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Fightweets: What’s next for Khabib Nurmagomedov?

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It’s the good ol’ MMA Friday Special: Where you get through an ordinary enough week, then bedlam breaks out right before the weekend. In this case, it was the cancelation of the highly anticipated UFC 209 co-feature bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, and in my case, it means hitting the delete button on most of what I had written for Fightweets on Thursday.

Anyhoot, on to your questions ...

Can the UFC trust Nurmy?

@ELcujorino: Khabib had what seems to be poor weight management does he deserve the same fight when he returns?

First off, I wish Nurmagomedov all the best in getting over his illness and getting back into good health. If you’re frustrated with Nurmagomedov needing to pull out of his UFC 209 fight with Ferguson on weigh-in day, channel it toward the sport’s culture of extreme weight-cutting, which still claims victims even in the face of sincere attempts by the highest-minded of the sport’s administrators in making changes for the better.

Still, for all the praise Khabib rightfully deserves for his tremendous work in the cage, his baggage of injuries and fight pullouts are now a part of his story. He’s now fought exactly one opponent of note in the past three years, Michael Johnson. There have been three attempts at putting together Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, and all three fell out, twice due to issues on Khabib’s part (the other time, last April, saw Ferguson pull out and Nurmagomedov instead fought Darrell Horcher).

And if you’re Dana White, I don’t know that you immediately book Nurmagomedov, even given his undeniably sterling record in the Octagon, immediately into another major fight. This isn’t like light heavyweight, where White will pretty much have to go back to Jon Jones when he’s reinstated because of a lack of other options at the top. There are plenty of capable names to plug into the top level at 155 pounds, from Ferguson to former champ Eddie Alvarez to even Nate Diaz.

That doesn’t even account for the champion Conor McGregor having all sorts of cards to play if he doesn’t want to fight Nurmagomedov. McGregor himself called out Khabib on his pullouts after UFC 205. This is just more ammunition for Mystic Mac.

So, yeah. Considering six of the past eight times Nurmagomedov has been scheduled for a fight, the match hasn’t come out, I’d be gun shy about putting Nurmy right into another major drawing position — this fight was so highly anticipated, it was easy to forget that Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson is the actual main event at UFC 209 — until he can get back in the cage a couple more times without another mishap.

And what about Fergy?

@RuckerYeah: Should Ferguson have taken the fight with Johnson?

Not for a reduced paycheck. The UFC tried to make Ferguson vs. Michael Johnson on a day’s notice, and kudos to the latter for his willingness to fight. There was some intrigue, too as Ferguson’s last loss before his current nine-fight win streak, as well has his only loss in his past 16 fights, was to Johnson, at a UFC on FOX card in 2012.

Ferguson turned it down, which was a bit of a disappointment at first, but we found out his reasoning later: The UFC wanted to cut his pay for the fight. He made the right move. Ferguson did everything he was supposed to do in order to make the fight happen. He did nothing wrong. He has more to lose than gain in accepting the fight with Johnson, so why do it for short money, to boot?

As for the UFC’s side of things, we don’t know as of this writing if it was a huge difference in money or a small one. If it was the latter, that would seem to be another in a string of pennywise, pound-foolish decisions in the WME era. The goodwill that would have been involved in keeping Ferguson on the card could have paid off later, if he put together another one of his highlight-reel wins, and made the company more money down the road than the shekels they’ll save cutting his pay for Saturday. One gets the feeling the Ferttitas would have figured out a way to get the fight made.

How long will GSP fight at middleweight?

@BarkevSivazlian: If GSP were to win the MW title against Bisping, do u expect him to defend it against contenders or compete for another title?

The announcement of the Michael Bisping-Georges St-Pierre middleweight title fight came 10 years to the week of one of the most memorable moments in mixed martial arts history: Randy Couture’s heavyweight title victory over Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio.

I was there that night. I was with at the time and this was the first time I was sent to a UFC event outside Las Vegas or California. And, to this day, 11 years after I started doing this, I’ve never heard a crowd react louder to something that happened during a fight than when Couture came out of the gate and dropped Sylvia with an enormous right hand.

Anyway, here’s how Couture-Sylvia pertains to Bisping-GSP: Couture took the fight against Sylvia after Sylvia’s original opponent, Gabriel Gonzaga, dropped out. The former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champ had been retired for a year. Couture worked as a color commentator at UFC 65, where Sylvia had a lackluster title defense against Jeff Monson (ironically, the co-main to GSP winning his first UFC welterweight title against Matt Hughes), and thought to himself “I can beat this guy,” leading to him jumping in when the opportunity presented itself.

It’s not too much of a leap to surmise St-Pierre has sized up Bisping’s situation as champion and come to the conclusion that he, too, is easy pickings. Bisping, yes, had a nice victory over Luke Rockhold, a first-round knockout on two weeks’ notice. He’s also barely gotten the nod against both Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson, two fighters well into their 40s, and he nearly got knocked out against both.

So it’s not too hard to see why St-Pierre sized this fight up and decided it was the best of the options in front of him. Becoming a two-weight-class champ appeals to his sense of history; there’s more money to be made fighting the mouthy Bisping than going after the welterweight belt; and it’s going to be awhile before McGregor gets back into the cage.

Now, to get to your actual question six paragraphs later, would GSP stay at middleweight if he wins? Middleweight in 2017 is a whole lot different than heavyweight in 2007. I try to run St-Pierre vs. Yoel Romero through my head and it doesn’t in any way look good for GSP. I wouldn’t say no to anything here — hell, in the WME-IMG era, it’s not too hard to envision GSP and McGregor fighting for the middleweight belt if that’s where the money is — but my best guess is with a limited window, St-Pierre is going to most interested in going after whatever’s the biggest-money option on the table at each step along the way.

That thing about Bisping and middleweight contenders ...

@E_Diddy: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it will Michael Bisping still find a way to avoid fighting Yoel?

According to Bisping, UFC came to him to pitch the GSP fight twice: Once back in October, for a bout which fell apart when the UFC and GSP couldn’t come to terms, and again starting last week, when GSP signed on. For all you can criticize about Bisping’s reign as middleweight champion, there’s one thing I won’t do: I will not hate on Bisping for finally getting that one giant-money fight after a dozen years of plugging away. He’s been a company man for years, rolling with whatever came his way, good or bad, and always coming back for more. Deep down, the rest of the middleweight contenders know they also would have taken the GSP payday if they were offered it.

Still, even granting that, the fact the UFC’s division most top heavy with in-their-prime, killer contenders is basically going on hold is something that can’t be overlooked, and as long as Bisping chooses this route, the fact he’s not fighting Yoel Romero or Jacare Souza is going to continue to hang out there, an inconvenient fact that will never go away, sort of like a president who loses the popular vote by millions upon millions and is still technically president.

New era matchmaking

@patrickb__94: Why does Dana insist on bringing fighters who haven't fought in a long time back against champions?

Well, in this case, the UFC is looking to make the biggest splash possible in the shortest period of time. WME-IMG is expecting semi-annual mega-cards to push the business forward. Ronda Rousey is all but done, for all we know. If McGregor was an option right now, you know the GSP fight would have been made.

So now was the time to play the GSP card. Since the biggest money possible now, and worry about tomorrow tomorrow seems the name of the game in 2017, that rules out a tune-up fight for St-Pierre, which would have drawn well but also would have risked ruining the sure thing of an eventual huge fight. And, as much as fans and media have turned thumbs down on Bisping-GSP, they’ll come around by fight week, between Bisping’s ability to make fans care about his fight and the sheer aura of GSP. And that, in a nutshell, is why the fight was made.

Light heavyweight’s light roster

@MacPherson9999: Who gets DC/Rumble winner? I assume Bones but if not, who's up next? letting Bader go seems risky here.

Light heavyweight is pretty much a ghost town these days, which is probably why both a.) Dana White backtracked on his comment that he can’t trust Jon Jones to headline again any time soon and b.) White also backtracked on the idea Misha Cirkunov, the first legit prospect in the division in what seems like decades, is “through” with the UFC, smartly bringing him back into the fold instead.

So yeah, due to the lack of options one assumes that Jones gets next at light heavyweight. That’s of course assuming everything goes right for Jones outside the cage between now and then, which is never a given. Beyond that ... crickets chirp ... I mean, Alexander Gustafsson will fight for the first time in 997 years when he fights Glover Teixeira on May 28 in Sweden. Absent Jones, a potential third title shot for Gusty seems the only thing sellable that’s left.

The last word

@Grabaka_Hitman: Who gets the next welterweight title shot, Conor or Northcutt?

Now we’re talking. Why not go all out and give CM Punk the title shot?