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Fightweets: What’s UFC’s Plan B if Khabib Nurmagomedov or Conor McGregor fall out?

Conor McGregor faces Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

PFL was in action on Thursday, Bellator on Friday, and now we’re starting our second UFC-free weekend.

Into that void, of course, has stepped the event which will dominate everything from now until they step into the Octagon: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor on Oct. 6 in Las Vegas.

With the news Friday that the event at T-Mobile Arena immediately went within a couple hundred tickets of a sellout in the cavernous venue at high ticket prices, you’ve got a fresh batch of UFC 229-related questions. So let’s dive right into another edition of Fightweets.

What’s the UFC’s Plan B?

@ThatKiddSwiz: Is it worth selling a kidney to see UFC 229 live?

Only if you’re willing to put that kidney on ice and keep it viable in case the main event falls through. UFC 229 is going to be a grand slam of a live event for the company. Public ticket sale for Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor, scaled at $2,505 down to $205 for the “cheap” seats, produced an instant near-sellout on Friday.

Reports made the rounds stating the show sold out in three minutes, which isn’t quite true: As of mid-afternoon Friday, there were a couple hundred $2,505 seats still available on the primary market. Still, though, that’s one hell of an impressive haul and an indication of just how big McGregor’s return to MMA action after a nearly two-year absence is going to be.

But... those ticket prices are also one hell of a steep price to pay if the main event happens to fall out. Yes, I know some of you are reading this and want to yell at me for jinxing this. But at this point, with the dramatic rise in headline fight fallouts over the past several years, this is an aspect of the business which needs to be discussed, basically, every time a fight card is booked.

And in the case of the UFC 229 card, UFC sure seems like they’re doing a trapeze act without a safety net. As of this writing (late afternoon Pacific time on Friday), there have been eight fights announced for UFC 229, including the main event. None of the remaining seven fights are lightweight fights.

Had the UFC booked Dustin Poirier vs. Nate Diaz as the co-main event of UFC 229, they would have had a viable headliner in shape and ready to go if, say McGregor (who has a rep for making his fight dates no matter what) or Nurmagomedov (who doesn’t) were to get hurt or experience weigh-in issues.

Of course, your standard issue UFC card averages about 12 fights, so there’s still time for the UFC to add another lightweight fight to the card. Tony Ferguson, notably, is making a lot of noise about the fact he’s been cleared to get back to action, but as things stand now, there isn’t even going to be an Al Iaquinta (Khabib’s recent last-minute foe) or a Joe Soto (who got a shot at T.J. Dillashaw’s bantamweight belt when a warm body was needed on 24 hours’ notice at UFC 177) available should anything go down.

As of now, a punch that lands a little too hard in sparring or a bad fall in a grappling session is the only thing separating those who paid $2,505 for a ticket from showing up to Las Vegas and getting Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov for their main event. And that’s one hell of a potential precarious spot for the UFC to place themselves.

What next for Tony Ferguson?

@BeerDrinknBruce: Who do you think would be the perfect opponent for Tony Ferguson’s comeback?

Well, there doesn’t appear to be a ton of options, are there? Ferguson is in a tough spot. He’s on a 10-fight win streak. He hasn’t fought since defeating Kevin Lee for the interim lightweight belt, one year to the weekend from Khabib vs. Conor. Ferguson’s interim title apparently just vanished without a trace. Khabib is fighting Conor. Poirier is fighting Diaz. Eddie Alvarez’s UFC contract is up and there’s no guarantee he will return. Would a Lee rematch be worth Ferguson’s while? In the absence of that, Ferguson’s best opponent might be the famous “TBD.” Get in shape, stay in shape, and be ready to get a call in the not-unheard-of event that one of half of the UFC 229 main event falls out.

Tony Ferguson’s done just about everything right in the cage. Outside, though, has been one misadventure after another.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Where does Dustin Poirier fit?

@Mister_Rozay: Likelihood of @DustinPoirier getting the title shot after beating Nate?

In a logical world, if Poirier beats Diaz at UFC 230, then yes, he’d have a hell of a case for a shot at the winner of Khabib vs. Conor. But then, in a logical world, Poirier vs. Diaz would be the co-main at UFC 229, to help give the winner the rub in front of the massive audience UFC 229 is going to command. Oh, and, that Ferguson guy we just discussed has made a hell of a case for himself, too. And Georges St-Pierre is lingering on the fringes, and could very well talk his way into another superfight. And this is all assuming that both Khabib vs. Conor and Poirier vs. Diaz come off as scheduled. In other words ... who the hell knows?

Jumping up to light heavyweight

@TannerRuss: Is the trend of middleweights moving up to light-heavyweight a good thing for 205, or does it just fill the light-heavyweight division with middleweights? Like how the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix has several participants moonlighting as heavyweights.

I think it’s more fighters sensing an opportunity to get ahead faster than any sort of gimmickry. Light heavyweight was once the marquee division in the UFC. Now? Daniel Cormier is part-time champ over the division, Jon Jones is still on the outside looking in, and there’s the perception that the rest of the pack is Alexander Gustafsson and everyone else. Middleweight may not be the murderer’s row it once was, but there’s a larger pack in contention for a fight with Robert Whittaker than there is at the top of 205.

So you see Anthony Smith make the jump up from 185, knock out a pair of legends and former champs in a row in Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua, and now, all of a sudden, he’s got one hell of an intriguing and relevant fight with Volkan Oezdemir upcoming. If you’re another fighter who hasn’t quite gotten over the hump at 185, and you see Smith seemingly getting to the top overnight after making the switch, why wouldn’t you be tempted to do the same?

So now you have Thiago Santos, who appeared a full weight class heavier than Kevin Holland when they fought at middleweight at UFC 227 anyway, jumping up to 205 and instantly stepping into an expected bout with Jimi Manuwa. If this keeps up, maybe the light heavyweight division’s dog days will end up in our rear-view mirror once and for all.

The union thing

@Clemente_QuJr: What do you believe is preventing MMA fighters from forming a union and properly organizing?

Said it before and will say it again: Nothing’s going to happen until the very few fighters at the top of the food chain decide to go all in on supporting a union. Remember what a cultural supernova Ronda Rousey was at the peak of her MMA fame? (And how weird is it that we’re already doing “remember whens” on Ronda?) What if, in the buildup to her fight with, say, Bethe Correia, Rousey had used her platform to hammer home the conditions under which fighters compete, then led a fighter boycott of the event? You’re probably reading that and thinking “that would never happen in a million years.” And you’d probably be right.

If you’re Rousey, or McGregor, or Georges St-Pierre, you’ve put years and years of blood, sweat, and tears into reaching the top of one of the world’s most unforgiving businesses. You know your time making the biggest bucks is limited, that it can all go away in a heartbeat. And you also know that when you were the one climbing the ranks, the guys and gals who were on top back then didn’t do a damn thing to help you. In that sense, it’s not hard to understand where they’re coming from.

Bottom line, though, for every Leslie Smith and Kajan Johnson who is unafraid to poke the bear, there are hundreds more fighters willing to step in and take their spot if given the opportunity. And as long as that’s the case, then we’ll never break out of a situation in which it’s going to require a Ronda, a Conor, a GSP, or all of the above to decide they’re going to put the collective good ahead of their own self-interests. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that one.

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