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Fightweets: Tyron Woodley, Dana White, and MMA in 2018

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Dana White is once again taking aim at Tyron Woodley.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The old Steve Miller lyric “I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, LA” comes to mind as the UFC makes a stop in Perth, Australia, for UFC 221 Saturday night, part of a run of events that went from Charlotte to Brazil and goes on from here to Texas and Orlando.

Anyway, it was another week of the sublime and the ridiculous in mixed martial arts, so without further ado, let’s get the ball rolling.

Tyron Woodley, Nate Diaz, and Dana White

@MNWhiteBelt: Forget Nate, is Woodley-Dana the superfight we all want now?

All kidding aside, has anything encapsulated the weirdness that is mixed martial arts in 2018 as gloriously as this week’s chain of events involving UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, Nate Diaz, and UFC president Dana White?

This all started early in the week, when Woodley proclaimed that a matchup with Diaz was “way more likely than people realize.” Diaz, meanwhile, is finally running out of money from his Conor McGregor payday well-rested and ready for his big return after taking a hiatus over the past year and a half. And he followed up Woodley’s words by proclaiming that, yes, this is the fight he wants.

Next comes the UFC boss, appearing in the womb-like safe space known as UFC Tonight, as he indulged in one of his favorite pastimes: Publicly trashing the champions who are supposed to be making his company big bucks. White called Woodley “full of sh*t,” so Woodley responded on Twitter, asking which of the two has a reputation for lying, and in the process got about seven times as many likes for his comment than White’s original headline garnered.

So, let’s back up from this week’s bedlam for a minute here and start with a simple fact: Woodley vs. Diaz would probably be a terrible fight. Diaz’s only win at 170 pounds in the past seven years is over the former featherweight and current lightweight champion. His sustained welterweight run of long ago ended when he got rag-dolled in back-to-back fights by Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald. While an upset win for Diaz would turn McGregor-Diaz 3 into an even bigger pot of gold than it already is, there’s a high probability that Woodley not only wins, but makes Diaz look bad in the process.

And that’s before we even take into account the fact that Woodley has a clear-cut top challenger in Rafael dos Anjos. On paper, if ever there was a rational case for getting the ship back on course and making divisional schemes matter again, giving RDA the title shot over Diaz is it.

White even started making the quite valid point that RDA deserves the title shot during his appearance on UFC Tonight. If he left it there, he comes out looking good.

But instead, White had to make it personal, using the trick of getting into insult wars with his fighters that worked like a charm in 2008 but rarely works in 2018.

Which led to a large portion of the audience siding with T-Wood, which by extension means they’re rooting for the bad Diaz matchup over the proper RDA fight.

That’s the funhouse-mirror reality of the state of this sport in 2018.

As for whom Diaz should fight, I mean, his return is going to be a big deal either way, which is probably why Woodley seems so hot for it. But there are so many other options in which Diaz is going to look better. The McGregor trilogy fight would be biggest, but it must not be happening any time soon if Diaz is aiming so publicly for Woodley. A fight with Eddie Alvarez sounds spectacular, which makes it a disappointment that Diaz seems strongly against it.

But hey, if Diaz is only concerned with a one-night score, and wants to take a fight against a welterweight in which he could potentially look very bad, why not fight Georges St-Pierre? The angle of Nate coming out to avenge his brother Nick’s loss to GSP in 2013 would sell a whole lot better than a Woodley fight, and it wouldn’t hold up a championship in the process.

What’s in it for Stipe?

@F*ckAlecsLife: What does Stipe have to gain from his upcoming fight? Other than $$$

The opportunity to finally elevate his notoriety to the level that matches his accomplishments in the cage.

Stipe Miocic is the greatest heavyweight in the history of the UFC. He doesn’t have a level of stardom that should match such an accomplishment.

Up until this point, it’s pretty much been a 50/50 split as to why Miocic hasn’t broken through to a bigger degree. The UFC hasn’t seemed willing to put all their promotional muscle behind the champ since he won the title, and, indeed, UFC 220 was built as all but a coronation for Francis Ngannou. But the flip side of this is, a fighter has to put in the effort. McGregor and Ronda Rousey’s stardom didn’t just happen in a vacuum. Both did a tremendous amount of work putting themselves forward and making themselves available during their ascents. Miocic, on the other hand, acted like putting himself out in public was a hassle that kept him from his firefighting job.

Hitching Miocic to Cormier, one of the most charismatic stars in the game, is the UFC’s best bet for getting Miocic over the hump and turning him into, if not a McGregor-level star, then a consistent, “middle-class” level draw, the type which seems to have disappeared in recent years. While Miocic doesn’t do well in the usual media meat grinder, he’s actually a really funny, down-to-earth guy. Having him play off Cormier for three months on The Ultimate Fighter should help get that aspect of Miocic’s personality over with the fans. (And yes, I know people don’t watch TUF like they used. Maybe I’m just going off the fact that I’m personally intrigued by watching these two this season, but my gut tells me ratings will go up with this specific coaches pairing.)

And yes, the competitive aspect matters, too. Granted, it’s been awhile, but Cormier is 13-0 at heavyweight. He excelled at that division. He’s not going to be all that much smaller than Miocic, and he’s not going to be worn down by a brutal weight cut. Save for actually losing the fight, everything about this makes sense for Stipe.

Cyborg headlining UFC 222

@piercarmine91: Is Cyborg such a big draw to headline a PPV alone? What’s the point about putting necessary a title fight for the main event even when it’s so one sided? I don’t think it would have been hard just to add a pretty solid non title fight, it could have been more worth the money, no?

Over the past year, we’ve seen Cris Cyborg as a vital part of a championship triple-header card at UFC 214, at which she defeated former Invicta bantamweight champ Tanya Evinger to win the vacant UFC featherweight title. We’ve seen her as half of a biggest- available women’s fight at UFC 219 when she fought Holly Holm, a former champion who can hold up her end as the B-side of a money fight.

Now Cyborg is in a hastily made title fight against current Invicta bantamweight champ Yana Kunitskaya. And Cyborg is the unquestioned leading draw on the card.

Credit is due to Kunitskaya, of course, for stepping up and accepting the fight. But on paper, this seems like a traditional Cyborg “Superstars of Wrestling”-style squash fight. That’s something we’ve already seen everywhere from network television to cable to Fight Pass over the years. Are fans now willing to spend $65 on the sort of fight they’ve gotten either on free TV or basic cable or as part of a $10-per-month Fight Pass package for years? Guess we’re about to find out. (Side note: This would be a solid spot to have, you know, another women’s featherweight fight on the card if nothing else than to at least pay lip service to the idea they’re building out Cyborg’s division.)

My gut feeling is when we come out of this, the UFC will have a stronger case to push for the idea of a superfight with Amanda Nunes than they did going in.

Fewer PPVs?

@RossMcCaff: Is the example of 221 (likely to sell poorly) and 222 (could be cancelled altogether) a sign that the UFC should be doing fewer PPVs?

Well, 222 isn’t going to be canceled, now that they’ve put together the Cyborg fight and and an outstanding co-main event of Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega. But yes, as the UFC goes through it’s crucial television negotiation period, one hopes they’re questioning whether sticking by a model they’ve used for years on end is still one they should continue using.

The superstar runs of McGregor and Rousey helped camouflage, for a couple years, the troubles the UFC faced in ramping up their schedule in order to feed the FOX beast. Those issues have become glaring again in their absence. There simply isn’t enough top-flight talent to run full fight cards every weekend. And the relentless grind of the machine makes it more difficult for anyone to stand out.

While pay-per-view still brings in enough money to be worthwhile even in an age of cord-cutting, far more fans than before pick and choose and wait for the big cards rather than buy them all. Maybe an improvement starting in 2019 would be to cut the PPVs back to, say, six a year, and load them up. Then take those other six or seven dates which were previously PPVs and use them to have better quality fights on network television, the sort that would help make new names. In theory, this could help re-establish the PPVs as top-tier events, with enough time in between the clear-cut A-list events to once again begin building a sense of anticipation for important fights.

Easier said than done. If I had all the answers, I’d probably be in on these negotiations, and I’m not. But continuing down this same path seems like a matter of sacrificing the long-term in favor of the short haul.