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The Fallout: Conor’s return ignites the UFC

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After all this time, it’s nice to know that Conor McGregor can still surprise us.

Whether it was knocking out Jose Aldo to win the featherweight title in thirteen-seconds, coming back from a submission loss to outlast Nate Diaz in their rematch, or throwing a fucking dolly at the fighter’s bus window, the biggest part of the Irishman’s appeal was that you never knew what he was going to do, so everything he did and said was must see.

Well, the former featherweight and lightweight champion proved he was still must see, when he stopped longtime fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in just forty-seconds last Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena. Yet it wasn’t so much that he stopped Cowboy or how fast it was done, it was how it went down.

The two men, fighting at welterweight, came right each other with Conor barely missing on a big left hand. From there he initiated a clinch, and came from underneath with three shoulder strikes, the second of which seemed to smash Cowboy right in the face and possibly break his nose. Conor landed a knee to the shoulder as they separated, and then just missed with a right uppercut before coming back with a straight left. Cowboy backed up and uncorked a head kick, but Conor blocked and came back with his own head-kick that nailed Cowboy on the side of the chin and shook him up. Conor followed up with a flying knee and a big left hand, before dropping him with two more left hands.

Conor then began to drop some serious GNP. Cowboy did his best to roll and defend himself and referee Herb Dean did his best to give him every single chance. But in the end, Cowboy could no longer defend himself and Dean stepped in to save him.

The fans on hand in the arena went into ecstasy, while home goers across the country were driven to shock and anger, as they had been Tyson’ed by the biggest star the UFC has ever known. Meanwhile, around the cage and around the world, fighters across the lightweight and welterweight divisions, selling or not were going into ecstasy.

Whatever you think about Conor McGregor as a fighter or as a person, the fact of the matter that is the already excellent lightweight and welterweight divisions are a hell of a lot more interesting with him around. With The Notorious One’s win over Cerrone, the number of matchups at the heights of the 155 and 170 pound divisions could create a hell of a lot of excitement.

The most delicious one is of course against Jorge Masvidal, the consensus 2019 Fighter of the Year coming off of massive wins over Ben Askren and Nate Diaz. Masvidal was cageside of course, clad into an impressive looking but out of place Versace Robe, no doubt chomping at the bit for another huge matchup. The McGregor-Masvidal matchup seems to be the one most clamored for by MMA fans and might be the best. While Masvidal will have a size advantage over Conor, given that “Gamebred” is also a former 155 pounder moving up, so it won’t be ridiculous.

What would be ridiculous in the eyes of most fans and experts would be a matchup with UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, the massive champion and aggressive power wrestler who was also cageside, pretending to be unimpressed and trying to hide his glee at the potential of the massive payday that could come his way if Conor chooses to chase an unprecedented third world title.

While the fans seem to want McGregor vs Masvidal, UFC President Dana White wants a rematch with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who of course is supposed to finally fight number one lightweight contender Tony Ferguson on April 18. It’s no mystery why White wants this fight. The first one did record business and given what happened in the aftermath of their fight on October 6, 2018, a rematch could only be bigger.

The ironic thing is that McGregor said all last week in the build-up to this fight that he doesn’t believe that the Khabib-Tony fight will actually happen, and he has plenty of data to back up this hypothesis and he said that he would be ready to step in. That would be absolute bedlam. But it’s not a bad chance for him to take, especially after taking out Cowboy in the way that he just did.

The UFC did lose out on a big potential matchup Saturday, when the criminally underrated Brazilian Diego Ferreira smothered the hell out of Anthony Pettis and submitted him in the second round with a rear naked choke. If Pettis had managed to get by Ferreira, “Showtime” versus McGregor would have been a dream matchup the people had been clamoring for years. Given the size similarity and the explosive nature of both men, it is the kind of “watch the world burn matchup” that many fans love.

And as always, Nate Diaz and the prospect of trilogy fight is always on the table. Given how Diaz was dominated by Masvidal, this seems unlikely, but it as long as it makes dollars, it will make sense, and this one, even two years too late will make a lot of dollars.

Whomever Conor McGregor fights next, it will be a bonanza for the promotion. The words that Larry Merchant stated after Oscar De La Hoya knocked out Ricardo Mayorga come back again, “When a popular fighters who struggles wins by knockout; it is as if all struggles have gone away.” Conor McGregor has the fans excited again.

They just hope it goes longer than forty-seconds next time.

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UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story

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UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18th in New York but, due to the ongoing pandemic, governor Cuomo restricted mass gatherings and sports events, confining everyone to their homes, leaving them with little more to watch than reruns of old fights and perhaps Game Changers. UFC president Dana White then announced that the event was still on but the location will change. Later, it was announced that it will take place at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. ESPN and its parent company Disney didn’t like this, though, pressuring White to suspend the event for the time being – which he did. Finally, the event was rescheduled for May 9

Meanwhile, interesting news started circulating about a potential location for future UFC fight nights that, if it becomes a reality, might put an interesting spin on the world of mixed martial arts.

UFC Fight Island

Even before the issues with the event, White planned to arrange a brand new location where fight nights could be organized: a private island where athletes could train and fight.

“All the infrastructure is being built right now and getting put in place,” he told the press back in April. “As we get closer to that, then I’ll start figuring out booking fights, getting guys ready. Plus, I can ship guys over there earlier, and they can start training over there, on the island. So, once that’s all in place – we’re looking at like a month – I’ll have that all put together, and guys can start training and can go there.”

The UFC is serious about it: it has already registered several trademarks around the “UFC Fight Island” brand, covering several types of goods, services, even jewelry. 

When, and Where?

The “where” is still a mystery. Although he spoke repeatedly about the arrangements being made for athletes to be able to train and stay on the island, White has not revealed its location yet. Some theorize that it may be somewhere in international waters so it could serve as a place where international athletes could stay without restrictions, perhaps off the coast of California. But this is just a theory – all will probably be revealed in due time.

The “when” is a bit less vague: White told the press that UFC Fight Island will be operational by June. It will have amenities like an Octagon on the beach, and hotels for the fighters to be lodged at. And most importantly, it will allow international fighters to participate in fights, even with the pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place.

The idea of an island dedicated to fighting may sound familiar – it was the topic of the 2006 martial arts movie “DOA – Dead or Alive” and 2007’s “The Condemned”, among others. Let’s hope this one will have a happier ending.

As for UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’, that event will now take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. 

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What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249

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It’s fair to say that Justin Gaethje has firmly taken up the role of underdog ahead of his clash with Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on May 9th. The latest Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje betting offers present Ferguson as the clear favourite, after his opponent was drafted in at the last minute to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is on lockdown in his home country of Russia. 

Gaethje is relatively inexperienced in the world of UFC, having fought just six times in the competition in the past. But his calibre from prior ventures in MMA, notably the World Series of Fighting, means that he is a fighter not to be trifled with, and while he won’t represent as formidable a challenge for Ferguson as Khabib would have, there is much to admire about the 31-year-old.

To understand fully Gaethje’s chances ahead of UFC 249, it’s important to analyse his performances in recent fights. Indeed, his past three bouts have resulted in impressive victories, with Gaethje winning Performance of the Night awards in two of those fights — against James Vick and Donald Cerrone respectively. 

But his UFC started off in disappointing fashion, with just one win from his first three fights. That victory came against Michael Johnson in the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, but from there he failed to gain a strong foothold in the championship. He suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, including a knockout at the hands of the former, as he struggled to adapt to the competitive nature of the UFC.

Those defeats obviously shook Gaethje into life, because he has come roaring back in his last three fights, mustering up a trio of impressive performances to bring him to the level he finds himself at today, where UFC chief Dana White is drafting him to replace someone of the calibre of Khabib. 

The first of this trio of victories was a win over James Vick in August 2018, where Gaethje produced a fine display which silenced some of the doubters who had perhaps questioned his ability at the highest level. He won Performance of the Night for that one, and was then involved in the Fight of the Night the following March as he defeated Edson Barboza by knockout in Philadelphia. His most recent victory was a TKO triumph over UFC veteran Donald Cerrone in October last year, where Gaethje once again walked away with the Performance of the Night accolade. 

All three of his most recent wins have come via first round knockout or technical knockout, proof that Gaethje has the ability to overpower opponents in the opening stages of a fight. Of course, to do this against Ferguson will be a whole different ball game, as he is the most high-profile fighter Gaethje has faced so far, but perhaps the key lies in ensuring he comes out all guns blazing early on.

Gaethje’s Performance of the Night wins indicate that he is capable of producing a show-stopping performance on any given night. He is undoubtedly the underdog going into the fight against Ferguson, but with a few good wins now under his belt, who’s to say he can’t spring a surprise on May 9th and truly announce himself in the UFC. 

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UFC to provide a welcome sports fix for hungry fans

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UFC 249 had promised to be a rare occasion of a sports event going ahead, but the April 18th showpiece ultimately fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak, and was cancelled. However, UFC chief Dana White is not one to be put out, and so came the recent announcement that there would be a series of UFC fight nights in May.

It’s a great chance for fans to see some sporting action, for fighters to keep in shape and perhaps make a name for themselves in these strange circumstances, and for people stuck in lockdown to have some alternative entertainment, something a bit different from Joe Wicks workouts or Zoom quizzes! Here, we look at why these UFC fight nights will be welcomed by so many people.

Live action

The sporting world has basically been at a standstill since the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe. It feels like an eternity ago that we were watching horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League, but the measures put in place by the government to protect the public meant that most events had to be cancelled. 

And so, the news that there will be some live sporting entertainment in the form of several UFC fight nights will give sports fans that much needed fix of live action. Sports nuts all over the world have been forced to make do with virtual championships and races, or with trawling the archives to reminisce on past sporting occasions, but now White and co. have brought some welcome live sporting action back to our screens.

Mouth-watering match-ups

Of course, these are not just any old fighters going head to head. Some of the best in the business will be battling it out, not least Tony Ferguson who takes on Justin Gaethje on May 9th. The Tony Ferguson odds have him as hot favourite for the bout, but Gaethje will be a man on a mission on fight night to prove he has what it takes to cause a stir at the highest level of the sport. 

May 9th sees two other interesting clashes, as Henry Cejudo takes on Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight Championship, and Francis Ngannou meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The Cejudo vs Cruz fight features two men with similar records, and will therefore be an intriguing clash as both try and prove themselves on the big stage. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik will be trying to defend his 10-fight unbeaten record as he takes on Ngannou, and so there will be plenty on the line in that one.

A welcome distraction

Perhaps one of the key benefits of these fight nights is that they will provide a welcome distraction from the sad news and gloomy headlines we’ve all been reading in recent weeks. Sport has the power to unite people and spark a feel-good factor among the public.

Although the UFC may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a chance for a lot of people to get to know a sport they perhaps wouldn’t have considered watching before, and few sports have to power to grip and entertain like mixed martial arts. Many people are craving a dose of live sporting action, and thanks to the UFC, that sporting fix is not too far away.

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