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Fightweets: Will Demetrious Johnson’s ESPY end his dispute with the UFC?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Well, wasn’t that something?

We’ve never had a week quite the Mayweather vs. McGregor World Tour, a beast which swallowed the combat sports world whole and gained mainstream traction in a way few fights ever do.

It was also the sort of thing that makes you glad when it’s over so you can have a rest from the topic for awhile. So while we while we will talk about MayMac in this week’s edition of Fightweets, let’s start off with something that would have gotten a lot more attention any other time ...

Mighty Mouse’s ESPY

@sigep422wesg: @MightyMouseUFC winning ESPY FOTY, do you think it will change Dana & UFC’s stance against him?

First off, cheers to Demetrious Johnson, and to the people who voted him for ESPY Fighter of the Year. If we’ve reached a point where combat sports fans can recognize the greatness of a flyweight mixed martial artist and pick him over names with more star power, maybe the sport’s in a better place than we think.

The UFC flyweight champion’s award, of course, brings us back to DJ’s public spat with Dana White over the past few months. I touched upon this in a column for Yahoo Sports a few days back, but, man, has White’s penchant for publicly trashing his own champions run its course. Three and a half years later, business in Canada still hasn’t recovered from the aftermath of UFC 167 with Georges St-Pierre. More recently Amanda Nunes, whom White has to pitch to the public as an attraction worth your time again in a couple of months, just had her heart questioned by her boss.

And White has dripped with sarcasm about his longest-reigning current champ, Johnson, the one who who’s on the verge of history. All this at a time when the UFC isn’t filling the sky with stars.

The ESPY award marks White’s opportunity for a reset with Mighty Mouse. Next time Johnson fights, he’s looking to break Anderson Silva’s title-defense record. He’s considered by many the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter, And now, the fans just called him the best fighter across MMA and boxing. This one’s on you, Dana. This is the promotional equivalent of having an aging reliever serve you a fat fastball right over the middle. If you can’t knock this one out of the park as a promoter with this kind of setup, then don’t try to go telling us it’s anyone else’s fault.

World Tour winner

@RuckerYeah: So who won MayMac week?


Oh, I’m not talking about the round-by-round scoring from each of the four days of this week’s World Tour. If you’re talking about that, I’m scoring this 2-2. McGregor clearly won days two and four. Mayweather took day one in part because Conor seemed a little off-guard, and in part because his mic was cut, making it appear he had no comeback for Mayweather. (We’ll also note, as a tangent to this tangent, that Showtime/Mayweather Promotions, who were running to show, want us to believe they had no control of Conor’s mic, even though Mayweather was able to order the sound guy to play music on command in both Brooklyn and London. But I digress.) And Floyd won day three by default, since McGregor was Falcons-in-the-fourth-quarter-of-the-Super Bowl awful.

But that’s the small-change stuff. In the big picture, it benefits Mayweather in the long run for McGregor to come out of the press tour looking strong. MMA fans are highly tuned into this fight. That’s an entirely new audience for Mayweather to exploit. Likewise, I don’t know about you, but all week long, I’ve been hearing from people in my life who have never once previously expressed an interest in fighting who want to know about Mayweather-McGregor. I’ve heard that from several colleagues as well. That indicates this is taking hold with the general public. And the fact the fight is happening in late August, before football starts, in a summer with no Olympics or World Cup, only gives them all the more space to fill.

MMA fans and mainstream non-fans alike need to have a hope that McGregor has a chance to win Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. McGregor accomplished that this week, at least with the mainstream. Old-guard boxing writers are pulling a Grandpa Simpson act and shaking their fists at the clouds as they rail against this fight. But neither Mayweather nor McGregor need their stamp of approval to make this fight huge as long as the public’s buying it. And so far, they are.

With all that in mind, never forget Mayweather’s the promoter behind all this. Not only is it highly likely he’s going to win the fight, but he’s taking home the lion’s share of the loot when all’s said and done. Getting laughed at while McGregor rubs your scalp is small price to pay along the way.

Nonstop coverage

@Bensmitkingship: Are you guys going 2 talk about MayMac 24/7 like y’all did with Ronda etc.?

Hey, look, I can’t blame you for feeling like you’ve had your fill of Floyd and Conor by the end of the week, here. I love my job and yet there’s a part of me that wants to light my laptop on fire and hurl it off my balcony as I type this on Friday afternoon.

Blame goes, in large part, to the utterly unimaginative boxing model of press conferences, which have barely changed in format since the 19th century. The unrelated entertainment acts, the windbag speeches from self-important executives (which were lustily booed this week, even though they weren’t nearly as longwinded as they usually tend to be), and the freeform presentation of the fighters were a recipe for ... well, for what we saw this week.

Over the first two days, the sheer charisma of the fighters involved, along with the crowd’s enthusiasm, made the events memorable in a good way. Then things went off the rails in Brooklyn. Even standup comics don’t come up with entirely new sets from one night to the next, so expecting new material every day out of fighters was quite an ask.

In a bygone era, intensive press tours were intended as local hype for each city along the way, not as a whole to be consumed each day from coast-to-coast. If Muhammad Ali was hyping his next fight, he could do the same schtick in New York he did in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and few would be wiser. That doesn’t work when people around the world are watching each installment on their computers and TV screens.

For everything else White has done in the past week or so that’s worthy of criticism, his read on this whole affair as a “sh*tshow” wasn’t far off the mark, and you have to assume based on track record that if he ran the tour his way, the format would have adapted as the week went on and kept things fresh.

And yes, as long as we live in this type of environment, we’re going to have 24/7 coverage of events that completely swallow the sport whole. It will kick up again sometime next month, so buckle up. In the meantime, I’m as ready for a break as you, so the good news is pretty soon we’ll be turning the page to a killer UFC 214 card.

Is Amanda afraid?

@JustAnOldCoach: What other sports let athletes cherry pick their best days to compete? @Amanda_Leoa forfeit her title. @BulletValentina is the real champ.

Yeah, sure dude. Nunes went through an entire training camp, underwrote the considerable expenses that go with it, flew a bunch of people out to Las Vegas (including her mom all the way up from Brazil), and went through all the trouble of a weight cut.

Then after all that, she just decided at the last minute to throw away one of the biggest paychecks she’ll ever get in her life because she wants to cherry pick the days she’s at her best. Against someone she already beat in Valentina Shevchenko, no less. Cool story, bro.

That a portion of the people still swallow this line of thinking is a big part of the reason White still runs with it.

Calling fighters cowards

@daherdevil: When speaking about someone who literally fights for a living, how does one legitimately argue they are scared to fight? It's asinine.

Tell that to @JustAnOldCoach. I’m guessing people who say such things think about what they would do if they suddenly had to fight a trained killer, having never done so themselves, and then project their own fears onto the fighter, as if the fighter hasn’t been doing this for years and years and treats it about the same as you and I do in our own approach to our jobs.

Finishing on a high note

@hunt5588: What would your ideal course of matchmaking be for @Justin_Gaethje?

Before we move forward, let’s take a minute to savor Justin Gaethje’s thrilling victory over Michael Johnson in the TUF Finale main event eight days ago. So much has gone down since then, both good and bad, that it feels like that fight was a contender for Fight of the Year in 2007, not 2017. Gaethje and Johnson put on a tremendous show of heart which had more technique than appeared at first glance, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

In the time since you sent this question we’ve had White confirm that Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez are going to be the coaches of Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter. It’s a curious choice. There’s no storyline between these two and no established rivalry. It’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world to give Gaethje some time to rest up after that last war, granted, but this seems an extra layer the fight doesn’t necessarily need.

Either way, we’re going to presumably get Alvarez vs. Gaethje at the end, and that’s a hell of a payoff in and of itself. It’s an awesome style matchup, two hard-hitting, all-heart guys who aren’t going to back down. Alvarez wins and he’s right back in the picture. Gaethje wins over the former UFC and Bellator champ and he vaults damn near to the top of the pack.

You could have put all the top lightweights’ names on a Price as Right money wheel-type contraption, given it a spin, and come up with a good next fight for Gaethje. Alvarez vs. Gaethje as good as any.

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