It was around midnight, long after I was supposed to be asleep, that I heard them.
Clickity-clack. Clickity-clack. Thud, thud, thud.
Dozens of them continued along the entire length of the roof, just over my head that lay in a tiny three-foot gap between the top of my bunk bed and the ceiling. It took a couple weeks to break the habit of sitting up out of my sleep and banging my head. My parents had warned me it would be a tight fit, but I insisted they buy it for me anyways. I loved that bunk bed.
Then something heavy landed on the far end of the roof.
The ceiling creaked under the substantial weight.
I closed my eyes tight. I was supposed to be asleep.
The thought of trying to sneak a peak from the top of the banister never crossed my mind. I wouldn’t dare risk being seen and losing what I had worked so hard for all year. Not now when it was within my reach. The controller in my hands.
I recited the reindeer’s names over and over, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer…. Over and over until the next thing I knew, it was morning.
My parents were still asleep, and I crept down the hallway and leaned over the railing. The Oreo cookies we left out were gone, but the glass of milk sat untouched on the table. Maybe Santa was lactose intolerant.
Then I saw it. Under the tree, it was the right size, a large rectangular box wrapped in light blue wrapping paper with silver snowflakes. I burst into my parent’s room, and ten minutes later, I sat crossed-legged with it in my lap. For several moments, I just stared at it, imagining all the worlds I would travel to, all the bosses I would defeat, and all the high scores I would rack up.
I snapped out of my reverie and clawed at the paper, throwing its tatters every which way.
There was no making sense of what I held in my hands.
"What the f**k is this?" I said, my bewilderment causing a momentary disconnect between my brain and mouth.
"Watch your f**kin’ mouth!" my dad barked.
"It’s a Boom Box," my mom chimed in.
"I know, mom. I can see that, but… What. The. F**ck. Is this? I didn’t ask Santa for a Boom Box, I asked for a…"
"Kids who talk like that don’t get Nintendos," Pops cut in.
"And I told Santa you don’t need to spend hours sitting in front of the TV every day. It’s not healthy for a kid," mom said. "You can take your Boom Box outside and listen to music when you play with your friends."
"F**k," I said under my breath. I knew I’d be the only kid on the block listening to Phil Collins tapes while all the others were smashing boxes with their heads, shooting ducks with pistols, and scoring touchdowns with Bo Jackson.
"Do you want some French toast," my mom asked.
I jammed the last battery in its compartment, shoved a tape in, turned up the volume, and pretended not to hear her over "Land Of Confusion."
I took my Boom Box and went home.
Maybe next year.
Saturday night will be like expecting to get a Nintendo on Christmas day and instead unwrapping a boom box. We were expecting Jiri vs. Glover 2, a sequel to the best light heavyweight title fight of all time and one of the best title fights ever, regardless of weight class. But instead, we get Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev for the vacant title. It’s okay; Boom Boxes are cool, I guess.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev
How did we end up here? With a Boom Box instead of a Nintendo? With Blachowicz and Ankalaev fighting for the title and Glover left completely out of the mix? Well, this is the final Pay Per View of the year, and the UFC needed a title fight to help sell it. Glover initially asked to fight Blachowicz (a guy he destroyed to win the title) as a replacement for Jiri, but the UFC offered the more intriguing opponent, Ankalaev. Understandably, Glover pulled the emergency break and broke into a power slide, accepting the fight but only if the UFC gave him extra time to prepare for the far more stylistically dangerous opponent. Time the UFC didn’t have. Blachowicz vs. Ankalaev was already the co-main event on the card, and the winner would likely challenge for the title next anyways. So here we are.
Magomed Ankalaev is the Alonzo of all ev/ov fighters. King Kong ain’t got sh!t on him. He’ll put cases on all those mf’ers. He’ll have them playing basketball in Pelicans Bay when he gets done with them. Ankalaev is the man up in this beast. Khabib, Makhachev, Chimaev, and Ankalaev. That’s the ev/ov Final four, and based solely on their skill sets, Ankalaev would be my number one seed. Although he’s the lessor submission threat, he still has a dominant ground game, and he’s the best striker of the bunch. I think it was only a matter of time until Ankalaev won the belt, no matter if he fought Jiri or Glover.
Magomed has versatile takedowns in the center of the cage or against the fence in the clinch. Ankalaev’s top control is stifling and accompanied by heavy, aggressive ground and pound. There aren’t many holes in his game; his stand-up is technical and precise, and his success isn’t fully dependent on securing takedowns. He’s a southpaw with tight, straight punches and sneaky heavy head kicks. His major malfunction isn’t his power, speed, or technical ability, it’s that he’s such a good striker that he’s too willing to stand and bang when a much less perilous path to victory using his wrestling is available to him.
The last time we saw Blachowicz on his back, he was on a Koala Kare station with Glover Teixeira taking a Wet Wipe and some baby powder to his ass. Blachowicz is strong from the top position but feeble from his back. Ankalaev’s path to victory is paved with yellow bricks and lined with singing little people and fairies. All he needs to do is step into his sparkly red slippers and skip merrily along it by taking Jan to the mat. But it’s no given that Ankalaev will choose to take it. The same path was available to him in his last bout against Thiago Santos, but Ankalaev chose to stand and bang for four of the five rounds and subsequently faced some scary moments. He is the superior technical striker but lacks the Chief Wiggum stupid power that Blachowicz has.
Blachowicz won noine out of ten fights, an epic run to the title, before running into the man who committed patricide, slaying father time, Glover Teixeira. The discouraging part of that fight wasn’t that Blachowicz got taken down and dominated on the mat; it was getting beat in the stand-up. Glover is far from the striker he used to be, but he managed to get the better of the majority of the exchanges. Jan is only one fight removed from the Glover scrap, and that was a fight that ended due to spontaneous injury against Aleksandar Rakic before the better fighter could be established.
Jan’s path to victory is on the feet. It’s an Overlook Hotel topiary animal-lined dangerous path, but it’s a path nonetheless. When it comes to stupid power, the only points Jan’s scored on the SAT’s were for spelling its name correctly. He doesn’t need to swing out of his shoes like Tai Tuivasa, he just needs to touch your chin, and it’s lights out. Blachowicz tends to blitz with repetitive left-right combos and has a sneaky lead round kick that he uses to punctuate his hand combos. Uppercuts. They’re not used enough in MMA, mostly because they’re risky, and most fighters don’t properly set them up. Jan sandwiches the lead and power uppercuts between straight punches, and they’re usually the culprit behind initiating fight-ending sequences.
Ankalaev will be the (-265) favorite, and Blachowicz will be the (+200) stray dog. A decision victory will favor Ankalaev, who can salt away minutes with takedowns and top control. Blachowicz will likely need a finish, and that’s nowhere near out of the question. I have a feeling Ankalaev will keep this standing longer than he needs to and that will give Jan plenty of opportunities to land something heavy. An Ankalaev TKO/KO will return (+105), and a victory in similar fashion will return (+550) for Blachowicz.
The main event-winning streak came to a halt at the hands and feet of Wonderboy Thompson. Wonderboy didn’t leave a single square centimeter of Holland’s ass unkicked, and Wonderboy once again looked like one of the best strikers to ever grace the Octagon. He’s still fast as f**k boooooy!! Bust out gingerbread scented Yankee candles, and put it on wax; Magomed Ankalaev via TKO, round four.
Jared Gordon vs. Paddy Pimblett
Paddy "Cake" Pimblett vs. Jared "Fisherman" Gordon; a matchup of solid grapplers that will tell us a lot about how good Pimblett really is. Is the hype real? Jared Gordon could play the role of the based child who smells something afoot while he's sitting on the mall Santa’s lap and decides to yank off his beard and expose the drunk Billy Bob Thornton underneath. Back-to-back Billy Bob references, homies. The free trial period for Paddy is nearing, and I’m not quite sure if I’m buying him or not. Gordon is a savvy vet with Octagon experience against some of the best grapplers in the lightweight division. If Paddy can run through him as he has his three previous opponents, I still won’t be sold. Haha.
Pimblett has a very specific skill set, a strict area of expertise, top control. His takedown defense hasn’t been stellar against low-tier competition, and his striking is closer to what Tai Tuivasa’s looked like last weekend than to some of the elite strikers in the division like Poirier or Gaethje or me. If Pimblett gets past "Fisherman" Gordon, I’m the fight to make. On the feet, Pimblett is all wide hooks and wild overhands with some flashy flying techniques mixed in. But to his credit, what he lacks in technical prowess, he makes up for with fearless aggression. But-but, he’s hittable, very hittable, and as he climbs the ladder, his chin won’t hold up.
Where Paddy shines is on the mat. He has two flying triangle choke sub victories on his record, and overall, he’s a creative grappler with Aljamain Sterling-like back control. If you give up your back to the Champ Aljo, it’s a wrap. Wrap it up, B. The same is true for Paddy Pimblett, his back control is stifling, and a fighter increases his chances of beating Paddy dramatically if he can avoid the position. Paddy’s takedowns are closer to Jitz takedowns than Khabib takedowns, and he often ends up in top control after a scramble that started from his back. He often needs to be taken down in order to reverse and gain the position.
Paddy has yet to be involved in a war, and in three UFC bouts, only one made it to the second round. And interestingly enough, he’s given up twice as many takedowns as he’s scored himself. HE averages over four significant strikes per minute, but two of those fights were only three minutes in duration. I don’t expect him to Suge Knight run over Jared Gordon like a speed bump, and I think his value will be strictly in a submission. For his career, Paddy is 19-3 with six TKO/KO’s and noine subs; he’s a finisher. In his favor is the fact that all five of Gordon’s career L’s came via finish, four TKO/KO’s, and one by sub.
Jared Gordon is built like a lawn gnome, but he fights like a dog. Paddy will be the fourth grappling-first opponent Gordon has faced in a row, and if I’m being honest, Paddy will be a step down from Gordon’s last opponent, Grant Dawson. Gordon was pretty much dominated on the mat for the duration of the bout and sub’d in the third round, but he survived in terrible positions and forced scrambles and made Dawson have to earn the dub. Gordon is excellent at defending takedowns with guillotine attempts. When you attack a guillotine on a shooting opponent, they have to bail on the takedown and respect the choke by fighting the hands or falling to their back. Gordon only has two submissions for his career, but submission attempts can serve a purpose even if they don’t end the fight.
Gordon will be the more reserved technical striker; he’s mostly a prototypical wrestler striker with basic two-punch combinations, usually cross-hook or hook-cross. If the fight stays standing, this one could get interesting; at this point, I’m not sure how Paddy will fair in a drawn-out kickboxing match. But Gordon has faced some of the best grapplers in the division, like Diego Ferreira and Charles Oliveira and even has a dub over the highly touted wrestler Joe Solecki.
Fantasy-wise, Gordon has solid career stats that could translate directly to this matchup. He averages five and a half significant strikes landed per minute and has landed over one hundred three times in his eleven-fight UFC career, including one hundred sixteen in his most recent bout against Leonardo Santos. The finishing edge will belong to Pimblett, but without a finish, Gordon may put up better numbers on the feet.
Bust out the Sketchers slip resistant sneakers because as the (+200) dog, Jared Gordon will be dripping value all over your freshly Swiffer’d floor. If he can drag Paddy into the AB infested waters, he can test Paddy’s heart in ways we have yet to see. The play for Pimblett is a win by submission, which will return (+175) odds. And the play for Gordon is a decision win (+350). But I've been a little disappointed with Gordon in his most recent bouts; he seems almost disinterested at times. That won’t be a good look against Paddy. Paddy Pimblett via rear-naked choke, round three.
Alex Morono vs. Santiago "The Ponz" Ponzinibio
Alex Morono, the underrated sleep paralysis sleeper, is back and stepping in on less than one week’s notice for the injured Robbie Lawler. I’ve slept on Alex Morono so hard over the years that I actually ended up on a cold autopsy table staring straight up at stadium lights with a coroner hovering over me, a scalpel in hand, set to trace the dotted incision lines he drew on my bare chest with a Sharpie. My salvation was a last-minute intervention by some of my fight homies explaining to the Doc that I had just been sleeping on Alex Morono, and he won his fourth fight in a row.
Robbie Lawler is one of my favorite fighters ever-ever, but I can’t lie, I’m relieved he isn’t stepping into the Octagon with Santiago Ponzinibio. It wasn’t a good matchup for a guy eyeing the light at the end of his career’s tunnel. I think Alex Morono will be more competitive, not because he’s more dangerous than Lawler, but because he’s a cerebral fighter with a Madden 99 rating in fight IQ. He’s a smart fighter who makes good decisions and his physical appearance makes it easy to underestimate him. Go ahead, Google a pic of Alex Morono right meow. I bet your first thought is, "This guy? I could beat this guy."
No you can’t.
If you remove Alex Morono’s fight against Khaos Williams—which lasted three seconds longer than a shot clock violation—he’s a deceptively good striker who has faced tough competition while recording an 11-4-1 record. His last loss was to the former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis in Pettis’s last UFC bout but since rebounded to win four straight.
Morono has an active high output style and can surpass the one hundred significant strikes mark in a fifteen-minute bout. He bounces around the cage, maintaining good lateral movement, and is somewhat reminiscent of Joe Lauzon. Morono has an educated lead hand, a double major, and uses it to manage distance and set up his cross. Overall, Morono’s style in unorthodox, awkward, and combines multiple disciplines of Karate, boxing, and Muay Thai.
The keys for Morono against the far more powerful Ponzinibio will be output and pressure. He can’t afford to let The Ponz march him down and trap him against the cage. Morono has to be a Lynyrd Skynyrd Free Bird in the center of the Octagon and stay peppering Santiago with jabs and kicks from the outside. His value will be almost exclusively in significant strikes landed. I don’t see Morono as a finishing threat against a guy who just went the distance against Geoff Neal and Michel Periera.
After a lengthy layoff and a first-round TKO loss to the mansion gargoyle Li Jinlliang, it looked as if The Ponz had jumped the shark. But he rebounded with a victory in an all-out war against Miguel Baeza and lost back-to-back split decisions that could have easily gone his way against two savages, Geoff Neal and Michel Pereira. Ponzinibio’s major malfunction? He’s a notoriously slow starter. You have to start this mf’er thirty minutes before you leave to warm up and defrost the windows. Slow starts likely cost him the Neal and Pereira fights, and Robbie Lawler is another fighter you don’t want to come out half-stepping against. Ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks.
Ponzinibio is built like Jax from Mortal Kombat, with two bionic arms that he can use to tear off your limbs and pulverize you with them. His overhands and hooks can finish any fight, but he also uses them to help him cut off the cage and trap opponents against it. When they try to escape out the front or back door, The Ponz corrals them back in with his heavy round punches and kicks. When there’s no escape, he unloads with devastating power shots.
His major malfunction on the feet, is that he’s a headhunter and doesn’t attack the body nearly enough. But overall, The Ponz is a Back Draft firefighter who won’t hesitate to run into a burning building to save his Funko Pop collection. The value for The Ponz is a TKO/KO finish. Morono has only been finished once in sixteen UFC bouts, but that came against a guy with similar deadly power to Ponzinibio.
The fight is favored to go the distance (-140), and an early finish will return (+105). Don’t sleep on Alex Morono like I’m about to… again. Santiago Ponzinibio via TKO, round three.
Dricus Du Plessis vs. Darren Till
The bet for this one is an Andy Jackson on Darren Till dropping out of the fight before Saturday night. Darren Till is the guy who swears up and down every Guys’ Night Out that he’ll show up but never does, and you’re left with the entire tab for Applebee’s two-for $20 deal. There was a time when Darren Till was considered a future champ after a win at welterweight over Wonderboy. But then he got Tyron Woodley’d by Tyron Woodley, and Till hasn’t been quite the same since. Dricus Du Plessis is an awkward with a cape on (super awkward) striker who fights like an infantryman storming the beaches of Omaha. As if oblivious to the danger, Du Plessis wades in recklessly and lets the chips fall where they may.
Darren Till is still an elite-level striker with the power and technical ability to KO anybody in the division. In his prime, Darren Till was an expert at managing range. It often looked like he were literally floating in the cage, as he would slide back just out of range and counter with quick combinations and heavy kicks. Till fights with his hands low and uses tactical retreats to stay just outside the opponents’ strikes. His left hand is a Mega Man canon, and in his last bout against Derek Brunson, Till got the better of the striking but couldn’t manage to keep the fight standing.
That leads me to his major malfunctions. His takedown defense isn’t terrible, but his ability to get back to his feet is. He’s a turtle on his back in need of a squirrel to come along and nudge him in the ass to get him back on his feet. And his striking output isn’t usually much higher than yours or mine sitting on the couch during any given fight. He averages just two significant strikes landed per minute with a career-high of forty-noine in a three-round bout. Till loses close fights because he doesn’t throw enough; there’s too much dead air between his engagements, so he often leaves himself at the mercy of the judges. Without a finish, Till will have little Fantasy value, and the better option will be Du Plessis.
Often times, Dricus Du Plessis looks slightly amateurish on the feet, recklessly chasing his opponents around the cage with alternating left/rights. He has Tom and Jerry striking; he’s Tom chasing Jerry around the cage until Jerry ducks inside a little hole. Du Plessis will have to reel himself in a bit against Till or he’ll run right into a step-back counter and end up face down like Bob Knight in his casket, so the whole world can kiss his ass.
But Du Plessis fights like he’s the first guy off the boat, leading the charge up the Normandy beaches in the face of heavy machine guns and mortar fire. He’s a combination striker who strings together three to four-punch combinations and punctuates them with clinch knees once he has closed the distance. His overall style is awkward similar to "The Dean Of Mean" Keith Jardine (IYKYK). Du Plessis fires from odd angles and never straight away from his face, making it difficult to cover and defend.
On top of averaging over six and a half significant strikes landed per minute, he averages over one takedown per fifteen minutes. His path to victory won’t only be in out-working and overwhelming Till with volume on the feet but also in turning this into a grinding fight in the clinch against the cage and making Till burn energy defending takedowns. Du Plessis's value will be in significant strikes landed; he lands more in one round than Till typically does for an entire fight.
I don’t see a finish in this one, Till can land that left hand at any moment and has the better long shot, but both fighters are hard to put away. The play here is a decision one way or another with a long shot on a Till finish. Du Plessis will have the edge with the judges as he’ll likely be the one pushing the pace. Dricus Du Plesis via decision.
Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria
Been spending most our lives, living in a Grappler’s Paradise. Keep spending most our lives, living in a Grappler’s Paradise. This one was supposed to be a main event last month but got postponed, and features, you guessed it, two grapplers. I should say two elite grapplers. These guys will earn a Boy Scout patch for tying you up in knots, and then another for beating you into a biodegradable pulp.
Don’t let the Old MacDonald farmers tan fool you, not only can Bryce Mitchell kick some fire bars on the mic, but he can also kick your ass while doing it. He looks like he works at a pumpkin patch from September to December, but he has some of the most dominant wrestling in the division. He has to launder some of the top control time he racks up on some Ozarks type-ish, so the authorities won’t catch wind and shut his operation down. In his last bout, he took down Edson Barboza at will and ran away with a dominant victory.
Mitchell can go old school Tito Ortiz and Mark Coleman and a ground and pound his way to victory, or maintain top position and hunt for submissions. Noine of his fifteen professional wins came by submission, and he has one of the only two Twister submission wins in UFC history. In six UFC fights, Mitchell averages nearly three and a half takedowns per fifteen minutes; one per round because it’s rare they get back up.
Although "Thug Nasty’s" weakness is on the feet, he’s a Slim Shady LP track fifteen fearless striker. He throws caution to the wind and looks like someone playing Street Fighter for the first time, just mashing the buttons. I can’t tell if Mitchell is a natural southpaw or orthodox fighter (that could be good or bad), but he has oddly effective wild kicks similar to Derrick Lewis. They aren’t pretty at all, but they land, and any kicks that land hurt. He also throws sneaky spinning attacks like back fists and earned a feather in his cap when he dropped Edson Barboza with a left hand in the first round.
Ilia Topuria had a near-death experience in his last bout against Jai Herbert when he went up a weight class. He ate a JFK headshot in the first round and turned into Air Dolphin on a pair of rollerblades, cruising the mall. But he refrained from traveling to the light and came back to score an emphatic second-round KO. Ilia "Tempura" Topuria is a little power wrestler who may be one of the best pure wrestlers in the featherweight division. Topuria shoots power double legs and will run opponents clear across the cage, and delivers heavy ground and pound from the top position.
But Topuria has built a name for himself with his stand-up. Topuria is built like Gimli and throws chopping overhand right hands that punch first-class tickets to Valhalla. Topuria’s special move is a liver shot-overhand right combination. He attacks the body with his lead hand and comes over the top with the right hand. Ilia used that exact combination to finish two of his four wins. His power on the feet makes his wrestling/grappling even more effective, and Topuria has quietly become one of the best well-rounded sleepers in the division.
We often see with two grapplers a grappling stalemate that results in an exclusive kickboxing match. I believe Topuria may be the slightly better grappler, but he will definitely have the edge in the stand-up should this one stay standing for long stretches. Both fighters have near identical stats, averaging two significant strikes landed per minute and over three takedowns per fifteen minutes. I would be shocked, like Marv, if either fighter can find a way to finish the fight. Fantasy-wise, this one will be a nip/tuck low-scoring affair unless one fighter establishes a grappling edge. Ilia Topuria via decision.