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Fightweets: Dana White and The Cyborg Dilemma

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s a rare fight-card free weekend. But as is usually the case, something pops up to keep us chattering throughout these cherished breathers in a sport with no offseason.

So let’s jump right into things, shall we?

Cyborg’s next fight and the women’s featherweight division

@MMATerrry: Dana says that Amanda will challenge Cyborg next, who ya got?

Well, yeah, UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports on Thursday that he wants to make UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg’s next title defense a superfight against bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes. Cyborg countered that she would rather face the top contender at 145 next.

The cool-kid thing to do these days is to automatically side against anything White says in a knee-jerk manner, no matter the topic. if White put out a statement proclaiming the sun rises in the East, half of MMA Twitter would reply that no, the sun rises in the West.

That’s White’s own doing, as he’s given people plenty of reason to disbelieve what comes out of his mouth over the years. But guess what? White’s not always wrong, and in the case of Cyborg’s next fight, he’s a lot closer to right.

Who is the public going to buy as a contender to Cyborg at featherweight right now? There were exactly three fighters in the UFC women’s featherweight division. Germaine de Randamie vacated the belt and left the division rather than face Cyborg. Holly Holm was the biggest-name fight to make in women’s MMA at this point in time, and their UFC 219 fight played out with Cyborg winning in a way that doesn’t lend itself to a rematch.

Here’s where the UFC is at fault, and where Cyborg has a point: They’ve had the 145 title for a year now, and they’ve done nothing to build out the actual division.

The UFC seems to finally be on path to correcting some of it’s questionable decision making over the past couple years. It is almost past the mess it created at middleweight. It finally has a game plan to try to do something about the lightweight situation. And now, since Cyborg isn’t going away any time soon, it’s time for them to get real about women’s 145.

This shouldn’t be too tough to pull off. In a roster of about 500 fighters, simply cut whomever might be the lowest-ranked fighter or two in each of the existing divisions after their next loss -- that might sound harsh, but it’s not all that different from sports teams demoting underperforming players to the minor leagues or releasing them outright -- and bring on a dozen 145ers. Start introducing them to the audience. On FS1 prelim cards, replace one generic “Perpetual .500 Guy vs. Last Minute Replacement From LFA” fight that will be forever forgotten by the time they’re back to the dressing room with a women’s featherweight fight. Start giving them exposure. Someone is going to string together enough wins, improve their craft, gain momentum, and start to gain attention.

That’s going to take some time. In the interim, I can’t think of anything I want to see less in 2018 than Cyborg making short work of someone not ready for prime time in an old-school Superstars of Wrestling-style squash match. We already saw it play out several times over in Invicta, and we all went through mental calisthenics trying to justify the carnage. To answer your question, I think Cyborg beats Nunes, but it’s a fight that’s far more interesting than any other bout you can make for her today, and the only one that justifies a $500,000 fight purse.

How will lightweight shake out?

@MalmstromJason: What’s more likely: @TheNotoriousMMA defends his title against @TonyFergusonXT or Conor is stripped leading to Tony vs @TeamKhabib for the 155lb title?

An interesting thing happened after Khabib Nurmagomedov wrecked a very tough Edson Barboza at UFC 219: When Conor McGregor played his “beg me” routine on social media in regards to his potential return, fight fans mostly shrugged and moved on.

I wrote a column for Yahoo Sports about the aftermath of the Khabib fight and stated my belief that he vs. Ferguson feels like more of a lightweight title fight than either vs. Conor. I fully expected I’d be beset by McGregor trolls. It never happened.

What I did get were a bunch of people telling me they were tired of Conor’s act and ready to move forward.

The fight business never stops moving. People always want to see the storyline advance. Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is possibly the most intriguing fight you can make in MMA in 2018. And viewed through that lens, McGregor’s accomplishments in 2015 are about as timely in 2018 as Jose Aldo’s 2010 accomplishments were when he got in the cage with McGregor.

(This goes double for Nate Diaz, who has now been out of the public eye a year and a half, but has neither a title to use as leverage nor a track record of drawing without McGregor as his opponent. His ship is perilously close to sailing).

That’s not to say people are sick of McGregor, the fighter. McGregor got as big as he did because he fearlessly took on every challenge. He might win, he might lose, but he always came back for something bigger. If he returns and fights Ferguson or Nurmagomedov, he’ll be as big as ever.

It’s understandable McGregor doesn’t want to return for chump change (by his standards) to do it. But this week’s backlash shows that the fans don’t care how many sports cars you drive or whether you have your own liquor brand if you’re perceived to be sitting on a title when there are other fighters who might have a better claim to the belt.

The game plan White laid out is logical: Give McGregor the opportunity to defend his title against interim champion Ferguson sometime around March, and if he declines, then strip McGregor and go to Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov for the full title.

If I had to place an educated guess, it doesn’t appear McGregor wants to come back on that timetable. He still seems far too interested, from afar, in enjoying his newfound wealth. But McGregor is nothing if not restless, and we’ve seen athletes with more money than he burn through it with astonishing speed. It’s not difficult to see White go ahead with stripping the belt and going ahead with Ferguson-Nurmagomedov, which would free Conor to chase another money fight of his choosing, whether it’s another boxing match or even that Diaz trilogy.

Who can beat Khabib?

@L_Correll14: Everyone is asking the question, who has a chance against Khabib? I haven’t heard anyone mention @Ealvarezfight His size, wrestling and boxing would give Khabib problems right?

Well, L_, Eddie Alvarez himself favorited your tweet, so that would seem to indicate he feels he’s up to the task. Khabib is not likely to take an Alvarez fight, since McGregor and Ferguson are the only potential opponents which make sense. And, while Nurmagomedov’s absolutely ruthless ground-and-pound makes you wonder if anything can stop him, the fact is, we’ve seen him get hit during his fights, and hard. Given both Ferguson’s wild and unpredictable style and McGregor’s left hand which he administers with brutal efficiency, I don’t think you can count either out against him.

U.K.’s finest

@rzhdad: Will the U.K. ever have a fighter as good as Bisping has been ever again and who might it be?

In mixed martial arts you’ll often find that the fighters who introduced you to the sport get stuck in your head as the greatest of all-time, regardless of the sport’s ongoing evolution. There were people who thought Royce Gracie was the baddest man on the planet long after his day had passed. Fedor Emelianenko’s hardcore fans a decade ago were every bit as annoying as McGregor backers today. A whole lot of fans up north took a break when Georges St-Pierre left town and returned for his comeback.

On it goes, a list of fighters which includes Michael Bisping, who is highly likely to be the fighter who got you interested the UFC if you’re from the U.K. That Bisping played the stereotype of a loudmouth, cocky Brit to the hilt only helped his cause. But he would have been a star regardless of his homeland, with his skills, tenacity, and ability to talk people into watching his fights, even if they wanted to see him get knocked out.

I don’t think you want to be “the next Michael Bisping,” because you’ll only come off as an imitator. But someone will break through eventually in his or her own way, and that person just might be Darren Till, the unbeaten welterweight who has all the tools. That “TBA vs. TBA” atop the bill for the March 17 London card sure does seem to beckon.

Where you at, Nick?

@wyangel20: Wtf is up with Nick Diaz????

Evergreen tweet.

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