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Fightweets: The Conor McGregor sweepstakes continue

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UFC 'Go Big' press conference photos
Conor McGregor
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

So who will Conor McGregor fight next? And what’s up with the Mark Hunt situation? Those are the two items that rose to the fore on a rare slow week. Time to take a look at those and some other here-and-there stuff in an all-new edition of Fightweets.

Conor’s next fight ...

@AnTaGoNiSeR666: If Conor isn't next for Ferguson, is Khabib?

@PitbullLove1970: Conor vs Nate or vs. Tony, which 1 sells more PPV’s?

@ISTURTYI: Conor vs Nate 3 before Ferguson?

Not a ton has changed since my initial take in UFC 216 Aftermath. Including, as I mentioned in this piece, the idea the McGregor camp would angle toward Diaz after White publicly stated Ferguson should be the next opponent.

So, to tackle these questions in order:

1. Would you trust Khabib Nurmagomedov to make it to fight night at this point if you were the UFC or Ferguson? If the UFC goes this route next for Ferguson, I’d make damn sure to have at least one more matchup of ranked lightweights on the card so that someone can be in shape to go if things get all Khabib-y towards the end.

2. Easiest question of the three. McGregor’s vs. TBA would do a huge buy rate at this point so long as he’s returning to the Octagon. But the Diaz trilogy is still the one that likely breaks UFC PPV records -- and gives the company a much-needed burst of momentum as it shops for a TV deal. Ferguson has improved his stock to the point he’s an above replacement-level player, but he’s nowhere near Diaz’s worth against Conor yet. Which leads to ...

3. Yes. Which will all come down to whether the UFC is willing to pay Nate the $20 million he wants for the fight, and absolutely deserves based on what the match will draw. Which is why I’m assuming that McGregor’s cryptic Friday response to Ferguson’s callout on the MMA Hour has more to do with McGregor hinting to Diaz he needs to come to the table soon than it is the notion he actually wants Ferguson next.

Mark Hunt’s plight

@hunt5588: Mark Hunt. What do we do about obvious line between fighter safety and fighter agency?

My main takeaway from the UFC pulling Mark Hunt from his planned UFC Sydney main event against Marcin Tybura and replacing him with Fabricio Werdum is that they’ve done the right thing, but for what on the surface doesn’t quite seem like the right reasons.

Look, we all love Mark Hunt. Hunt embodies the archetype of the fearless warrior that attracted most of us to this crazy sport in the first place. But Hunt is also 43 years old. Between MMA and kickboxing, he’s officially been knocked out 18 times. Officially. God knows how much unrecorded damage he’s taken in the gym for more than half his life.

So when Hunt goes out and says some of the things he said in a piece for Australia’s PlayersVoice -- talking about slurring his words, stuttering, memory loss, having trouble sleeping -- and then going on to add “I will probably end my life fighting,” I mean, that’s just begging for the UFC to step in and doing something about it.

(After everything went down, Hunt said he had been taken out of context. PlayersVoice is the Australian equivalent of The Players Tribune, which seeks to cut out the media middleman and let athletes tell their stories directly to their fans. Claiming a story with your name on it took your own words out of context doesn’t exactly help bolster your cause).

What if something really goes wrong for Hunt from here in the UFC’s Octagon? You’ve got a fighter who has gone on the record talking about all the bad things which are already happening to him as a result of a lifetime in combat sports and he’s well north of age 40. If, god forbid, something terrible happened to Hunt in a fight know the info Hunt put out there, that’s a massive lawsuit waiting to happen.

The curveball in all this, of course, is that Hunt has a lawsuit outstanding against the UFC related to the beating Hunt took against a PED-enhanced Brock Lesnar at UFC 200. That’s a solid initial conclusion. But if you think this through a little more, the UFC has continued to give Hunt fights at a price tag of $750,000 -- and also threw in a Fight of the Night bonus at UFC Auckland — since the lawsuit was filed. And, I mean, which fight is going to mean more money for the UFC in Sydney: The wildly popular Hunt in the main event, or Fabricio Werdum?

The UFC has also become noticeably more proactive in recent months in pulling fighters with illnesses, having bad weight cuts, and so on. Maybe it’s simply to cover their ass in case of anticipated future legal issues and maybe it’s out of genuine concern for fighter health and safety.

But in that environment, if you’re 43 and you come and say the sort of things Hunt has been saying, you’re leaving the UFC little choice. You can question the company’s motives, but at the end of the day they made the right calling pulling Hunt from the fight, and UFC president Dana White’s response comes off as entirely rational and reasonable.

Next HW title shot?

@n_welsch: Do you think the winner of the fight Overeem vs Ngannou will get a title fight against Stipe?

Yes. With Cain Velasquez still out and Daniel Cormier not seeming to want to go up for a superfight, there aren’t a whole hell of a lot of options. Werdum seems intent on cashing checks fighting unheralded foes, which pads his record without showing whether he deserves a shot at champion Stipe Miocic.

Putting aside Miocic’s unresolved contract holdout for the moment, with Ngannou it seems a matter of “when” rather than “if,” and taking out Overeem is as good an announcement you’re ready for a title shot as any. If Overeem wins, sure, it’s a runback of a fight we saw last year, but that was one wildly exciting fight in Cleveland which Overeem nearly won and he’s all but cleaned out the rest of the competition. Maybe this hasn’t been announced as an official title eliminator yet, but it should be.

Making new stars

@SlayKatzN: What can the UFC and new ownership do to better develop "stars?" What is the missing ingredient for fighters like Max & DJ?

I know one thing the UFC can do: STOP RUNNING DOWN THE GUYS AND GALS WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU MONEY. White trashed both bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson over the summer, and guess what? The buyrates for UFC 215 and 216 flirted with historically low purchase numbers. I’m not saying that Nunes and Johnson are ever going to be Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, but imagine if White didn’t dump all over Nunes for pulling out of UFC 213 and instead pushed her as a killer who took out Rousey and Miesha Tate; and if White put the hard sell on Mighty Mouse making history.

If UFC 215 and 216 had done in the range of 200,000-225000 buys instead of 100,000-125,000, even that difference would have brought in the company several million more dollars than the shows produced. With the company formerly known as WME-IMG up to its eyeballs in debt service on their purchase, the face of the promotion should be hustling extra hard to bring in every last buy in this landscape, not throwing in the towel on entire events.

Over the summer, we saw the UFC and partner FOX do some excellent work in the form of promo videos for everything from Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier to vignettes on up-and-comers like Cynthia Calvillo. Those seem to have disappeared as fast as they appeared.

We know what type of fighter White likes to promote. He’d sell us an Army of Chuck Liddell clones if he could. We’ve also had enough time to get an early inkling what WME likes to promote: If you’ve got Paige VanZant or Sage Northcutt’s looks, you’ll get fast-tracked, then we’ll see whether you can fight later.

I’ve done a better job defining what the UFC’s done wrong here than what they should do from here, and to be honest, if I had the answers, I’d be the one lying on the beach smoking cigars made of $100 bills instead of Lorenzo Fertitta. But doing a better job of promoting what you already have and understanding you don’t need to look like a model to connect with the audience would be two building blocks.

Prelims vs. main card

@ohsnapdave: What is higher profile/ bigger fight: 1) headline the prelims 2) open the main card

It’s hard to tell anymore. In theory, if you’re on the main card of a pay-per-view, you’re on the most prestigious stage, and not only that, the opener should be a matchup on paper which is designed to get the main card off with a bang.

On the other hand, if the preliminary opener is handled correctly, it should be the sort of fight which gets channel surfers (do people even do that anymore?) to stop a lure in viewers, and put on a show which gets fans on the fence for a pay-per-view to click the “buy” button. The eternal standard for this is the all-time classic brawl between Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia before the WEC’s only pay-per-view offering in 2010, as cable operators found themselves swamped with last-second buys.

It’s also the theory that led Urijah Faber to ask to be on the prelims for his UFC 181 win over Francisco Rivera, as he gambled more eyeballs will be on the prelims for all but the biggest events.

In practice? This theory hasn’t worked out so great recently. FS1 leans toward former TUF contestants without necessarily all that much buzz. All things being equal, go with the main card.

Shifting industry

@RossMcCaff: Is it the end of the “13 PPV per year at 60 bucks each” era?

That’s one of the things the UFC is going to have to figure out as the company navigates its way toward the next television deal. Fans are far more picky and choosy about how to spend their dollars these days, especially when there’s so much content on basic cable (or as the people who work in basic cable, which is something you have to pay for, call it, “free TV”). There will always be the top-of-the-line draws, the McGregors and Rouseys, just like the Georges St-Pierres and Anderson Silvas before them (As for who’s going to replace Conor and Ronda, we don’t know yet, but nor did it seem like anyone was on the radar when Silva and GSP both bowed out late in 2013).

The problem is, the “middle class” of PPV draws, the fighters who could be relied upon to do anywhere from 300,000-600,000 buys in between the biggest draws, that class of fighter doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The Forrest Griffins, Rashad Evans, Dan Hendersons, and so on have not been replaced.

That’s in part because over the last several years, many of those fighters who previously would have been built up to that level have instead ended up fighting on either on Big FOX or even FS1 as often as they have on PPV. Fans have gotten conditioned to no longer paying extra on top of their cable bill to watch those headliners just below the elite level. I don’t think you can put this toothpaste back into the tube, especially in a day and age where cable cord-cutting is accelerating.

For now, at least, even the bombs that were UFC 215 and 216 are still making a profit. But just as boxing has shifted more name fights from PPV back onto cable in recent years, the UFC is going to have to figure out how to navigate this landscape as well.

Divisions

@Carl_MacFarlane: Do you think the UFC will eventually add a super heavyweight division?

Only if the media starts fighting.