B/R Staff Roundtable: Fantasy Fight Island MMA Draft!

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2020

B/R Staff Roundtable: Fantasy Fight Island MMA Draft!

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Editor's Note: Yes, Virginia. Fight Island is real and Dana White wants to make it spectacular.

    UFC's Head Honcho is planning to hold fights on a secluded island separated from the outside world and -- in theory -- isolated from the ongoing worldwide pandemic.

    So, fight fans. What type of card would you hold on Fight Island?

    Our B/R MMA writing staff put on their thinking caps and decided to hold a special fantasy Fight Island draft as they looked to build the Ultimate Fight card. Here are the details:

    • Each member of the team had their name drawn at random in the draft lottery. The order was as follows: Kelsey McCarson, Scott Harris, Lyle Fitzsimmons, Jonathan Snowden and Tom Taylor.
    • Each writer had to pick five matches in total.
    • The writers picked based on fight pairings, not just fighters.
    • Once a fight matchup was selected, those two fighters were ineligible to be selected during the rest of the draft.
    • In order to make things fair, the person who ended up with the last pick in the first round got the first pick in 2nd round. The draft would continue in a serpentine order from start to finish.
    • All MMA fighters from various different organizations were eligible.

    And with that out of the way, let's get on with the results of the draft! Kelsey McCarson, you're up ...

Kelsey McCarson's Card

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal
    Henry Cejudo vs. Alex Vokanovski
    Cris Cyborg vs. Ronda Rousey
    Thiago Santos vs. Dominick Reyes
    Paulo Costa vs. Robert Whitaker

    The first thing you need to know about my Fight Island card is that you'll absolutely have to pay the standard ESPN+ PPV fee to watch the fights. I didn't get into this fantasy Fight Island business to run a charity here, people, and I don't think the 80% of the imaginary take I'll receive for being the overlord of Fight Island or the 20% or less that goes to the fighters should be shorted during this difficult time period. 

    We should be making sacrifices right now, starting with all of you. 

    Second, you should probably know that after I rigged our B/R lottery system to secure the No. 1 overall pick, I immediately began asking myself who I should pit Conor McGregor against in the main event of my Fight Island card. Let's be honest, McGregor is easily the most popular MMA superstar on the planet, so all I needed to do was find him a quality opponent.  

    Since we already saw him fight Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, I picked "BMF" champ Jorge Masvidal. Both are great matchups but I wanted the most violent striking contest possible over that thing Khabib does so I chose the UFC's King of Swag

    Additionally, since I'm the de facto ruler of my imaginary Fight Island kingdom, McGregor vs. Masvidal is for Masvidal's BMF belt.

    The next thing I wanted to secure was another UFC "champ champ" trying to do something big. Henry Cejudo was only the fourth fighter ever to simultaneously hold two UFC championships at the same time, and he's been throwing shade lately about moving up to featherweight to take on that division's champ Alexander Volkanovski. 

    So the co-main event is also a UFC title fight: Cejudo vs. Volkanovski for the UFC featherweight crown. 

    Do you love trash fights? Well, I love them way more than you do, so I got Ronda Rousey to come back into the Octagon one more time to finally face Cris Cyborg for the first-ever UFC trash fight title. 

    There was a time when Rousey vs. Cyborg was one of the biggest possible fights in combat sports. Five years later, it would mean virtually nothing to either of them. But Cyborg still wants the fight, so I'm happy to provide it for her on my island. 

    Finally, with such an amazing card already locked up, I wanted to focus my last two picks on finding the best possible divisional matchups that could be made in the two weight classes I care about most.

    That's when I grabbed the top two UFC light heavyweight and middleweight contenders per that company's official rankings. Thiago Santos vs. Dominick Reyes at 205 pounds and Paulo Costa vs. Robert Whitaker at 185 pounds rounds my card out, and since I'm the Lord of the Flies in this make-believe world, both of these fights are for interim gold.

    Look, my card has something for everyone. It features two UFC champ champs, the only BMF champ, half of WMMA's Mount Rushmore and a couple of top-notch divisional matchups that could legitimately be for interim titles under the right set of circumstances. 

    Promotional tagline?

    Fight Island: Five Fights. Five Titles. You're Welcome.

Scott Harris' Card

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya
    Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
    Justin Gaethje vs. Nate Diaz
    Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez
    Tatiana Suarez vs. Jessica Andrade

    Even the thought exercises are, at best, morally ambiguous. Fight Island is a scary place! As I've written more than once, the obvious health and safety concerns (with the event itself and beyond) should mean blanket cancellations, UFC and elsewhere, for the foreseeable future.

    The good news is that I think I can help. As of this moment, I hereby declare that, as long as I'm the fake king of all this, all UFC Fight Island events will be aired free of charge to the viewing public. No subscriptions, no nothing. The associated cost of doing that would certainly be a rounding error anyway for a company that just purchased an island. It's all about much-needed distractions for the fans, right?

    In honor of this occasion, I took the liberty of drafting what I am forced to conclude is the single best fake main card in MMA history. I mean, not to toot my own horn, but the main and co-main events alone feature four active champions and five active titles.

    The brilliant middleweight titleholder Adesanya is already spoiling for a shot at Jones' light heavyweight title, while the troubled men's MMA GOAT faces a crossroads. The women's GOAT is also in attendance, as the bantamweight and featherweight champ faces a burgeoning crossover candidate in flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko—also the only woman to give Nunes a real challenge in the UFC, even though she came up short twice before on razor-thin decisions.

    No one needs to tell a real MMA fan why Gaethje-Diaz is absolutely essential viewing. (One new storyline to consider: how would one of Gaethje's signature brutalities affect the career of a beloved but 35-year-old street brawler in Diaz?)

    Speaking of fight fans, for years hardcores the world over have been clamoring for Yair-Zabit. It's hard to believe two of the most electric strikers in the UFC are in the same division, looking right at each other, but somehow their paths have yet to cross. We'll change that at UFC Fight Island 1. Don't forget—it's free! That way you don't have to miss a second.

    We end at the beginning, with a good, old-fashioned American redemption story kicking off the main card. Suarez is a babyface out of central casting, and she'll be smiling and earning fans all night, perhaps at the expense of hyper-aggressive ex-champ Andrade. 

    Talent, gold, excitement, storylines, and plenty of marketing muscle. This is going to be a great card once all the fighters have been choppered in and unblindfolded and allowed to acclimate. The UFC will literally be out on an island, and I, for one, am here for what celebration might still be possible.

Lyle Fitzsimmons' Card

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson
    Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic 3
    Anthony "Rumble" Johnson vs. Francis Ngannou
    Dustin Poirier  vs. Charles Oliveira
    Jose Aldo vs. Demetrious Johnson

    OK, if you’ve gotten to this point and aren’t drooling at the matchups—not to mention the atmosphere—created by my colleagues, perhaps a long stint on a deserted island is what you need.

    But where some have gone for envelope-stretching weirdness and others for mind-bending imagery, we at Team Fitz have adhered to the pre-draft mandate of delivering the best card possible, top to bottom.

    That it’ll be staged on a lawless rock ratchets the ambience, but the fights stand on their own.

    Need proof?

    Take a look at today’s UFC pound-for-pound rankings and you’ll notice precisely five of the top 12 fighters are on the marquee here—including four of them across two championship fights—not to mention two more elites who spent prolonged time in the top spot in the not-too-distant past.

    Think you’re getting that level payoff in a Vegas playpen or Brooklyn ice rink? Fuhgeddaboudit.

    In fact, those two former No. 1s—ex-flyweight king Demetrious Johnson and former featherweight boss Jose Aldo—will open things up in Parts Unknown, finally getting together on neutral 135-pound turf after spending the bulks of their respective careers one ladder rung to the north and south.

    And yeah, if two future Hall of Famers are your opener, you know you’re in pretty rare tropical air.

    They’ll be followed by a pyrotechnic spectacle at lightweight between streaking Muay-Thai ace Charles Oliveira and former interim champ Dustin Poirier, who’s scored his last four wins over the likes of fellow draftees Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway, not to mention ex-champs Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis.

    Oliveira hasn’t been shy about calling out the upper echelon at 155 pounds, and a match with Poirier would feature two guys with respected ground games and legit finishing skills on their feet.

    From there, it’s time to get big. Literally.

    Rumble Johnson has been kicking tires on a comeback at heavyweight since last summer, and what better fan-friendly litmus test than a 255-pound Cameroonian behemoth like Francis Ngannou—who’s finished 14 opponents in 17 pro wins and climbed to No. 2 contender status in the weight class.  

    The winner might want to stay cage-side for the co-headliner, which will have not only the division’s title belt—but also a credible claim as the UFC’s all-time best heavyweight—on the line in the long-anticipated trilogy bout between champ Stipe Miocic and his champ-champ nemesis Daniel Cormier.

    Amazing so far, sure…but it’s still got room to improve.

    We’ll cap off our extravaganza of excess by finally locking down a main event that’s been five times in the making—a preposterously compelling lightweight throw-down between unbeaten titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov and his long-established top challenger, the volatile Tony Ferguson.

    I could easily spend a few hundred words describing why folks have been pining for this one for what seems like 10 years, but let’s face it—if you’re not already aware, it probably wouldn’t help.

    Wake the kids. Phone the neighbors. Set the DVR for three hours of full-contact mayhem.

    As for me, don’t worry. I’ll be ringing Dana up to inquire about a timeshare.

Jonathan Snowden's Card

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    Al Powers/Getty Images

    Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. CM Punk
    Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar
    Dana White vs. Tito Ortiz (Boxing Rules)
    Nick Diaz vs. Ben Askren
    Patricio Freire vs. Max Holloway

    Look, Fight Island is a garbage premise. The idea only came into fashion so cash-strapped megalomaniacal promoters could fantasize about putting on cage fighting events against the best advice of scientists and counter to the public good. In that spirit, I attempted to create the greatest dumpster fire collection of fights I could, eschewing sport almost completely in favor of spectacle.

    Ever since Mayweather took on Conor McGregor in a tremendously successful, poorly received cash grab, MMA fans have dreamed of seeing him humbled by one of the sport's best. But Mayweather is too smart for that. Instead, he'll step in with pro wrestling stalwart CM Punk for a fight between two guys who are likely really, really bad at MMA.

    It will be glorious.

    Beneath that, propping either side of the circus tent up, are two fights from the Zuffa glory years that never came to be. Make no mistake—these are old guys. I mean old. But I've never minded the concept of an old-timers' division, so long as the ancient ones are appropriately matched with other members of the senior citizen's brigade. Matching them with fighters in their primes would be too uncivilized even for Fight Island.

    Fedor and Brock was a dream bout, pitting two unstoppable (at the time) heavyweight forces against each other. The fact they are now both nearly a decade removed from their prime years makes this fight no less compelling. It's still a slugger/grappler against the most fearsome heavyweight amateur to ever grace the Octagon. We were cheated out of it years ago, but deserve it now more than ever.

    White and Ortiz was just as compelling for different reasons, a fight no one really wants to see anymore (and didn't want to see then either) and also one that will likely get ugly quickly. If neither ends up gasping for breath, hands on knees, I will be profoundly disappointed.

    Diaz and Askren actually has real potential as a bout between two genus level grapplers with big mouths. Diaz will remind everyone why he's the head of the Nick Diaz Army and, should it go to the mat, this one has the potential to be one of the most interesting grappling battles the contemporary sport has ever seen.

    And the card will open in a fight between two historically great featherweights—a contest on the card exclusively to sucker in hardcores who might otherwise turn their noses up at this mishmash of trash bouts. Patricio Pitbull is one of the best fighters in the world, a fact partially hidden from many by having spent his career in Bellator rather than UFC. Holloway is the kind of opponent who provides the gravitas Freire needs to establish his name in the broader fight community.

    I fully admit that all the other guys have compiled better cards than I have using the traditional judgments we've developed to decide these things. If this were a standard event, they'd all blow me away. But this is Fight Island not UFC Fight Night: Des Moines on ESPN 12 or something. Time to get weird.

Tom Taylor's Card

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva
    Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2
    Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2
    Yoel Romero vs. Darren Till
    Brian Ortega vs. Chan Sung Jung

    I think a lot of fans picture the UFC’s proposed Fight Island as a sunny, beach paradise with swaying palms and hermit crabs scuttling across the sand.

    Not me.

    I picture a rugged island with rocky shores. A cruel and merciless place that is littered with shipwrecks and human skeletons and is eternally brutalized by violent surf and stinging wind. The kind of place where age-old rivalries can be settled without worrying about trivialities like, you know, safety.

    Of all the unsettled rivalries in MMA, none hold a candle to the one shared by Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. Sure, the former welterweight and middleweight champs never really swapped much in the way of trash talk, but as the two greatest fighters of a generation, they were rivals whether they liked it or not. The entire fight world wanted to see them fight, but it never happened. In a cage atop the highest peak of Fight Island, with soaring frigatebirds instead of fans and sheet lightning instead of arena lights, they will finally collide.

    Before GSP and Silva enter the cage together, two other pairs of rivals will look to settle their scores.

    First up, reigning UFC strawweight champ Weili Zhang and former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk will attempt to battle to a more decisive end after their first fight—widely regarded as the best women’s bout in MMA history—ended with a controversial split decision in Zhang’s favor. After that, reigning UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman will attempt to defend his title against Colby Covington, who gave him everything he could handle the first time they met.

    As if all of this wasn’t enough, we’ll be kicking things off with two more dynamite matchups. First up, a featherweight fight between former title challengers Brian Ortega and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, two versatile killing machines who have been chomping at the bit to fight each other for months. Then, a middleweight clash between Darren Till and Yoel Romero. England’s Till has made no secret of the fact that he’s a little spooked by the Cuban juggernaut, but there’s no better place to face your fears than Fight Island, where everything is terrifying.

    Like Scott’s proposed card, you’ll be able to watch mine for free. That's right, you can hang onto your toilet paper money. It wouldn’t be right to charge you when the Octagon could be blown out to sea at any moment.