A wild week that seems all too familiar.
With under 24 hours to go before UFC 223, it may be safe to raise our heads above the parapet and discuss the event. But 24 hours will seem like an eternity after the most farcical week in the promotion’s history.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has been lined up against a conveyor belt of opponents over the past week that has left UFC fandom dizzy.
First, the much anticipated Lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson- he tears his ACL. Featherweight champion Max Holloway steps up- he’s declared medically unfit on Friday.
The merry-go-round continued as former champion Anthony Pettis stepped up- he missed the championship weight by 0.2lbs. Paul Felder was shoehorned in- he’s not ranked high enough.
We have finally landed on a ‘title’ fight between Nurmagomedov and former Ultimate Fighter finalist Al Iaquinta. It was announced that only Nurmagomedov becomes champion if he wins, but the the UFC have since reneged on that on that with noone completely sure what it going on.
Oh, and not to forget the debacle surrounding Conor McGregor. Having been stripped of the Lightweight belt for barely ever fighting, The Notorious, drunk with hubris, stormed a press conference alongside Artem Lobov and his posse. They smashed a bus up, which resulted in fellow lightweight Michael Chiesa being taken to Brooklyn hospital with facial lacerations from the broken glass.
‘McNuggets’, as Ferguson refers to him, turned himself into police custody after an arrest warrant was issued by the NYPD, but will probably never show any remorse as he continues to be a deplorable role model for a generation of people who bizarrely idolise him.
He appeared in court charged with three counts of misdemeanour assault and one count of felony criminal mischief in what Dana White described as “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company”.
So far that is what has happened, and Dana White will be praying that that is all. But in a world as strange as this, quite literally anything could happen.
The troubling thing for the UFC is that this is all too familiar. This seems to be a rerun of UFC 200, albeit with a different plot. Billed as the biggest event in the history of the promotion, it fell far too short.
McGregor’s rematch against Nate Diaz was the original headline for the main event, alongside Daniel Cormier vs Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight strap, Miesha Tate vs Amanda Nunes for the Women’s Bantamweight title, and Jose Aldo vs Frankie Edgar for the Interim Featherweight title. Those were only the title fights in a salivating card. Then disaster struck.
The McGregor fight was scrapped after the Notorious’ ‘retirement’, but the event was still so stacked and the UFC had plenty of time to promote the Cormier vs Jones fight. The wheels came off when Jones failed his drugs test three days before the fight. The legend that is Anderson Silva stepped up as he had done before to fight Cormier, but the event never recovered.
Drab co-main events in the Cormier fight and Brock Lesnar vs Mark Hunt preceded a one sided victory for Amanda Nunes in the main event. However, what distinguished UFC 200 from 223 was that the card was too stacked to fail. Former champions in Cain Velasquez, Johny Hendricks and T.J. Dillashaw meant the event still was relatively successful (nowhere near as successful as it may have been).
The main distinction between these two events is what Dana White decided to do with the headline of UFC 200. Despite the plethora of legends on the card, he bumped up the Tate vs Nunes fight to the main event. It wasn’t his fault that the fight didn’t deliver. Why didn’t he do the same for this event?
The Women’s Strawweight title fight between Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jędrzejczyk is a superb fight and worthy of a main event. Jędrzejczyk is a hugely popular fighter and the ‘revenge’ factor is always appealing. The first fight had genuine bad blood and enticed many fans, but still couldn’t headline this card.
Simply put, any fight that is loosely associated with the UFC’s biggest asset, McGregor, needs to be the main event. Nurmagomedov and Ferguson alone, in any other division, wouldn’t be a great fight. Khabib stylistically isn’t a great draw, not to mention the fact that he isn’t American. Ferguson, likewise, isn’t a superstar of the sport.
The long-awaited fight between the two lightweights did gather momentum, throw in a bit of verbal sparring with McGregor, and it became a big fight. But neither man could sustain the card on their own. Holloway was a big name, and Pettis certainly was too; a champion and a former champion, but less can be said about Al Iaquinta.
Iaquinta is certainly an exciting fighter with a lot of power, on a five fight win streak. There was a lot of hype about him a couple of years ago, however, he has not fought in over a year. He has the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality, but that is unlikely to be enough.
What’s worse is that the fans and the UFC top dogs are exactly enamoured with him after his scathing attack on the promotions payment scheme and supposed retirement to become an estate agent. This therefore, does not make it the most attractive fight in terms of money, which, in truth, is what the UFC cares about most.
The event could still have a lot of enthralling fights, but in terms of big names, a lot of weight is on the Namajunas vs Jędrzejczyk rematch. Let’s hope it delivers.
The UFC has unfortunately put their eggs in the wrong basket too often. Financially it is of course always the best idea to have events centring on McGregor, but they’ve been here before. White had said in the past that Nurmagomedov would never headline an event after so many injuries and weight issues. Ironically, it’s been his opponents that have slipped up (literally) this time. The opponents that had to pull our are innocent in this situation- they tried their best. But there was no reason whatsoever for McGregor to turn up and destroy an event that was already on its knees.
Fans love the ‘bad boy’ and White loves a fat they make his wallet. But ‘bad boys’ are invariably bad people, who have a history of scuppering promising events. The only thing more impressive that ‘Bones’ Jones’ record in the octagon is his criminal record, and all his other exploits. Jones’ press conference brawl with Cormier was once the lowest point in the promotions’ history, McGregor has sunk that bar to unthinkable depths.
At least with Jones, White knew that he would almost always win, after all, if he behaved himself he would undoubtedly be regarded as the greatest fighter ever. But there isn’t as much trust in The Notorious, thus he relies on bravado to promote himself.
McGregor wasn’t even expected to be in the country for this saturday’s event, but he managed to show up and sabotage it with his antics. This is part of his allure, but it isn’t helping. Just like Jones brought UFC 200 crashing down in flames, it looks like UFC 223 is going the same way. The saddest thing is, he will probably gain him more support in some perverted way.
If only UFC fans got behind squeaky-clean personalities like Georges St Pierre, Dana White would sleep easily. But they don’t, and the promotion gambles on these characters and pays the price time and again.
Featured image credit: The Sun