clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Fightweets: Have we seen the last of Conor McGregor at featherweight?

New, comments
Esther Lin photo

Was it really just a week ago we all pondered the notion UFC 205 might not have a lineup worthy of a decade's worth of buildup?

That notion is fading fast from the rear-view mirror, after a week in which it was announced Conor McGregor would challenge Eddie Alvarez for the UFC lightweight title in the main event on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden. All of a sudden, with three title fights and a slew of big names, UFC 205 just might be the deepest event the company has ever planned.

Of course, with such big moves come winners and losers. So let's dive right into this like you're maneuvering into foot traffic on 7th Ave. after coming up out of Penn Station ...

Is Conor done with 145?

@jdvaldez2: Is there any incentive for Conor to go back to the featherweight division, especially now since Aldo might leave?

If McGregor defeats Alvarez for the lightweight title at UFC 205 -- which is a real possibility, given McGregor's powerful left hand and Alvarez's willingness to take two punches in order to land one good one -- then, yeah, the chances McGregor goes back to 145 are slim. We've already seen McGregor put himself through terrible weight cuts to get to the featherweight limit. Why would he voluntarily turn himself into a skeleton again if he doesn't have to? And a trilogy fight with a lightweight title at stake between McGregor and Nate Diaz would be a shoo-in to beat the record business McGregor and Diaz did at UFC 202.

If Alvarez wins -- and this really is a coin flip of a fight -- then things change a bit. In that case, McGregor would have lost two out of three fights going outside the division since winning the featherweight belt. Since the Diaz trilogy fight is something the UFC can keep in its back pocket until the time is right, it would seem to make sense they'd want to hold off on that if CMG is coming off another loss.

Either way, at some point, we really, actually, finally will reach a point where something needs to be done about the featherweight belt. I'm not buying that interim champion Jose Aldo is walking away (I'll get to this momentarily). McGregor's a master chess player outside the cage. If he loses to Alvarez, he can still point to the fact he took challenges outside the division as his cover, going up in weight class in an attempt to make history, then say he's going back to featherweight to tend to business, whether Aldo's there or not.

Of course, none of this accounts for the fact McGregor will have four fights at three weight classes in 11 months. For all we know, 2017 could be the year we all wait while Conor sits on the sidelines and takes a good, long rest, in which case all this conjecture is moot.

Aldo's plight

@BreadandWater94: Do you think Jose is gonna quit MMA entirely? Or just quit UFC and go to another promotion?

I don't think either of the above scenarios happen. I don't blame Aldo or Khabib Nurmagomedov for being upset at the way things went down over the past week. They've both got every right to be upset.

That said, it's just about impossible to put together the blowaway cards the UFC has come to deliver over the past couple years -- the UFC 189s and 200s which transcend the MMA bubble and become cultural touchstone events -- without ruffling some feathers along the way. There are simply too few slots at the top to please everyone. It's not as easy as it looks -- just ask the people who bankrolled Affliction MMA about where being all about pleasing the fighters first can lead you.

As for Aldo, and granted this is easy for me to say because I'm not the one in his shoes, but I feel the best route Aldo could have taken would have been to tell McGregor he will chase him up to 155 if he has to in order to get his rematch. This way, he would have stayed in the limelight, kept the pressure on McGregor to fight him one way or another, and rally fans behind your willingness to get it done.

Instead, he took the route he did. If he really follows through and never fights again, then he deserves credit for taking a principled stand, if nothing else. If he wants to fight the UFC in court, well, ask Randy Couture about that one. If this is simply an attempt to gain leverage from the UFC ... well, the UFC was willing to boot Diaz-McGregor 2 from UFC 200 in order to make a point. And Aldo only has McGregor's star power when he's directly linked to McGregor's name.

Nurmagomedov got dealt a bad hand and played his cards in such a manner that he'll be fighting at UFC 205 and will be in shape and able to step in if something goes sideways with the main event between now and Nov. 12. Aldo also got played a bad hand, but at least as of now it doesn't look like he played those cards nearly as well.

Alvarez headlining MSG

@ynneKrepmatS: How surreal is it that UFC champion Eddie Alvarez is headlining the first UFC at MSG?

A little bit, especially considering when I'm asked this question, my brain flashes back to sitting cageside at a three-quarters-empty Long Beach Arena three years ago last November, watching Alvarez have Bjorn Rebney strap a Bellator belt he didn't want around his waist after getting the decision in his rematch with Michael Chandler.

Imagine if we traveled back in time and told our 2013 selves that three years to the month later, Alvarez would be defending the UFC lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in a champion vs. champion superfight against featherweight champion Conor McGregor, and that Tyron Woodley would be defending the UFC welterweight title, and that the UFC would even have a women's strawweight division, much less a strawweight title fight on the same card? If you told me all this back then I'd ask you to give me some of that stuff which is slowly being legalized state by state though ballot initiatives, since you've clearly been smoking it.

Here's the flip side to all the chatter about Aldo and Khabib and whether they got screwed in the way the UFC 205 matchmaking played out: In Alvarez, we've got a fighter truly deserving of the massive spotlight he's getting. Eddie Alvarez is one of the good guys in this game. He's paid all his dues. He helped build Bellator from the ground up. He had his heart set on going to the UFC, but when things went sideways with his legal situation, and his prime appeared to be wrapped up in a court case, he was pragmatic enough to do what he had to do to get through his contract commitments. He shook off a loss in his UFC debut, he's become a notably more well-rounded fighter than he was in the days he was slugging it out with Michael Chandler, and he's left a trail of former UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce champs in his wake.

Alvarez has always done things the right way in this business, and the guys handle themselves correct don't always have the favor returned by the business. After all these years, and overcoming every hurdle thrown in his path along the way, Eddie Alvarez will main event the first-ever UFC card at Madison Square Garden. While we rightly call out things that are wrong in this sport, we should enjoy the times good things happen to good people, too.

Saturday night's fights

@RuckerYeah: Dodson or Lineker?

Oh wow, an actual "who will win this weekend's fight?" tweet. Don't get many of those any more. I really like the UFC Fight Night 96 bantamweight main event between John Dodson and John Lineker. Even granting that Lineker seems to be trying to stake his claim as the Rumble Johnson of the lower weight classes, as his astoundingly missed the bantamweight limit Friday after missing at flyweight so many times. Anyway, is a fun fight regardless, and in the end, I can't see the Jackson's trained Dodson staying stationary long enough to Lineker to hunt him down and land haymakers. I'll take Dodson in the battle of former flyweights.