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Morning Report: Javier Mendez admits they ‘are not in control’ if UFC makes Conor McGregor the backup for UFC 249

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Khabib Nurmagomedov has made it clear he doesn’t want to fight Conor McGregor again until McGregor works his way back up the lightweight rankings. But even Khabib’s coach Javier Mendez agrees that the decision will not be entirely up to them.

Nurmagomedov defended his lightweight title (and won the lineal lightweight title) with a fourth-round neck crank submission of McGregor at UFC 229. After the fight, Khabib then jumped the fence and started a brawl with McGregor’s entourage that resulted in a number of fines and suspensions being handed out. That incident offset the one-sided nature of the fight and became a prime tool to set up a lucrative rematch between the two, and following McGregor’s 40-second demolition Donald Cerrone back in January, UFC President Dana White is outwardly lobbying for that to be the next fight for both men.

There’s only one problem and his name is Tony Ferguson.

Like Khabib, Ferguson is also on a 12-fight win streak in the lightweight division and Ferguson is next in line for a shot at Khabib’s lightweight title. The two are set to finally face one another at UFC 249, after failing to lock horns on four separate occasions. That stands in the way of a Khabib-McGregor rematch, especially if Ferguson wins. But given the troubled history of that fight, Dana White says McGregor has had another plan in mind: stepping in if something befalls Ferguson, and though Khabib says he doesn’t want to fight McGregor again, Javier Mendez recognizes some things are outside their control.

“Let’s not be naive and think that we’re in control,” Mendez told MMA Junkie recently. “We’re not in control. We can control what we do, but the organization controls who you fight and who you don’t fight.”

That’s certainly true. The UFC has a history of strong-arming fighters into bouts with opponents they’d prefer not to face, for one reason or another. But though it happens occasionally, stars are usually excluded from such tactics and Khabib has become one of the biggest stars in the sport since throttling McGregor in 2018. If something did befall Ferguson ahead of UFC 249, ultimately Khabib would have to answer whether he’s willing to fight the UFC on this point. But Mendez is trying to stay positive.

“I think that would have to be a Khabib question because he’s the one that has to make that decision if that was to arrive, and my thought process is to not think that way because I want to think that it’s going to be Tony and they’re going to fight,” Mendez said. “I said this from the first interview I did right after he beat Conor, they asked what’s next, I said Tony. Tony deserves it, Tony needs to be next in line, and that was a while back, and then Tony didn’t get it, Dustin [Poirier] got it.”

That sentiment echoes Ferguson’s own feelings about the bout who last year chastised fans for believing the Khabib-Ferguson bout was cursed. For Mendez, though it’s been a very rocky road to get to this point, he believes that in the end, this was all for the best. Now this fight is bigger than ever, it’s historical, and it’s starting to feel like it was destined to be this way.

“You know what, it’s like things are meant to be this way,” Mendez said. “They’re meant to be and that didn’t happen, but now it’s bigger than it’s ever been. So maybe it was meant to be that they were going to fight in a much bigger platform. And here we are.

“It’s the biggest platform for both of them, fighting each other wasn’t meant [then]. This is the biggest platform ever for both of them to fight each other. And maybe it was meant to be this way, maybe it was meant to be bigger than the what it was back then. And now we are at the huge platform for both of them, So I’d just rather look on the positive side of it, you know.”

UFC 249 takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on April 18.


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FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks for reading and see y’all on Monday.


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