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UFC 229 was this past week and there’s a lot to unpack, a whole lot. So let’s get right to the rundown.
GOOD- Michelle Waterson vs. Felice Herrig
Waterson was the smaller fighter but she was the better fighter here. Herrig tried hard, but Waterson was relentless and had the more effective offense. Waterson won the decision, a good win for her.
GOOD/BAD- Derrick Lewis stops Alexander Volkov
Volkov almost assuredly won the first two rounds and was likely winning the third round before Lewis plastered him with a powerful shot that ended the fight. The fight was really slow at times but it’s heavyweight so it’s unfortunately expected. I’ll give him credit there, Lewis was exhausted but he fought through and got the win. Nice win for him.
GOOD- Ovince Saint Preux vs. Dominick Reyes
Reyes controlled OSP throughout the fight and got the decision win. It’s a nice win for him, I’ll leave it at that.
GOOD- Tony Ferguson stops Anthony Pettis
Pettis broke his hand during the fight so it was stopped in between the second and third rounds. This was a smart move from the corner of Pettis because it wouldn’t have ended well if it had continued. Ferguson was taking it to Pettis and really laying into him. Pettis was firing back and looked good at times, I don’t want to get it twisted, but it was clear that Ferguson was better. Pettis did drop Ferguson, though, so he still has some “Showtime” left in him. Ferguson is one of the best lightweights in the world so there’s no shame in losing to him. A lot of people have done that. Good win for Ferguson.
GOOD/UGLY- Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor
This was so wild and crazy. The fight itself probably played out a lot like most expected. I was torn in the lead-up to the fight because my mind said that Nurmagomedov would ground-and-pound McGregor and get the stoppage in the third round, but my gut said that McGregor would stop Nurmagomedov in the second round with some power punches. I went with my gut in my “official” prediction and that was a big mistake. Everything told me that Nurmagomedov would get the win, but McGregor has this unbelievable confidence that swayed me and made me pick him. I’m glad I didn’t have any money on this.
I will say that I thought McGregor did a better job of defending the takedown than I thought he would. At the same time, though, all he needs is one takedown and then Nurmagomedov will maul you so we ultimately got to the same place regardless.
I’ll get back to the fight and what it means for the division in a minute, but first I have to address what happened after the fight. After McGregor tapped in the fourth round, Nurmagomedov yelled at him and trash-talked. He then went over towards McGregor’s corner and yelled at them, and threw his mouthpiece at them. Then, from what I heard, Dillon Danis (one of McGregor’s coaches) gestured towards Nurmagomedov in a “Come at me, bro” fashion which caused “The Eagle” to jump the cage and take flight, leaping towards Danis like he was going to stomp him like a grape. Sidenote- someone should stitch together some Jim Ross “By GAWD!” commentary with any footage of that moment. However, after getting initially knocked back, Danis leaped up and started throwing shots at Nurmagomedov, who had to retreat back as Danis cracked him good a few times. Inside the cage, there was more trouble as McGregor got into it with a few of Nurmagomedov’s teammates. Police, security, and various UFC people got involved in the brawl to try to break things up.
There’s a whole lot to unpack here. For one, Nurmagomedov is walking a knife’s edge. Whether you think he was justified in starting the brawl (some do) or completely in the wrong (some do), he’s not the draw that Conor McGregor is and therefore can’t get away with as much. The UFC will let McGregor basically get away with murder because he’s a draw. Nurmagomedov is not a draw, though this win might (and hopefully will) elevate him to bigger status. The UFC only cares about money, which is fine because they’re a business. If you don’t bring in money, you can’t get away with jack. One mistake and you’re gone.
The problem is, the UFC isn’t very good at what they’re supposed to be good at, and that’s promotion. I’ve beaten that point to death before so I won’t go into the whole spiel here, but for those who might not know, this can be proven with one simple fact.
UFC 226 did a reported 380,000 buys. That’s…not good at all. The main event of that card featured Stipe Miocic, who at the time was the UFC Heavyweight Champion. The heavyweight division is supposed to be the money division in fighting, the one that’s most popular. Stipe Miocic is also an exciting fighter. So, an exciting fighter in the most popular division doesn’t draw well? He must have been fighting a can, right? It had to have been some bum no one knows or cares about, right? No, he was fighting the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, who’s one of the best fighters in the world and is all over UFC programming. So, he’s known, that’s not the problem. Well, maybe this was a rejection of both fighters? That’s possible but I highly doubt it. Even if it was, though, you’ve got a Champion vs. Champion fight in the most popular division and you don’t even draw 400,000? You should be able to fall backwards into doing 400,000 buys with a fight like that.
I will say some of it is the UFC not properly promoting fighters and fights, and some of it is there’s just too damn many cards. The UFC is slated to run 39 events this year, and ran the same number last year. That averages out to over three events a month, one of those being a pay-per-view. So, you’re asking people to pay to watch fights when there’s over twice as many fights that are on network or cable television? Those fights better be great, and there better be a lot of them. Except that in order to run so many events a month, you have to dilute cards down so much that there’s often only one or two fights per card that are interesting. So the casual fan will balk at paying to watch one or two interesting fights when they can watch twice as many for free.
I’ll wrap it up there because I can go on for a long time about this, but my point is, Nurmagomedov isn’t a big draw so he can’t do this stuff and expect the UFC to bail him out like they do with McGregor. We see this with other sports all the time, like with a guy who’s good enough to be a backup or maybe even a starter on a bad team but nobody wants him because of the distraction he causes. He’s not good enough to be worth the distraction. McGregor is good enough to be worth the distraction for the UFC, Nurmagomedov isn’t. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.
I’ll close with this. It’s pretty obvious what needs to happen after tonight. I hate saying it but we all know it’s true, and it needs to happen. Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov needs to be booked for the fifth time. I hate saying it but it’s true. You could argue, maybe, that Dustin Poirier needs to get the title shot if he beats Nate Diaz, but I think Ferguson has a stronger case. He’s got a much longer winning streak. I personally think the UFC will book the Poirier-Diaz winner to fight Nurmagomedov next, but I wish they would put Ferguson in there. I know it sounds ridiculous after having been canceled four previous times, but that’s the fight to make in my opinion.
One final, final thing. If I’m Scott Coker, the head guy over at Bellator, I’m immediately calling up the UFC and trying to get them to work together and book Nurmagomedov vs. Dillon Danis. A cross-promotion fight involving those two could be huge. The odds of that happening are so infinitesimally small it’s barely even worth mentioning but it would be exciting. Dare to dream, I guess.
Comments and suggestions can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me on Twitter at @hydenfrank