Week in MMA & Boxing #21
MMA & Boxing News From the week of
December 12 - December ,18 2015
McGregor Wins Featherweight Title
Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, the same Aldo who had dominated the featherweight division for six years, and was the only featherweight champion in UFC history. McGregor beat Aldo to the punch with a left hook as both were throwing, and kept repeating the catch phrase about how precision beats power and timing beats speed. The time broke, by one second, the all-time record for the fastest finish in a championship fight, set by Ronda Rousey in her 2/28 win over Cat Zingano.
McGregor, who nicknamed himself Mystic Mack for his Muhammad Ali like predictions of how matches would end, had done an interview the day before the fight and predicted the exact scenario of how it would end, although also said that the finish would come late in the first round. He claimed that he had seen the tendency in Aldo’s game that he knew he could take advantage of, but didn’t think it would come that early.
But his goal is to become Floyd Mayweather in the financial department. A crazy spender with a head for business numbers, McGregor, when told that the gate for UFC 194 was $10.1 million ($10,123,000 is the number we were given, the official number should be out next week), the all-time U.S. record and second biggest (behind the $12,075,000 for UFC 129 in Rogers Centre in Toronto for Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields) in UFC history, brought up that Mayweather did more than $70 million as a live gate for the Manny Pacquiao fight, and noted he’s at this level now and he’s only 27 years old, noting that Mayweather wasn’t drawing what he’s drawing when he was the same age.
UFC announced a sellout 16,516 fans for the show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It’s not clear if that figure was the arena itself, or else includes the closed circuit overflow at MGM Grand of 2,500 paying $125,000. We’ll have that officially broken down hopefully next week.
There was a lot of talk regarding McGregor and earnings but by the end of the weekend the feeling was he and management were on the same page, and Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN that McGregor would become UFC’s first fighter to earn $100 million over the course of his career. To do that he’s going to have to remain at the championship level for several more years, and as so many fights this year have shown, this is far too unpredictable a business to say that as a lock.
McGregor’s next move will likely be decided in about a week, after the Rafael dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone lightweight title fight. McGregor’s next goal, besides making even more money, is to be the first person to hold UFC titles in two weight classes at the same time. Normally, that would be a bad idea for business, and UFC has never considered allowing someone to do that. It inherently means fewer title matches in each division at a time when UFC runs so many shows, it wants as many title fights as possible. It also slows up the division, as with fewer title matches, deserving challengers will have to wait longer to get their shots.
The word is that McGregor would like to fight once before UFC 200, and then at UFC 200. The idea would be that one of those fights would be his first featherweight title defense, and his second would be him challenging for the lightweight title, but not necessarily in that order.
Still, there has been a lot of contradictory statements from different directions. Dana White talked like if McGregor moved to lightweight, that he’d vacate the featherweight title and that Aldo would face Frankie Edgar for the title. His coach, John Kavanagh, said the weight cut to 145 (McGregor’s usual walk around weight is about 175 pounds) was too difficult and he’d never do it again. But McGregor made it clear he was not going to vacate the featherweight title, and listed the three obvious options for his next fight as challenging for the lightweight title, or defending the featherweight belt against either Aldo or Edgar.
If Cerrone beats dos Anjos for the lightweight title on 12/19, just the verbal dynamic of McGregor vs. Cerrone guarantees a huge number. McGregor vs. dos Anjos would do well, since it’s McGregor challenging for a second title and going for history, but not as well as a fight with Cerrone would do.
Edgar clearly deserves a featherweight title shot, having knocked out Mendes in the first round in the 12/11 main event. In a case of mixed signals, Edgar, at ringside for the fight, was told by one UFC official to go in for a confrontation with McGregor. But Dana White told him not to as he was walking by the steps. Many argued that Edgar deserved the shot at Aldo more than McGregor.
Edgar was a former lightweight champion, and there was controversy when it came to the decisions rendered in his title loss to Benson Henderson and his rematch in 2012. Personally, I thought Henderson won the first fight and Edgar won the second. But after Edgar lost the split decision, he took White’s advice and dropped to featherweight for a fight with Aldo, which he lost in a close decision.
The win was huge for UFC because after this win, McGregor has proven his worth and his drawing power will remain even after losses that at some point will come. Being blown out by Aldo could have hurt him. He’s charisma and talking ability was such that losing a close fight would have hurt him now to a degree, but won’t hurt him nearly as much going forward. With Rousey questionable if she’ll even stay in the game if she loses a second time to Holm, the McGregor win guaranteed the current boom period will not end with UFC 200.
But the reality is with the kind of numbers McGregor delivers, and the spotlight he puts on the divisions, it is more than worth it. If McGregor only fights once as a lightweight and once as a featherweight in 2016, and he would probably want to do two each as champion, his PPV numbers would still easily beat the total of three title matches in either division by anyone else as champion.
If UFC 200 has Rousey and McGregor on the same show, there is a very legitimate shot at 2 million PPV buys. Rousey vs. Holm on its own would probably beat 1.5 million. UFC 193 has been estimated by our sources at 1,090,000 buys, although there is a number going around saying that Rousey’s camp, and she gets paid based on the real number, have said the number was 1,220,000. I don’t know if that version is accurate but that number was being said by a number of people over the weekend.
Either way, that show had nothing that was going to make a difference past a Rousey title defense against a boxing champion. A rematch would do much bigger. Rousey and McGregor draw from largely different audiences. About half of the McGregor audience only buys his shows. Probably two-thirds of the Rousey audience only buys her shows. If you go with 1.5 million as the uniques for Rousey vs. Holm, and that may be a low prediction, McGregor is going to bring in 500,000 more uniques at minimum. The hype of it as a major event people will think they shouldn’t miss could swell that number, perhaps greatly, like happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. At that point they’d draw significant numbers from people who have rarely or never purchased such a show and who got swept up in the late momentum.
Dana White was pushing 7/9 and UFC 200 for the Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey rematch. UFC 200 is being groomed as the biggest card in history and that’s the biggest match in history. And they don’t want either to fight anyone else and risk that match. At the same time, if Rousey loses again, they lose their ticket to mainstream exposure. She may lose again under any circumstances, but you want to give her the best opportunity and that means a lot of time to work on new skills and making some changes. Going back to her delusional cornerman and filming some movies and then going into an intense camp to get in shape with the same skill set could pay off if she can get the takedown early and have enough ground control to work for a submission, but it’s not the high percentage play
Rockhold wins the middleweight title
There was a second title change at UFC 194, with Luke Rockhold winning the middleweight title from Chris Weidman. The fight was the expected war between two great athletes and fighters in their primes. Rockhold, who had been battling Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, while looking in his best shape, clearly wasn’t, as he was tired by the second round. Weidman was also tired by the pace and his working hard to take Rockhold down, plus the hard body kicks probably zapped Weidman of a lot of his stamina.
Two judges had given Rockhold the first two rounds, while one judge had it split. But Weidman was coming on and winning the third round until he made his fateful mistake, throwing a slow spin kick that will likely haunt him for the rest of his career. Rockhold took him down off it and gave him a terrible beating for the rest of the round. Herb Dean is a great ref, and he and John McCarthy are considered the best in the business, but he let the fight go far too long. I think the mentality is that it’s a title match, and Weidman is a tough guy who has proven to be able to come back from beatings so he got leeway. When the third round was over, I didn’t think Weidman could come out for the fourth.
But he did. And he was hurt, but still competitive until Rockhold took him down again. As Rockhold started landing punches from the top, Dean stopped it long before Weidman took the damage he did in the prior round, with Rockhold awarded the title at 3:12.
Weidman was hospitalized after the loss, but later said, “I will remember this moment forever. It has already changed me for the better. The motivation I have inside myself has never been stronger. I did not feel like myself in there for many reasons, but it was a loss that I needed and deserved. I have been playing back different moments in the fight where I didn’t do or react the way I should have, but this was all part of a true master plan that God has in store for me. I will be back and I will be champion again. I just wanna let everyone know that I am okay. I am so blessed with an amazing family, friends, team and fans. Thank you all so much for the support. It means more now than ever.”
UFC 194 was Loaded
While most of the focus was on Conor McGregor and the middleweight division, UFC 194 on 12/12 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was among the most loaded shows in recent company history.
A number of fighters in other divisions are now in the championship picture. Max Holloway, after beating Jeremy Stephens, called for a title shot in his post-fight interview. But Holloway’s fight with Stephens wasn’t exciting, but he’s still won eight in a row since a 2013 decision loss to McGregor. If McGregor stays at featherweight and defends against Edgar, a Jose Aldo vs. Holloway fight makes sense.
Urijah Faber, at 36, proved he still has his popularity even after losing six straight title fights in either the featherweight or bantamweight division. With the exception of McGregor, and possibly Chris Weidman, Faber was the most popular fighter of the weekend.
Edgar beats Mendes
Frankie Edgar dropped Chad Mendes with a left hook and he face planted in just 2:28 in the main event of UFC’s second show of the weekend, a 12/11 event at The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
The show was a rare FS 1 Friday night show, which also featured the finals of 22nd season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
Ryan Hall, a 30-year-old submission expert from the American team coached by Urijah Faber defeated Artem Lobov of the European team, an actual real life teammate of coach Conor McGregor and his SBG Ireland team in Dublin.
Fighter Dies due to Weight Cutting
The death of 21-year-old Yan Jian Bing, a flyweight fighter from China who was scheduled to compete on the 12/11 ONE Championship show in Pasay, The Philippines was the latest tragedy of weight cutting.
As has been mentioned and written numerous times, the process of thousands of fighters each year cutting significant weight right, usually the day before fighting, is a part of the sport that guarantees tragedies will happen. While actual deaths are rare, dehydration enough for hospitalization is not uncommon. Any organization that runs a regular schedule will have a few fights canceled because a fighter ends up hospitalized.
It’s a problem without easy solutions, yet it shouldn’t be, given that extreme weight cutting, done to have a size advantage in the fight, or done because of the state of the art, so one isn’t overpowered by a bigger opponent, is routine. Doctors and commission officials often warn fighters against it, and no promotion has been proactive about stopping it.
The idea of same day weigh-ins, as is done in many grappling sports, is not used in MMA for the same reason it isn’t used in boxing. The belief, and rightly so, is there would be more tragedies if fighters cut weight the day of the fight, and then go into a fight dehydrated, not just affecting performance but more importantly, not having enough fluid in the brain while taking punches.
But after a number of deaths in the sport of wrestling, officials of that sport implemented testing on body fat and hydration levels which would ban a fighter from cutting to an unhealthy weight class.
Bing, who had a 5-1 record, was scheduled to fight Geje Eustaquio (6-4) on a show at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, The Philippines, that was headlined by former UFC star Brandon Vera.
He collapsed on 12/10, the day before the fight, a few hours before weigh-ins, and was rushed to San Juan De Dios Hospital. He never recovered, passing away due to cardiopulmonary failure at 12:06 p.m. the next day.
Weight cutting deaths are rare in MMA, with the last known death of its kind being of Brazilian fighter Leonardo Santos in 2013. Hospitalizations from fighters passing out while cutting weight are not so rare, and in every organization of any size, several fights per year fall through. Usually it is excessive weight cutting, as the process of cutting ten pounds is uncomfortable but rarely results in problems. But fighters often cut 20 or more pounds, which, especially with smaller fighters, can result in problems, which includes dehydration that can lead to kidney issues, or problems with both in stamina and energy in the fight itself.
Because the actual deaths are rare and there has never been a UFC or Bellator death from weight cutting, the issue has never gotten the attention it probably should. Three college wrestlers passing away during a short period of time in 1997 led to widespread changes in that sport. If a death occurs in a major U.S. promotion, there is a good chance there would be a similar reaction. But instead, the sport needs to be proactive and use the fact that fighters collapse and are hospitalized not being that rare as the impetus to try and make changes.
At times, when fighters haven’t made weight, Dana White has said he ordered them to move up weight classes, which he said in the past for fighters like John Lineker, Henry Cejudo, Kelvin Gastelum and Johny Hendricks. But in every case except Lineker, who repeatedly failed to make weight, he rescinded after the fighters proved they could make weight.
If Cris Cyborg is to be believed, she’s now given up on trying to get down to 135 pounds for a fight with Holly Holm or Ronda Rousey, which would be the biggest possible fights she could have. After the death of Yang Jian Bing, she wrote, “This is an example of the real dangers of extreme weight cutting and one of the factors into deciding that the goal of me safely fighting at 135 pounds was not realistic. I appreciate those who understand that.
UFC on FOX
This week’s show, the final card of what has been an excellent year overall for the promotion, is 12/19 in Orlando, the FOX show with the built in ratings excuse (Star Wars). The show is an early one, starting at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time with Fight Pass fights of Luis Henrique vs. Francis Ngannou, Hayder Hassan vs. Vincente Luque and Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman. Then it’s five hours on FOX with Jim Alers vs. Cole Miller, Danny Castillo vs. Nik Lentz (a sleeper fight), Tamdan McCrory vs. Josh Samman, Sarah Kaufman vs. Valentina Shevchenko, C.B. Dollaway vs. Nate Marquardt and Charles Oliveira vs. Myles Jury as the main event of the prelims.
The main card has the debut of Karolina Kowalkiewicz (who they are putting in this spot to get exposure for a possible shot at Joanna Jedrzejczyk) vs. Randa Markos, Nate Diaz vs. Michael Johnson, Junior Dos Santos (who looked a lot smaller than before in the last photo I saw of him) vs. Alistair Overeem (who also looks smaller) and the main event is Rafael dos Anjos (who it will be interesting to see what he looks like as well, as there was heavy talk this past week that he’s showing up smaller as well) defending the lightweight title against Cowboy Cerrone. Shevchenko (9-1) will make her UFC debut on short notice in facing Kaufman due to an injury last week to Germaine de Randamie. Her lone career loss was to Liz Carmouche more than five years ago.
They are looking at upping the quality of Fight Pass fights in 2015. The plan now is to not have just matches less attractive than those on TV and PPV on Fight Pass. The plan is to have one PPV quality match, starting with Joe Duffy (who has looked great so far in UFC) vs. Dustin Poirier. That to me is either the No. 3 or No. 4 fight on the entire show. Aside from Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit as the main event, and Andrei Arlovski vs. Stipe Miocic, Duffy vs. Poirier could be No. 3. In the Arlovski vs. Miocic fight, my thought is the most impressive winner out of this fight and the Dos Santos vs. Overeem fight should get a shot at the 2/6 winner of Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez for the title. The rest of the card has Lorenz Larkin vs. Albert Tumenov (Tumenov is one of those guys people don’t know who has looked really good in his recent fights), Kelvin Gastelum vs. Kyle Noke, Diego Brandao vs. Brian Ortega, Masanori Kanehara vs. Michael McDonald, Justine Kish vs. Nina Ansaroff, Drew Dober vs. Scott Holtzman, Tony Sims vs. Abel Trujillo, Joe Soto vs. Michinori Tanaka and Edgar Garcia vs. Sheldon Wescott