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Fightweets: What should we believe about Conor McGregor’s intentions?

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Esther Lin, Showtime

The UFC conveyor belt continues moving at a breakneck pace this week with UFC on FOX 28 marking the 99,678rd of 100,000 consecutive weekend with a show (I could be off on those numbers, but it sure seems that way). But this week also brings the usual slate of bedlam, so let’s kick things off right from the top with the king of the needle movers himself:

What to make of McGregor’s latest?

@Drebit45: Do you think Conor sits cage side for Tony/Khabib on April 7th at the Barclays? If not, is the trilogy with Nate an inevitability for later in 2018?

@academe_33: When we will finally stop hearing about May-Mac 2? What’s it going to take to end this?

@DanielCann4: McGregor or Diaz in a trilogy who u taking?

All Conor McGregor had to do to remind everyone he still looms large over the game was dropping one message on social media on Thursday:

Immediately, the focus became whether Conor really did offer to fight Frankie Edgar at UFC 222. You can understand the skepticism, since, after all, this is someone who announced his retirement via Twitter as a publicity stunt. At this stage of the game, “Conor says” has roughly the same level of believability as “Dana White says.” Given how calculating McGregor’s been over the years with his use of social media, it strains credibility to believe that if he really wanted that fight, he would have put Edgar on blast over social media, or that somehow this development wouldn’t have been kept completely under wraps.

But really, that’s the less important aspect of the tweet. The real news was in this phrase: “I am fighting again. Period.” That came just one day after White told the no-followup-asking TMZ that McGregor might never fight again. A month ago, White declared that Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 is for the real lightweight title but somehow McGregor is still the champ. That seemed to indicate the UFC is still willing to go either way on this matter, depending on how negotiations with McGregor go.

This time, McGregor felt compelled to respond to what White said quickly, and assert the opposite of what his promoter hinted. That seems to hint the two sides are negotiating, but they’re still a ways off on dollar figures.

I don’t know where this all ends up, or whom McGregor ends up fighting, but the tweet seems to suggest that McGregor knows he’s got to come off as serious about wanting to get back into the cage if he wants to stay at the center of the narrative. And as such, I’d be astounded if he’s not cageside when Ferguson and Nurmagomedov square off.

Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz 3?

@ArmsRacePro: Serious question though, with all of Tito’s neck surgeries, could he even be legit cleared to fight?

I can’t help but get this nagging feeling that Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 3 is a thing that’s going to happen after chatter picked up again this week. In case you haven’t noticed, Bellator isn’t exactly doing blockbuster ratings recently. When Bellator started hitting big with legends fights a couple years back, a big part of the idea behind it was that you would use this time to give up-and-comers exposure and have it pay off with the creation of new stars in the long run. That plainly hasn’t happened, despite the company having a ridiculously deep pool of up-and-coming talent.

In that environment, why wouldn’t you be tempted to get one more rating out of Tito Ortiz? Ortiz is the one who kicked this entire era off with his shocking rating against Stephen Bonnar in 2014. Ortiz’s retirement fight with Chael Sonnen last year averaged 1.4 million viewers and peaked at 1.85 million. We all sort of knew all along Ortiz would come out of retirement for the right opportunity. He’ll do the PR work. In an age when too many fighters whine about having to do media, then turn around and wonder why they don’t break out of the pack, Ortiz puts his face in front of the cameras, no matter how many times he’s been made fun of or mocked. Maybe his total willingness to get himself into the limelight is a big part why he can still draw huge ratings long after he ceased being a championship-caliber fighter?

Anyway, yeah, my spidey senses are telling me this is going to be a thing, even if we’re convincing itself it shouldn’t be. And that a couple days after the show, the headlines about the ratings will read “Tito Ortiz does it again,” even if the fight itself, like against Bonnar, isn’t going to get inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Oh, I didn’t answer your actual question: They’ll shop this one around until they’ll find someone who will look the other way. Texas licensed Kimbo vs. Dada 5000. I’d make them the odds-on favorite to host this fight if it comes to be.

Worst fight ever?

@MNWhiteBelt: Does Hardy-Julaton make your top 5 worst fights ever? If so, where do you rank it?

My gut feeling, after watching the highly uninspiring three-round Heather Hardy vs. Ana Julaton fight at Bellator 194, was to agree it was top-five worst. But with some time to think about it, I don’t know that’s fair to the fighters. As I scanned my addled brain for what I considered some of the bouts that have been held up as all-time awful fights, many were perceived as such more because of the position they were put in by their promoters than the fighters’ flaws.

Hardy and Julation are inexperienced MMA fighters who were rushed onto a major platform. They gave it their best. If this fight was on a regional show somewhere, or maybe even on AXS, we would have called the fight underwhelming, but there wouldn’t be “all-time worst” talk. Likewise, Kimbo and Dada gave everything they had, even though neither had much in the tank. It’s hard to blame any of these fighters for taking the opportunities they’re given -- that goes for the infamous “Sage and Paige Show from 2015, as well -- but you have to put some heat on promoters who know better, but put on these fights anyway.

Contrast that to a real all-time abomination like Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski in their trilogy fight at UFC 61. Their first two fights ended with spectacular finishes of each other, which made both gun shy in the third fight, and ended in a dreadfully bad, 25-minute staring contest. At least in the Woodley-Thompson rematch at UFC 209, Woodley went for it in the final round. You can say fights like Sylvia-Arvloski or Woodley-Thompson -- main-event stinkers featuring fighters in their primes -- are “smart” or “tactical,” but no one is under any obligation to enjoy it, and it’s more fair to hold those sort of fights up for “worst-ever” consideration than less experienced competitors who are shoved onto the big stage.

Best division?

@hunt5588: In your opinion, what is the most exciting division in MMA right now?

Maybe welterweight? I know that’s not the trendiest pick right now, especially where champ Tyron Woodley is on the shelf after several less-than-exciting fights, with Robbie Lawler out, and with guys like Demian Maia and Carlos Condit seemingly on their downside. But with guys like Darren Till, Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, and Santiago Ponzinibbio, and Mike Perry making their names, and guys like Wonderboy Thompson and Jorge Masvidal still in the mix, it feels like we’re in the middle of a tectonic shift in a deep division and it’s fascinating watching the pieces of the puzzle move.

Why Josh Burkman?

@D_hnrtge: Why do they keep feeding Burkman to these young savages?

Before Josh Burkman’s first-round submission loss to Alex Morono on Sunday, I tweeted this about Burkman. That’s not out of animosity toward Burkman. It’s just that we’ve seen everything there is to see from Burkman as a fighter at this point. He’s plenty tough. He used to be that dude that tended to go the distance, win or lose. Now he’s lost seven of his past eight, five of them by stoppage, the past three in the first round.

Burkman has 46 pro fights and wants to get to 50. He made $54,000 in pay for his UFC 214 loss to Drew Dober last summer and is in the $15,000 Reebok payout category. This is a rare case where he’s better off financially playing out the string in the UFC than outside it, for as long as the UFC keeps giving him fights. That doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it, but you can understand both why Burkman would choose this path and also why the UFC gives him the opponents they do.

Bye bye Barao?

@Pimp_Ditto: If Renan Barao loses is it possible he gets released due to his price tag?

We’ll see. Barao looked healthy and ready to go at the UFC on FOX 28 weigh-ins. But is he shot as a fighter? He’s lost five of his past seven fights. He’s looked bad in the process more often than not. In his last fight, he lost to Aljamain Sterling, who has otherwise been thoroughly unimpressive since signing his big free-agent contract. I’d say if Barao lost to Kelleher, it might be time to go, but look back up to my previous question on Josh Burkman and I’m not sure there’s much rhyme or reason to this anymore.

MMA dead?

@briancoswald: Is MMA dead? Or is that boxing?

Or maybe declaring things dead is dead? Look, I can’t lie: A few times over this past year, I’ve found myself wondering if the ship really might be heading for the iceberg this time, and if, a couple years from now, the 12 years I’ve spent covering MMA would be the 21st-century equivalent of having in-depth knowledge of roller derby.

But all combat sports go through up and down periods. Boxing’s been called dead for so long that I’m sure some scribe in a “boxing is dead” column to his newspaper via Morse code when bareknuckle fighters were started wearing gloves. Wrestling was nearly wiped out in the 1930s and Vince McMahon’s business dropped to scary lows in the early ‘90s before things took off again. There’s no doubt MMA is going into a down cycle, one that has fed the latest trend of “UFC is past its peak” stories seem to be hardening into a mainstream narrative at a highly inconvenient time for the UFC’s owners. But this sport has been called a fad pretty much since UFC 1 and it’s still trucking. So let’s maybe cool down a bit with the “sky is falling” talk.