Could’ve, Would’ve Should’ve; A Big Mistake from the UFC – Dan Hayes, Year 13

12th November 2016 will forever be a historic day in the UFC’s history. It marks the date that the promotion made their debut in the state of New York. After years of dirty politics keeping it out, it was finally here. A huge accomplishment for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The 12th also marks the date the self-acclaimed ‘face of the UFC’, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor (21-3 MMA 9-1 UFC) became the first fighter to ever hold two belts, in two weight divisions, at the same time, in the UFC. A historic moment for the sport once again.

McGregor raising is two belts to the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

After a challenging year which saw him suffer his first UFC defeat via 2nd Round Rear Naked Choke to #5 Lightweight Nate Diaz (19-11 MMA) in a Welterweight bout after his chance at the lightweight belt was taken from him when the then-champ Rafael Dos Anjos (25-9 MMA) broke his foot resulting in the cancellation of their bout scheduled for earlier this year. Diaz (the replacement) wasn’t able to make weight (155lbs) on such short notice resulting in McGregor putting 25lbs on to fight a bigger man. After the loss, many expected him to fade away in a similar fashion to Ronda Rousey. “The Notorious” came back stronger than ever, demanding a rematch under the exact same conditions. After a hugely entertaining, yet gruelling 5 rounds, McGregor came out on top via Split Decision. Considered one of the best fights in UFC history, the bout smashed all records, breaking the record for most PPV buys and highest gate, a record held by their first fight.

Months later, McGregor was offer his chance at history and he wasn’t going to let it slip out of his grasp once again. His opponent, the new lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez (28-5 MMA 3-2 UFC) was a challenging opponent, on paper. After several heated press conferences, a chair nearly thrown and an all-white Gucci Mink coat, it was time to fight. McGregor came out calm, composed and dominant, using his reach to stay out of the way of Eddie’s shots and takedown attempts, whilst still landing big shots dropping Alvarez 3 times. When the round ended, there was an evident difference in the attitudes of the fighters and their coaches. In the Alvarez corner things seemed rushed with plenty of shouting, whilst in McGregor’s corner, things were calm, Conor had a bit of water and his coach told him he looked good.  2 minutes later, McGregor hits Alvarez with a beautiful 4 punch combination and that’s the end. And New.

Straight away people started to wonder; What Next?

“Without me this whole ship would sink.” McGregor before the pre-conference at MSG.

Originally, this article was meant to lay out the different paths McGregor could go down, what the fans want and what I personally think he should do. However, over the weekend the UFC announced that the current Light-Heavyweight Champion, Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier was out of his UFC 206 title defence fight with Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson due to injury. This meant that the card was in serious need of saving with relatively average fights and a very interesting co-main event still remaining.

The interesting bout in question is former Lightweight Champ Anthony Pettis v Max Holloway at featherweight. Holloway, who hasn’t lost a fight since losing to ‘The Notorious’ way back in 2013 via majority decision, is on one of the most impressive streaks in the UFC at the moment. He’s a fighter who is very deserving of a title shot. His opponent, Anthony Pettis, is relatively new to the featherweight division. After losing his last 3 fights at Lightweight, Pettis made the decision to move down to 145lbs. After a victory over Charles Oliveira at UFC on FOX 21, Pettis has moved to #6 on the featherweight rankings and is set to face Holloway for a shot at the title.

After the news broke that “DC” was out, the UFC announced that McGregor had ‘relinquished’ his Featherweight title and that Holloway v Pettis was now for the interim title. This meant that, once again, Jose Aldo is being gifted the Featherweight title. In my humble opinion, this is a joke. There is an evident lack of faith in this fight that the UFC has felt it necessary to make it for the interim title.By doing this they’ve made this belt seem near worthless. Equally, had Cormier not become injured, this wouldn’t have happened and ‘Mystic Mac’ would still be the 145lbs Champion.

As of writing this, McGregor has yet to make comment on the matter. Merely two weeks after making history for the promotion and the sport, he has been stripped of the belt. For me, I can’t decide whether the fact that the UFC are throwing interim belts around willy-nilly or that Aldo is now the Disputed Undisputed Featherweight Champion is more annoying.

After being KO’d in just 13 seconds, Aldo understandably wanted a rematch. He was told that once Conor had fought Diaz he would receive this rematch. Then he was told after he fought Frankie Edgar for the interim title at UFC 200 he would have a unification rematch. When Dana White spoke at the UFC 202 post-fight conference he said that  after overcoming Diaz in their rematch, Conor would have to return to 145lbs and defend his title. Some time later, the papers are signed for Conor to fight Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. This meant that McGregor’s belt hadn’t been defended for 11 months and that Aldo, the companies only Featherweight Champion prior to McGregor had been messed around on multiple occasions.

It took just 13 seconds for McGregor to KO 10 year champion Jose Aldo at UFC 194.

Whilst at this point many may feel sympathetic towards Jose, once he was informed of the 205 fight, he decided to retire. Once he was told he was contracted and couldn’t simply leave the UFC, he threatened to ‘throw’ future matches. During his previous reign as champ, Aldo pulled out of a total of 5 fights and went a period of 13 months without defending his belt. Aside from Aldo, other champions have taken longer periods of time not defending their belts. For example; Cain Vasquelez and George St. Pierre both didn’t defend their belts for a combined total of around 33 months. Although it was expected that McGregor would eventually vacate one of his belts, this all seems a bit soon, a bit ridiculous and a missed opportunity by the UFC.

It’s a well known fact that ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor is the biggest star in the UFC. Regardless of the amount of time UFC President, Dana White insists that its former UFC Bantamweight Champion, Ronda Rousey. It has to be McGregor. McGregor holds the top 4  Pay-Per-View records, has the highest gates and highest attendance and when faced with the pain of a big defeat, was back in the Octagon inside 5 months. Yes, it may have once been Ronda, but after she disappeared for a year, it’s now the McGregor Era. So why wouldn’t you want more than one of your biggest star?

By keeping McGregor as the featherweight champion and lightweight champion, you effectively have 2 Conor McGregor’s, a huge draw in multiple weight classes. With Conor as the 145lb champion, it allowed the division to remain in the spotlight. Each fight amongst the top contenders was a potential future title defence for McGregor. Now he’s only the Lightweight Champ, the buzz will slowly but surely fade away from the ‘fw’ division.

In the past year alone McGregor has fought 3 times, the same amount in 2015 and fought twice in 2014. He is one of, if THE most active fighter in the promotion, this allows him to be such a big draw. It was and is more than possible for him to defend both of his belts at least once inside a calendar year.

When ‘The Notorious’ fights, it’s an occasion. Fans travel from around the world to watch, fans tune in to see him win, haters tune in to see him lose, part time fans tune in to see one of the few names they know fight and new fans of the sport start with the biggest draw to see what it’s all about. When McGregor fights, there’s a lot of money coming the UFC’s way.

Whilst this article was originally intended to say what he could do next, it looks like it’s now about what he could’ve done and what the UFC have missed.

So, what have the UFC missed out on?

Firstly, it’s a well known fact that Conor and his long time girlfriend are due to have their first child in May of 2017. This means that Conor will be taking some time off from the sport in order to spend time with his girlfriend and not to stress her out in the run up to a fight.

In the time between now and McGregor’s return, countless different and exciting events could’ve taken place. Firstly, the lightweight division is filled with some of the world best. The top 2 contenders, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson hold some of the longest streaks in the company. Khabib is currently 24-0 MMA whilst Ferguson is on a 9 fight win streak. Both are brilliant fighters with rather different skillsets. A fight between the two would be phenomenally entertaining. Therefore, in McGregor’s absence, the fight should be for the Interim title. Not to make the fight more interesting or a bigger draw. But the current Undisputed Champ is absent for legitimate reasons and a division is being held up. The best in that division is therefore the champ until the undisputed champ returns for a unification bout.

Meanwhile in the featherweight, Jose Aldo should’ve remained the interim champion and Holloway v Pettis fight for their shot at Aldo. The winner of Aldo v Holloway/Pettis then fights McGregor to unify the belts and again find the undisputed champ. Personally I believe this fight must come before the defence of the lightweight title for obvious reasons. But like I’ve said previously, had the UFC not panicked and haphazardly jumped to this conclusion this is could be the reality as its  more than possible.

For me, it’s hard to see McGregor not coming out on top against any of the possible opponents at 145 and 155lbs after he dismantled Alvarez inside 2 rounds. Providing he does, this could perfectly setup the trilogy fight with Diaz for the ‘55 strap, a fight that most if not all MMA fans would love to see. If he choose he could attempt history once more and fight the Welterweight (170lbs) Champion, Tyron Woodley or even have that boxing match against Floyd Mayweather (I personally dont care for this fight at all), but who knows?

At the end of the day, the UFC have panicked and made a brash decision that hasn’t gone down well. But with regards to what’s next? We’ll have to wait and see.



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