This particular Saturday night is looking alright for fighting, considering there’s a sneaky good lineup for UFC Lincoln and the return of the cult-hit Bare Knuckle FC.
Notwithstanding this doubleheader, though, UFC 229 is quickly becoming the all-consuming beast in the MMA world with six weeks to go until fight time.
On Thursday, we got a brand-new wrinkle in the UFC 229 game with the news of a bout between Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis is in the works, and with that, we’re off to the races.
Ferguson-Petits’ potential impact on 155
@CHINO_BANKS: IS the UFC thinking insurance policy for Khabib vs. Conor by adding Ferguson vs. Pettis?
Last week, we posed the question, “What’s the UFC’s Plan B for UFC 229?” Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor is already locked in as the second-biggest gate in UFC history. But it was sold entirely on the strength of the main event, as the apparent co-main at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas appeared to be Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov. And with just a month and a half left until the big show, time seemed to be running out on a backup plan should anything go awry with the headline fight, as so often happens in the world of MMA.
Then news of Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis broke Thursday night, and just in the nick of time.
The fight, of course, serves as an insurance policy should either Nurmagomedov or McGregor have to withdraw from the main event. In the unlikely event McGregor pulls out, we’d finally end up with one of MMA’s most elusive fights in Nurmy vs. Fergy. In the somewhat less unlikely event Khabib falls out, McGregor’s still got himself a hell of an opponent for his return.
(No offense to Pettis, but he’d only get the nod over Ferguson in either of these circumstances if Ferguson again trips over a production cable after getting the fight.)
So that should all but eliminate the fears those who spent big money on tickets might have on showing up on Oct. 6 and not getting a lightweight title fight. Then there’s the matter of the fight itself. The match is compelling all on its own: Ferguson has won 10 consecutive fights and was supposed to fight Nurmagomedov in April; Pettis is a former UFC and WEC champion who appears to be righting the ship after a rough stretch.
It’s a brilliant bit of gamesmanship on the part of both fighters’ teams to get their men onto UFC 229. The speculation going into this event is that it could break the UFC’s record of 1.6 million pay-per-view buys, set by the McGregor-Nate Diaz rematch at UFC 202. Whether or not it surpasses the mark, there’s going to be a massive audience for this fight one way or another, with a majority of the crowd tuning in for a PPV for the first time in a long time.
If Ferguson defeats Pettis in impressive fashion at UFC 229, in front of that huge audience, then he’s going to position himself with the public to be the next in line to fight the winner of the evening’s main event. It’s his chance to upstage Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier, who won’t draw nearly as big of an audience for their UFC 230 bout regardless of who ends up in the main event at Madison Square Garden. By not holding the bout at UFC 229, Diaz and Poirier are giving Ferguson the opportunity to swoop in and steal the spot which logically would have went to the winner of their fight.
Of course, if McGregor defeats Nurmagomedov, and Diaz comes back from a two-year layoff and defeats the red-hot Poirier, then the UFC would have their McGregor-Diaz trilogy fight handed to them on a silver platter, no matter how good Ferguson looks. God knows Endeavor will run with the fight that makes them the most money. But getting to McGregor-Diaz 3 is a far bumpier road than it was before Thursday.
So, who headlines MSG?
@SethPlaut: What the heck is going to main event UFC 230?
Great question. We already know that Poirier vs. Diaz is on the card, and there’s a solid main card filling out which includes Jacare Souza vs. David Branch and Derek Brunson vs. Israel Adesanya.
But the multi-million-dollar question is, can the company come up with a Madison Square Garden-worthy main event, the sort which will make this one of the biggest events of the year (Not to mention the sort which will allow Nate to get the type of PPV money for which he spent two years holding out)?
Well, Conor is fighting in October, so he’s out. Brock Lesnar won’t be cleared to fight until early next year at the earliest. Georges St-Pierre’s name has mostly been linked to the Khabib-Conor winner, but Dana White is at least claiming for now that he’s opposed to the concept. Beyond that, GSP doesn’t seem to have many options worth his while.
If Jon Jones gets cleared from his USADA issues in time? Sure, book him. His return will draw no matter the opponent. I just wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to get cleared.
So maybe the end result here is that Diaz vs. Poirier becomes the main event. In MMA Fighting’s new feature The Great Divide, Shaun Al-Shatti makes the case for headlining with this fight. Diaz-Poirier wouldn’t be a McGregor-level draw, but it would be a healthy one, and wouldn’t you rather see them fight five rounds, anyway? Given the way things seem to be breaking, that might be the best hand the UFC is able to play.
@Jhoss89: Are Canadian MMA fans right to worried about the quality of product coming to Moncton, NB this fall? Seems if the main event gets injured there’s not a single name casual fans would recognize.
As of this writing, you’ve got a point. Volkan Oezdemir vs. Anthony Smith is actually a really solid Fight Night main event, the freshest and most consequential light heavyweight bout not involving Daniel Cormier, Jones, or Alexander Gustafsson we’ve had in quite some time.
Beyond that ... well, there are eight fights announced as of Friday, and the biggest names are Patrick Cummins, Gian Villante, and Artem Lobov. That’s not a lineup that would get fans flocking to the ticket window if the event wasn’t the UFC’s debut in a market, which this one is.
I don’t think the UFC is singling out Canada here, as there have been some truly abysmal lineups in this lame-duck year of FS1 UFC Fight Nights. If I was a fan in the Moncton area, I’d probably get tickets simply because, who knows when the UFC will be in town again? And then pray to the diety of your choice that Oezdemir-Smith makes it to the cage intact.
@ArpanLobo: Could the winner of Moraga-Deveison have an argument for a title shot?
Saturday night’s UFC Lincoln fight between flyweights John Moraga and Deiveson Figueiredo is one of the most low-key, potentially great on paper fights of the summer. Moraga, who lost a title shot against then-champion Demetrious Johnson (“then-champion Demetrious Johnson” is still a weird phrase to type several weeks later) in 2013, was pretty well written off after dropping three straight decisions from 2015-17. Since then? He’s undergone a career rebirth, with three straight wins. That includes a straight-up hype train derailment with his first-round knockout of Magomed Bibulatov and an impressive all-around performance in a decision win over Wilson Reis.
Figueiredo, meanwhile, is 14-0 overall and 3-0 with a pair of TKOs in the UFC. He has 12 career finishes and is stepping up to his biggest career test in Moraga.
The winner of this one comes out with a hell of a lot of momentum, and a case to get near the front of the line. I say “near,” not “at,” of course, because if Mighty Mouse is ready to go next in the rotation, he deserves an immediate rematch with new champion Henry Cejudo. But the winner of Saturday’s fight is right in the top mix.
Meet the press
@Farzin21: Why did they get rid of group-post-fight press conferences? I liked that better.
This is one of those deals where I can see the merit in both sides. The way the UFC did things for years, right up until somewhere around the start of the WME era, the company would bring select fighters out to the podium all at once after events, along with an emcee, usually Dana White.
The plusses of this approach included the potential for verbal fireworks between the fighters, or between the fighters and White. Occasionally they produced bizarre spectacles, like when a banged-up St-Pierre showed up at the UFC 167 presser after his controversial win over Johny Hendricks, just moments after Dana had insisted GSP was in the hospital. The downside was that it would take forever to get the presser started, as you had to wait for all the fighters to take care of commission work, get stitched up, etc., before it started, meaning only the most diehard fans were still tuned in.
Under the new approach, the fighters come out one by one, which enables a fighter who competed earlier in the show to get their media obligations done without having to sit around waiting for the main eventers to take care of backstage business. It also means you get more insight from each fighter, as a competitor who might have gotten one or two questions in the old format instead gets 10 or 15 minutes to themselves.
If it was up to me? I can’t lie, I loved the freewheeling nature of the old format. But I understand why they do things the way they do now. I feel like you can say that about a whole lot of things in MMA these days.