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Why the UFC shouldn’t fold to Conor McGregor

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Just two weeks ago, I penned an article about Conor McGregor’s most recent blunder outside of the octagon that saw the former UFC Lightweight champion arrested on charges of strong-armed robbery, stemming from an incident where he allegedly smashed someone’s phone after they took a picture of him as he left a Miami club. Earlier this week, the Dublin native tweeted that he retired from mixed martial arts, despite an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show when he discussed fighting earlier that day.

This “retirement” announcement isn’t new for McGregor, considering that he claimed that he retired in 2016 before he fought again when UFC management negotiated a new contract for him to return to the octagon.

Conor reemerged in the cage against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, losing via submission in the fourth round last October. The one-sided defeat was followed by the infamous post-fight brawl between members of each corner. The anticipated grudge match generated a record-setting 2.4 million pay-per-view buys.

With the recent announcement of the UFC pay-per-view to start as an exclusive to the ESPN+ streaming service, fans will still pay the usual $65 to access to PPV cards, but must be ESPN subscribers for the opportunity to order the events. Considering the major money the network spent to secure MMA content for the seven-year deal, it’s understandable they want to maximize their chance to use it as a way to solidify their streaming service. At the same time, it was still surprising that UFC brass was willing to departure from that traditional pay-per-view platform that garnered the promotion the majority of its revenue. It’s not uncommon for certain headliners of particular cards to get a percentage of a PPV buy rate, but how that will be determined under the ESPN+ platform remains to be seen. Depending on the actual numbers and what type of deal the UFC has for the streaming service, fighters might not necessarily make as much money on PPV points.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzfaUBVP_SY&w=560&h=315]

Ironically, a few weeks ago, Conor McGregor claimed that he wanted a percentage of the entire company as a part of a deal for him to compete for the WME-owned group again. Make no mistake about it, this latest “retirement” from the brash Irishman is nothing more than a stunt to attempt to garner a bigger payday to put the gloves on again. On the surface, it might seem like Conor, who also has a lucrative endorsement deal on a new whiskey brand, is trying to maximize his value when the opportunity presented itself. It’s no secret that he’s the top draw for the organization, and with the unpredictability of Jon Jones, the argument could be made that McGregor is the only guaranteed major draw for them. The perceived leverage that Conor would have to make such lofty demands as a share in the company is that through a series of retirements and injuries, the UFC lacked star power in most divisions.

As I’ve written about before, even some of management’s decisions on how to handle certain divisions were counterproductive to the process of new stars being made as more established competitors made an exit.

Most importantly, UFC management shouldn’t fold to the demands of Conor McGregor.

Even if it meant that the former two-division champion didn’t fight again, UFC brass can’t set a precedent of fighters getting an ownership of the company as apart of their contract to compete in the company. If management allows that for McGregor, any fighter that achieves any level of major success in the future would attempt to make similar demands, which would eventually lead to a total debacle in the organization. During an interview with TMZ, Dana White basically called McGregor’s bluff and said that it would make sense for him to retire because of the mega payday from the Floyd Mayweather boxing match. Dana also mentioned that new stars would emerge for the organization.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjf0bsR0Dyk&w=560&h=315]

Part of Dana’s job is the promotional spin on news like this, but he’s actually correct when he says that new stars will be on the horizon. Keep in mind, ESPN has saddled much of the potential success of their digital service to the success of UFC events so one of the top networks in cable has quite literally a vested interest to discover and market new stars. Believe it or not, another major star will be made under the ESPN banner that fans will pay to watch fight and will thus draw numbers for the UFC.

That’s not to discount McGregor’s ability to sell himself, but rather that the sport had different stars throughout various eras and will have more stars in the future.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Conor is really at a pivotal point in his career because he was dominated in a boxing match and then dominated in his return to the octagon. If he would lose again, it’s very possible that much of the shine of his star power could wear off if he’s exposed as more sizzle than substances in the cage. As surprising as it might sound, McGregor is overvaluing himself in this scenario. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that fighters can make as much money as possible and they have every right to try to negotiate the best deal possible for their contract. At the same time, the former 155 lbs champion made a request to own a percentage of the company just to fight, which would mean that he would have a financial stake that’s affected when his possible opponents are promoted under the UFC banner, which could be considered a conflict of interest, especially for other fighters that negotiate contracts.

The bottom line is, Conor McGregor isn’t bigger than the UFC, and as mentioned previously, it’s somewhat concerning that he could be on the path to become another cautionary tale, especially considering that he’s in the prime of his career, but he has made more headlines outside of the octagon than for his accomplishments in the sport.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

MMA

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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