So, is the UFC actually going to do anything about that whole crazy melee on the Barclays Center loading docks, and if not, does that tell us how we got here? Also, can FOX Sports afford to lose the UFC? And what’s to become of all the great lightweights who are still trying to get into the title shot sweepstakes?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
@benfowlkesMMA With how the UFC has often looked the other way when it comes to Conor McGregor's antics (and even enabled them), do you think the organization is partially to blame for his recent behavior out of the cage? #TMB #TwitterMailbag
— Jericho Gonzales (@jerichogonzales) April 11, 2018
I don’t know how you can even suggest such a thing. Why, look at this latest incident, where Conor McGregor (allegedly) threw a hand truck through the window of a van as part of a melee that resulted in at least two fighters being injured and three bouts being scrapped from the UFC 223 fight card. The UFC promised consequences. And as of this writing the UFC has responded by doing … [checks notes] … absolutely nothing.
But this is just one incident. What about back in November when he jumped into the cage at a Bellator event and started shoving officials around? The UFC sent a powerful message there by … [checks notes again] … yeah, no meaningful response to that one either, aside from pulling him from a fight card that we all knew he wasn’t going to fight on anyway.
RelatedDaily Debate: Will Conor McGregor return to the UFC octagon in 2018?
Clearly, McGregor can do whatever he wants, up to and including injuring his fellow fighters, and he will face zero repercussions from the UFC. The criminal and civil courts might take an interest when he goes too far, but his employer goes from “that was disgusting” to “hey, a lot worse happens in other sports” in the span of a weekend.
What’s ironic is that, for most of the fighters on the roster, UFC punishments are something to fear. They’ve fined, fired, and even banned fighters for less than what McGregor has already done. But McGregor brings money, and the UFC needs money, so now it almost seems like he could strangle a puppy on Fight Pass and all we’d hear in response is, “Hey, Michael Vick killed way more dogs than that.”
So, yes, the UFC deserves some of the blame here, both in the general sense and for the actual mechanics of this latest incident. (How did a guy who wasn’t on the fight card get backstage and all the way to the loading docks of the arena?) UFC executives probably realize this. They’re just betting that no one will hold them responsible, the same way they refuse to hold McGregor responsible.
If you're Poirier/Alvarez/Gaethje/Lee/Chiesa/Pettis/anyone else at LW, do you accept you are fighting each other for the next few years or do you think anyone but McGregor/ Ferg/ Nurmy / Max will be fighting for the title? Dare I say Inter. . Interi. . Interim? There, I said it.
— MMA fan (@jamiegoneill) April 11, 2018
The first thing I’d do if I were one of those fighters is try not to look too far down the road, lest I grow depressed and despondent. Sadly, if you’re someone like Dustin Poirier or Justin Gaethje right now, no one can conclusively tell you what you need to do to become a UFC champion.
What, win all your fights? First of all, no one does that forever, and even if you did, it still might not be enough. So then, hey, maybe you need to talk a bunch of smack, call out the right guy, get yourself noticed. Of course, that’s the same strategy half the division is trying at any given moment, so it doesn’t exactly make you special.
RelatedDustin Poirier raises questions about Khabib Nurmagomedov's status as UFC lightweight champ
Poirier and Gaethje? That’s a killer headliner for Saturday night’s UFC on FOX 29 event. But the winner has no way of being sure where it gets him, since the title picture in the division is so complicated.
The good news is, Al Iaquinta just fought for the lightweight title last weekend. And he was a replacement for Max Holloway, who was a replacement for Tony Ferguson. Good things (or at least the potential for them) can happen if you stay ready, keep your phone on, and don’t mind huge changes to your plans at the very last minute.
Do you think the ridiculously large Magomedsharipov (nailed it) fights at 145 because it was…umm…”suggested” that his natural fight weight at 155 was currently occupied by another Dagestani and competition wasn’t an option?
— Daniel Hewett (@Daniel_J_Hewett) April 12, 2018
I think Zabit Magomedsharipov (or “Mad Mags,” if you’re on the hype train) does it because he’s slightly over six feet and yet can still make 145 pounds, which means he gets to fight a bunch of guys who will struggle just to figure out how to get close enough to him. If that was an option for you, wouldn’t you be inclined to take it?
Chad Mendes looks to be coming back in June, any hopes for him to re-insert himself into title contention at 145?
— Dan Jones (@Djones1236) April 11, 2018
If there is really going to be a 165lbs division would they let a champion try for both divisions? Woodley vs. Wonderboy at 2 weight classes? This seems like a horrible idea. #tmb
— Dusty Wallace (@Cosmic_RL) April 11, 2018
For those scratching their heads over this one, my man Dusty is referring to the online rumor that the UFC is considering some big changes to go with a new TV deal.
None of this is even close to confirmed, and there are several reasons to be highly skeptical of the report, but one of the changes it alleges is the creation of a 165-pound class. This isn’t so different from the plan outlined by the California State Athletic Commission, which called for the creation of new weight classes, including 165 pounds.
But if you’re going to create a 165-pound division, it makes no sense to keep welterweight at 170 pounds. That’s why the CSAC plan has 175- and 195-pound classes as well, in addition to keeping the existing 205-pound division.
The difference is, the CSAC wants to add divisions in an effort to address extreme weight cuts. According to this questionable report, the UFC’s goal would be to fill out more TV fight cards.
I’m not saying I’m opposed to this sort of reshaping of the sport (just like I’m not opposed to reducing the number of pay-per-views and doing away with “The Ultimate Fighter,”) but it would be nice to not have to worry that it’s all being done for the sake of a new TV deal.
Brock for heavyweight title! Your thoughts?
— TLB (@tfc_tech_170) April 11, 2018
Sure, why not. In his last three outings, Brock Lesnar is 0-2 with one no-contest due to two different failed drug tests. He hasn’t won a fight that stayed on the books since 2010. And he seems to have no real interest in hanging around the UFC as a full-time fighter, since he just signed a new deal with the WWE.
But hey, why not give him a crack at the UFC heavyweight title? As long as we’ve given up on pretending that this is a sport, might as well have some big, stupid fun with it, I guess.
Tony Ferguson is 34. If Nurmagomedov and McGregor, both 29, meet late-2018, Ferguson is 35 by the time he gets his turn -entering late-martial times. What are the chances that cord cost him his last, best chance to look great in a big money fight?
— Brian Cummings (@B_inShortsville) April 11, 2018
Well, when you put it like that, it looks pretty bleak. But all hope is not lost for T-Fergu. He’s such an exciting fighter, plus a weirdly compelling personality, that he can’t be overlooked forever.
If anything, the fact that Khabib Nurmagomedov went to a decision with a late replacement who was way out of title contention only bolsters Ferguson’s claim to being the actual best lightweight in the world. Until we see him get his crack at some of these guys, we won’t know for sure.
Since WME-IMG purchased the UFC we've had Mayweather-McGregor and instances of almost WWE-type behavior. Is WME-IMG trying to turn the focus of the UFC from traditional MMA to some reality sports/entertainment venture? Is Mixed Martial Arts Entertainment in our future?
— Brandon..not the lead singer of Incubus (@oldcrowMMA) April 11, 2018
Before you lay all the blame on Endeavor (formerly known as WME-IMG), think back to some of the stuff that happened in the late stages of the previous ownership, like the signing of CM Punk. There were a lot of steps the UFC took in the last few years that seem designed to make itself look more attractive to potential buyers (the Reebok deal, for example), so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the new owners would want to stay that course.
Mostly, though, the new owners want to make money – and fast. I don’t think there’s any guiding principle beyond that. They’ll look at what brings viewers and buys and profits, and they’ll try to do more of that. If we prove that we’ll pay to watch a pro wrestler get beat up, then brother, that’s what they’re going to serve us.
Hey Ben, I have SlingTV so I scroll past FS1 a ton and old UFC content is ALWAYS on. Not sure if that's true on regular cable but seriously like 40-50% of the time there's like Barnett Vs Roy Nelson on. Do you think that affects negotiations?
— Jon Lee (@TheContentKing7) April 11, 2018
Definitely. FOX Sports 1 does not have a ton of content to choose from, and the UFC library is a good source of anytime content. Like you, I scroll past it all the time and am surprised to see old fights, pay-per-view prelims, even whole events. If you’ve got basic cable, some free time in the afternoon, and you want to see some UFC action from three months ago, FOX Sports 1 usually has you covered.
So what happens if the UFC goes somewhere else? Is there enough college lacrosse and Bundesliga soccer to fill that programming hole? Because even with low ratings for long-running shows like TUF, that kind of UFC content still pulls in comparable numbers to FS1’s studio shows featuring multi-million-dollar pundits.
The UFC isn’t doing the kind of ratings it used to, but losing it would still leave some serious gaps for FOX Sports. It’s just a question of how much the network is willing to spend in order to avoid confronting that problem.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.
Photos: Conor McGregor's perp walk from Brooklyn jail following UFC 223 incident
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