. So with three dominant wins in a matter of months, despite none of them coming against ranked opposition, the UFC made the decision to vault him into contention with the Leon Edwards fight, which puts him on the precipice of a title shot and that leaves a bad taste in the mouth “Wonderboy”.
“Guaranteed he’s probably gonna get a title shot if he beats Leon Edwards, and I kinda called this,” Thompson said. “I was wondering why they were pushing Khamzat so hard, and I was like watch Khabib retire, because they’re from the same neck of the woods, they got to please that market, so it kinda makes sense why they’re pushing him so hard.”
The sixth-ranked Thompson himself was interested in a fight with Edwards earlier this year, given Edwards’ position in the division, however Edwards shot that idea down completely, saying he wanted to fight someone that moved him towards a title shot. Instead, Thompson ultimately agreed to face Geoff Neal and, after failed contract negotiations with the UFC, Edwards ended up accepting a fight with the then-unranked Chimaev. In the end, a win for Edwards may still get him a title shot, but now instead of facing one of the biggest names in the division, he has to fight a still relatively unknown rising star to make his case for a title shot, which “Wonderboy” says just speaks to how wild things are in welterweight division right now.
“For Leon Edwards, I don’t think it does anything,” Thompson said. “I think it’s a lose-lose for him. Even though Khamzat’s got a lot of hype around him, a good win, where does that put him? It doesn’t move him up any rank, maybe a title fight, which I think he deserves anyway. So, yeah, the welterweight division is a little crazy at this point.”
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Thanks for all the support I’m grateful to have this opportunity to entertain all of you during these hard times. Happy Holidays everyone @ufc
— Cub Swanson (@CubSwanson) December 13, 2020
For sure Marvin let’s do it, that was a great victory last weekend.
— D (@darrentill2) December 12, 2020
The difficult life a champion.
I wanna be reckless when I come on here but it’ll be headline news in 15 minutes
— Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) December 14, 2020
Congrats, Bobby Knuckles.
Max Griffin got a tattoo of the ear.
Absolutely savage from Buffer.
Thanks for reading, enjoy the fights, and see y’all tomorrow.
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