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Will Conor McGregor’s return to the Octagon be successful?

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This weekend’s UFC 229 card from Madison Square Garden could be a very historic event, both from a financial and promotional perspective. After months of tension, Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his UFC Lightweight championship against the returning Conor McGregor, the most controversial and top star on the roster.

Ironically, McGregor’s return to the octagon will take place in the same arena where he last competed almost two years ago, knocking out Eddie Alvarez to claim the same 205 LBS title that he will compete for on Saturday. Since the victory that made him a double champion in November of 2016 at MSG, Conor made many headlines, but none of them were about his accomplishments in mixed martial arts.

As I’ve written before, UFC management shoehorned McGregor into a scenario that provided him the chance to win two titles and gave the company the opportunity to market a double champion, granting him a shot at the 155 LBS title before he ever defended the featherweight championship that he won when he defeated Jose Aldo in late 2015.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHumL99qplU&w=560&h=315]

Keep in mind, the UFC is as much of a business, if not more so, as it is a sport.

Many of the stars from the era that saw MMA surge in popularity had declined or retired so UFC brass knew they needed new athletes to market to the general public. The charismatic McGregor received the promotional push and was marketed as the top star in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, Conor is a tremendous fighter, but he doesn’t necessarily have the well-rounded skills that other top stars had from the previous era. Still, his Ric Flair style and presentation made him a major draw on pay-per-view and his bouts are among the best-selling in the history of the company. More specifically, his grudge rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 196 set a record for MMA PPV, generating over 1.5 million buys. His previously mentioned win against Alvarez was his most recent pay-per-view bout and garnered 1.3 million buys, which is also one of the highest PPV numbers in UFC history.

Conor McGregor might not be the most complete fighter in MMA, but he draws money, which is the most important factor from a business perspective.

After UFC management marketed and promoted McGregor as the biggest star in the organization, arguably at the expense of entire divisions, he took that name value to boxing for a mega payday to fight Floyd Mayweather. The brash Irishman is known for his mic skills, but the media tour for his August 2017 bout against Mayweather often resembled a sideshow, and boxing purists scoffed at the contest. The former MMA champion was stopped in the tenth round via TKO, but his goal was to get paid, not jump start a boxing career so it was basically mission accomplished.

The paycheck from boxing was exponentially more than Conor made previously in the octagon so he had much more leverage at the negotiating table for a return to the cage, prompting speculation about if he would actually fight in the UFC again.

Perhaps, the “Notorious” McGregor overestimated what he could do with his over-the-top antics, as his confrontation with Khabib’s fight team this past April made TMZ headlines just days before the UFC 223 card in Brooklyn. Nurmagomedov, who was scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson, got into an altercation with a fighter from McGregor’s team during fight week. Ferguson suffered a knee injury during training, and Max Holloway was declared unable to take his spot on the card because of weight cutting problems so Al Iaquinta was added as a late replacement for the main event.

Conor flew from Dublin to New York to confront Khabib, and when a bus that transported the fighters on that weekend’s card was parked after a media event, McGregor threw a dolly through the window, injuring some of the athletes that were scheduled to fight. The event was further scrambled and a warrant was issued for McGregor’s arrest following the bus incident. Khabib defeated Iaquinta via unanimous decision, and McGregor turned himself into New York police a few days later.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63OCvuC-GSY&w=560&h=315]

Originally charged with a felon that could’ve affected him ability to fight in the United States, McGregor’s expensive legal team was able to get the charges reduced to disorderly conduct and he was ordered to perform community service. Still, there were questions about if Conor had any plans to compete again, especially after management was forced to strip him of both the featherweight and lightweight belts due to lack of title defenses.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5X77MNWe6c&w=560&h=315]

However, it was announced just a few months ago that McGregor would challenge Nurmagomedov for the 155 LBS championship, a title that Conor held previously, but never defended. This grudge match is expected to draw major numbers on pay-per-view, with Dana White speculating that it might set a buy rate record, but I think that’s more of a hype strategy than anything. Regardless, UFC 229 will undoubtedly draw over a million PPV buys, which translates to major money for everyone involved.

So, what will happen during the actual fight?

Stylistically, this isn’t a good match-up for McGregor. Khabib is undefeated with a record of 26-0 and he has a well-rounded skill set that has garnered KO, submission, and decision wins. A two-time Sambo champion, Nurmagomedov will have the advantage in the clinch and on the ground. Conor’s solid record of 21-3 is impressive, but the three losses in his career were via submission so he will have to avoid the ground game in this contest. If the fight ends within the first time rounds, it favors Conor’s ability to land dynamic punches, but if the fight reaches the championship rounds, it’s very possible that Khabib could win with a submission.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5w6RqWp38U&w=560&h=315]

Granted, anything can happen in mixed martial arts, but I will pick Khabib to win the fight, mostly because he has the skill set to defeat McGregor. The other major factor here is ring rust because Conor hasn’t fought in the octagon in two years so his cardio might be affected in the later rounds. McGregor shouldn’t underestimate Khabib or take this fight lightly because the mindset of each athlete could be another determining factor in this bout. McGregor is already extremely wealthy and will receive another major payday from UFC 229, but Nurmagomedov has the added motivation of the potential for major money fights in the future if he defeats the top star in the company.

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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