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Fightweets: So, when does the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor hype start?

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

Enjoy the the informal end of summer over Labor Day weekend while it lasts, kids. When we get to the other side of a final weekend of beaches, barbecue, beer, and baseball, we step right into the fall meat grinder. UFC 228 is the following weekend, the UFC’s Russian debut comes after that, Bellator’s DAZN debut comes not long thereafter.

And oh, by the way, the biggest fight of the years is just around the corner, too. About that...

So when does the Khabib-Cronor hype start for real?

@nikolympiacos: When will have a press conference for Khabib vs Conor?

I’ve gotten multiple versions of this question every week since the UFC 229 main event between undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and former lightweight and featherweight king Conor McGregor was announced. I haven’t answered it before now, because, well, I expected we’d hear something from the UFC any day now, right?

But here we are, five weeks removed from the date at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and we’re coming down to crunch time on getting the hype machine rolling for the biggest MMA fight of 2018.

The notion that Khabib vs. Conor will do 2 million pay-per-view buys, which would be close to a 25-percent jump over the record of 1.6 million set by UFC 202, has been repeated so often that it’s been taken as conventional wisdom. The fact that the UFC is already locked into its second-biggest gate of all-time seem to confirm that notion.

But it takes something a little extra to take that fight you already know is going to be very big deal and turn it into a generational, transcendent mega-fight.

By this stage of the game, last year’s Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor world tour had already taken place, turning the their fight from a happening in the fight sports bubble to the biggest sporting event of the summer, period. McGregor and Jose Aldo did a world tour. McGregor’s second fight with Nate Diaz had a press conference during UFC 200 week, six weeks before their UFC 202 fight. McGregor and Eddie Alvarez had a Sept. 2016 press conference for their Madison Square Garden bout that November.

That’s the sort of advance signal you need to send to the audience that this event is much bigger than everything else on the calendar. Instead, thus far, this kind of feels like UFC 207, where Ronda Rousey was a recluse in the lead-up, WME seemed oblivious to the air-raid-siren-obvious-idea that Amanda Nunes might win, and the show, while very big, wasn’t as big as it could have been.

This also demonstrates the danger of announcing a fight as big as this one on just nine weeks’ notice: Both competitors realize they’ve got a giant task in front of them, so why would they want to leave the heat of camp to do a long tour?

No doubt the company’s hype plans for UFC 229 will come down soon. No doubt Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor will be the event of the year when it gets here. But you have to wonder if it’s already too late for the card to be as big as it could potentially be.

Tyron Woodley, Kamaru Usman, and backup plans

@Sweet_Lew2: With Usman essentially being and alternate for Till vs Woodley, should more title fights have alternates? Or should it be case by case (say when a clear next contender is available)

Like so much else in this wacky sports of ours, the idea of having a backup plan in place in case a main event falls out is one of those things where you can see where both sides’ points.

The latest example of this, of course, is UFC 228. Most of you know the deal by now: Tyron Woodley will defend his welterweight title against Darren Till, who missed weight for his last fight against Stephen Thompson. Meanwhile, Kamaru Usman is training and will weigh-in and theoretically be ready to step in should anything go awry in the meantime.

The UFC is coming at this one with good intentions: There has been a noticeable number of weight cut and weigh-in mishaps this year. Granted, the best answer would be to overhaul the entire process, but that’s going to take a lot of time. In the meantime, as a means of keeping the conveyor belt functioning, going with the idea that people who pay to see a top-flight main event will get one on fight night one way or another, is a good-faith, short-term stopgap to rebuild consumer faith in their advertised events.

Few people in this sport are more willing to call things like they see them than Tyron Woodley.
Esther Lin

The problem, of course, is that you can just as easily understand why a championship-level fighter shouldn’t have to submit to this sort of wild card. Woodley is training for a tall southpaw striker in Till. Usman as a squat, level-changing wrestler. No other sport at its highest level would expect a world championship-level athlete to subject his or herself to such drastic, sudden changes.

It seems clear that when push comes to shove, the UFC believes public pressure to make the backup fight happen will be enough to get a champion to cave if faced with the choice of meeting a replacement foe or not fighting. But then, Woodley’s not like most people. He seems immune to peer pressure, tells things like he sees it, and if you don’t like it, he’s not going to lose any sleep worrying about you. That’s not a recipe for making someone into a McGregor/Rousey-level superstar, but there are few if any people in MMA more real than Woodley, and that’s something you have to respect.

So, yeah. I can see the merit in the UFC wanting to have a standby contender waiting in the wings. I can also see various champions’ reasons for not wanting any part of this. In the meantime, the UFC could make their case an easier sell by, you know, not giving title shots to fighters coming right off weight misses.

Donald Cerrone/JacksonWink bad blood

@Woolman7242: How big of a deal is the Cowboy vs. Jackson/Wink situation? It seems like this will negatively impact his ability to compete in Denver against a guy who is training with his former trainers and coaches. How can he overcome this distraction?

This is another one of those deals where you can see where both sides are coming from. And, I’ll acknowledge, it’s all the more tough to discuss because JacksonWink contains some of the friendliest and most real people you’ll come across in this business, from Greg Jackson himself to Holly Holm to Carlos Condit to Brandon Gibson to former JW standout Julie Kedzie and on down the line. And none of us who are commenting on this situation were actually there on a day-in, day-out basis.

This is far from the first time we’ve seen something like this go down in MMA, with the most famous recent example being T.J. Dillashaw and Duane Ludwig’s split and subsequent public feud with Team Alpha Male. Just about every time someone high-profile and successful leaves a one of the sport’s biggest gyms, drama ensues.

If anything, I was surprised it took this long for things to come to the surface in public. Cerrone’s been doing his thing out on his ranch for a couple years, seeming to have one foot in Jackson’s and one foot in his own place. If you’re Team JacksonWink, you can see how this would get disruptive after awhile. In Cerrone’s case, you can see why “Cowboy” is upset that JacksonWink picked Mike Perry, who has been in Albuquerque for about a minute, over Cerrone.

Will Nate fight?, part 4,529

@tfc_tech_170: Is Nate Diaz even going to fight Poirier?

After this week I’m going to retire this question until we get a concrete development one way or another. This time around, when Diaz stormed out of the UFC 25th anniversary press conference and started sending tweets hinting that he’s not going to fight Dustin Poirier at Madison Square Garden for UFC 230, there wasn’t a big anti-UFC backlash. If anything, Diaz got more brush back from the fans than he usually does.

The Diaz brothers made their names by being willing to fight anyone, anywhere, in the cage or out. But for various reasons, it’s been a couple years since we’ve seen either of them scrap, in the cage at least. That’s their right, but after you’ve been gone a couple years, that reputation starts to become more about the past than the present, and fans move on to the next thing. We’re not there yet with the Diazes, but we’re closer to it than it might seem.

Is going up in weight turning into a trend?

@TannerRuss2: So, with James Krause moving up and flattening Alves, Whittaker becoming a champion, Anthony Smith sniffing a 205 title shot...why are people doing extreme cuts? I understand some will happen, but Darren Till-levels seem unhealthy long term.

This is a great question. Add Kelvin Gastelum’s success at 185 to that mix, getting to where he’s going to fight Robert Whittaker next, too. And Thiago Santos is getting an immediate main event in his step up to light heavyweight, as he’ll meet Jimi Manuwa at UFC Sao Paulo.

I wish I had an answer as to what is making so many fighters stick by their old-school mentality of draining themselves down to the absolute lowest weight class they can reach without killing themselves.

But this is very much a monkey-see, monkey-do business. McGregor created hype through trash talk, and now everyone wants to talk trash. The UFC started handing out interim belts like Halloween candy, and all of a sudden fighters start suggesting new interim title fights.

Maybe with the examples of the Whittakers, Gastelums, Smiths, and oh yeah, some guy named Daniel Cormier went up and won the heavyweight title, we’re finally reaching something close to a tipping point where fighters will continue to go up, rather than down. One can only hope this becomes MMA’s next big trend.