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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 205

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Conor McGregor, by breaking more records and winning another championship, has become both the greatest money player in UFC history, and in some ways, the biggest threat UFC management has ever faced from a fighter on their roster.

McGregor made it clear after UFC 205 that he was looking for an equity stake in the company. In wanting his current contract renegotiated, one which already calls for him to make a pay-per-view percentage based on his drawing power, and in bringing up a possible sabbatical due to a child he's expecting next year, it leaves a freeze at the championship level in two and potentially even three weight classes at the same time.

Dana White has been negative from the start about McGregor holding two championships, always saying he would have to pick which one he wants to defend. McGregor changes his tune regularly, one minute saying he'll be active and defend both, the next saying he wants time off and a new deal.

But the reality is this. He has two championships, but has never actually defended a championship.

The featherweight championship has not only been in a deep freeze for 11 months, but there is no end of that in sight as long as McGregor holds the belt.

His holding two titles now presents the company a big problem, although categorizing McGregor as a problem for the company, in and of itself, seems almost ridiculous.

Saturday's show is expected to be his fourth straight million-buy-plus pay-per-view show. This comes at a time when he, Ronda Rousey (who by her own words is not expected to be long for the sport), and Floyd Mayweather are the only fighters left who aren't suspended who can even hit the 500,000 mark.

Combat professional sports always have an inherent problem of marketing matches the public wants to see, while at the same time having championship title matches where the best fighters compete for the biggest honor.

With the new ownership, and the heavy debt WME-IMG incurred to make the $4 billion purchase, the company has to produce as much revenue as possible. McGregor is its most valuable ally, although his demands may be tough because the new ownership is hardly going to want to set a  precedent where a mega star comes along and constantly renegotiates and then demands points in the company to fight again.

If McGregor sits out even nine months, UFC pay-per-view business drops significantly. Plus, the entire championship picture in two divisions becomes a mess.

Because McGregor isn't injured, for fairness when it comes to the championship picture, UFC needs to insist on one thing. After one year, which would be Dec. 12, that if McGregor doesn't agree to defend the featherweight title against Jose Aldo, the rightful top contender, that Aldo's interim belt becomes the real championship. But even that is a problem, since Aldo has said that he wants out, in which case making him the champion isn't an answer either.

On Dec. 10, Anthony Pettis (19-5) faces Max Holloway (16-3) in a match that should determine a challenger for the featherweight title. If Holloway wins, that's 10 in a row with a victims list that would also include Charles Oliveira, Ricardo Lamas, Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens, all in impressive fashion. At that point, it's ridiculous if he doesn't get a championship fight relatively early in 2017.

Waiting until Dec. 10's result gives the UFC time to talk to McGregor about the situation. It gives them time to talk to Aldo about the situation. If McGregor won't agree to an immediate title match, and Aldo wants to retire, the Pettis vs. Holloway fight should be for the title. At the very least, it should be made clear that either McGregor or Aldo will meet the winner, and the real title will be at stake in that fight.

But for McGregor, from a financial standpoint, facing Holloway is a waste of his time, when he can do far bigger business with many other opponents. There's a third go-around with Nate Diaz, a welterweight title fight with Tyron Woodley, or a match which right now could be the biggest fight in UFC history if they could match him with Georges St-Pierre.

That also leaves the lightweight division paralyzed. Khabib Nurmagomedov, with a 24-0 record, and Tony Ferguson, with nine straight wins, including beating former champion Rafael dos Anjos just last week, both deserve shots at McGregor. While either would be a big fight, they would not do the level of business McGregor could do with others. If McGregor isn't going to defend the lightweight title right away, the obvious direction would be Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, but the winner of that has to get an immediate title shot.

The welterweight division is also impacted. A Woodley vs. Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson fight coming off their draw on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden makes sense. Dana White was already talking about it hours after their exciting fight that one could make a strong case to score it in either direction. Media scores based on saw 36 percent for Woodley, 55 percent a draw and nice percent for Thompson. And you also
have 39-year-old Demian Maia, whose career clock is ticking, who has earned a title shot.

But McGregor teased the idea of facing Woodley, and for Woodley, that's a life-changing fight. The question is if McGregor thinks he can beat Woodley and go for history, as a three-division champion, or he goes in a different direction.

But until McGregor can be pinned down regarding what he's doing next, all three divisions are on hold. McGregor talking about a sabbatical, or holding out for a new deal, needs to have he and UFC address it with the idea one of the two titles is being vacated, and a time frame put on defending the other against the legitimate contender.

Unfortunately, stripping active champions who are still fighting makes UFC titles look like boxing titles, and that's not something the company wants either.

With the exception of McGregor and Woodley, let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five Stars at UFC 205:

STEPHEN THOMPSON - Thompson (13-1-1) is most likely to get the next title shot. The only change would be if McGregor opts to challenge Woodley, or any long shot of a St-Pierre fight being put together.

But if either happens, Thompson should face Demian Maia. The issue with that fight is Maia has said he's going to wait for a title shot. That would leave either Robbie Lawler (27-11) or Donald Cerrone (31-7), provided Cerrone beats Matt Brown on Dec. 10 in Toronto, as the best possible opponents.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK - The problem with a thin division is that Jedrzejczyk has seemingly cleaned it out. Dana White's answer after the show was the idea of Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-1) and Claudia Gadelha (13-2) having a fight to determine the top contender.

Jedrzejczyk has beaten Gadelha twice already, although the first fight was close and the second Gadelha won the first two rounds before getting tired and losing the final three rounds. Kowalkiewicz was the first fighter to have Jedrzejczyk hurt in a fight, but she only won one round out of five and would be a heavy underdog in a rematch.

If there was a champion and viable division at 125, that could provide a challenge, but that doesn't exist, and 135 may be too much of a jump. If Ronda Rousey was to beat Amanda Nunes and take the title, Rousey vs. Jedrzejczyk would be a gigantic fight. But Rousey would likely do far bigger numbers with either Cris Cyborg or Holly Holm, where there isn't.

YOEL ROMERO - While Michael Bisping (30-7) was adamant that he didn't want to defend his middleweight title against Romero (12-1), between his flipping off Romero and making steroid references, he seemed to be going out of his way to built up such a title fight.

Romero would go in as the favorite in such a fight, and given the stage of his win over Chris Weidman, and the impressiveness of the finish, plus the antics after, it feels like the fight to make.

CHRIS WEIDMAN - Nobody on the show took a harder hit, both literally and figuratively, than Weidman (13-2). With UFC's major emphasis on New York, whether it's big shows in Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center, as well as throughout the state, Weidman figured to be the star that was the local face of the brand. Bisping vs. Weidman was a natural for the market and a fight that could have gotten Weidman back the championship.

Now, with two losses in a row in a division that also includes Luke Rockhold (15-3) and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (23-4), he's going to have to rebuild. Weidman's best bet is a fight with Souza, but that's a fight that is not in Souza's best interest right now. The other best bet would be a rematch with Luke Rockhold.

He can recover from the loss with one win against either of the aforementioned fighters. But it's going to take more than that to be able to recover to the point of being New York City's local big drawing card, a spot he could have had for some time with a victory.

MIESHA TATE - In just over four months, Tate (18-7) went from being the UFC women's bantamweight champion, winning one of the most memorable and thrilling fights of 2016 in her come-from-behind title win over Holly Holm, to announcing her retirement.

The announcement was a surprise since Tate's M.O. as a fighter was that she may not have been the best fighter, but in never quitting when it appeared all was lost. Her title win over Holm was almost symbolic of her career. She seemed outgunned, but also showed if she could get the fight down, she could win. In the fifth round, she pulled it off.

She's had a career where she captured two world championships and was one of the most popular fighters on the roster.

The reality, as the last three fights have shown, is that Tate does not have the striking to compete with most of the elite fighters in the division. Raquel Pennington was not even considered that. Tate seemed flustered as she had no answer for a fighter who based on win-loss records and name value wouldn't be thought of to be on her level. And it's become more and more difficult for Tate to get takedowns, and use her grappling, which is top-notch, as a better class of athlete with stronger takedown defenses start rising.

Fighters often get frustrated when a game plan doesn't work, and fighters changing their mind on retirements week later is a regular thing. There are still money fights for her, most notably a rematch with Holm (10-2). She could play sacrificial lamb for Cris Cyborg (17-1) at a catchweight.

If this is it for her, she was one of the key building blocks of women's MMA. Her historical importance should never be taken away. It was her first fight with Rousey that changed the history of women's fighting but it leading to UFC opening its doors to an idea they'd been steadfast against for years. Her second fight with Rousey took that genre to a new level, showing that a woman's fight can capture the imagination of the public in a big way and be a major part of a monster pay-per-view. Her mental toughness allowed her to win a number of fights that most other fighters would have lost. There were plenty of women fighters in this generation with equal or more talent, but none in that category achieved what she did in the sport.