Photo Courtesy: MMAJunkie.com
To say that fight week for UFC 223 was wild would be putting it mildly.
First, Interim Lightweight Champion Tony Ferguson was forced to pull out of his highly- anticipated matchup with Khabib Nurmagomedov, a mere six days before the event. The two have been scheduled to fight a total of four times, with the bout falling apart each time. From there, the UFC went into salvage mode, and brought in Featherweight titleholder Max Holloway to fight Khabib for the Undisputed (?) Lightweight crown. All was good.
Holloway had pulled out of a scheduled title defense in March due to an ankle injury. Suddenly, his ankle had healed enough to take on the undefeated Russian on days’ notice. Not only that, but he acknowledged that his weight cut would be difficult, but insisted he could pull it off.
The New York State Athletic Commission disagreed, and deemed him medically unfit to compete the day before the fight.
Khabib was left in limbo for much of the day, and agreed to fight no less than five different opponents. Eventually, 11th ranked “Ragin’” Al Iaquinta, a licensed real estate agent, who has had a history of issues with the UFC, including a self-imposed 2-year retirement from the sport after a contract dispute with MMA’s biggest promotion, was chosen to fight Khabib for the championship on 24 hours’ notice.
That’s a “Rocky” story for the ages.
Oh, did I mention that Conor McGregor attacked the fighter bus Khabib was riding in at the media day and ended up in jail? He threw a dolly through the window of the bus, injuring numerous fighters and forcing multiple bouts to be cancelled.
McGregor’s outburst seemingly stemmed from an altercation Khabib had with Artem Lobov, McGregor’s close friend and training partner, earlier in the week. For his part in the bus incident, Lobov was pulled from the card on Saturday night.
Now, if you’ve managed to keep up with all of that, first of all congratulations! Let’s breakdown what this could mean for the division, and the sport as a whole.
As many expected, Khabib defeated Iaquinta to become the champion, but Iaquinta gave it his all, and went the distance with ‘The Eagle’. His stock inevitably rose through the process, and he finds himself in a win-win situation.
Khabib has a potential fight with Tony Ferguson once the latter is ready to return to competition. Khabib has also been vocal about wanting a shot at welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre (GSP) at Madison Square Garden, but with GSP’s status up in the air, it seems like a longshot.
The most intriguing scenario for most is a matchup with McGregor. There are so many unknowns surrounding the Irishman that it could be quite a while before they actually square off. Based on his actions, it seems he wants to fight again, but with his legal troubles, it may be a while before he can step foot back inside the octagon.
While that would be the biggest fight the UFC could put together, should they actually do it? It many ways, it feels as though that would just be rewarding McGregor’s horrible actions. Even fans of his have a hard time defending it.
Things like this cast the sport in a negative light. It reflects poorly on the fighters, the promotion, the media who cover it, and even fans of the sport.
While the monetary gain would be huge, the UFC needs to show McGregor that this incident crossed the line. They have had a history of allowing him to do what he wants when he wants, which is fair. He is the biggest star they have ever had. But he had never done anything illegal in the past.
It’s unlikely McGregor will face more than a fine and some community service, so the UFC needs to step up and take action themselves. What is the right action? Who knows? Just don’t let him waltz back in like nothing happened.
After all the madness of UFC 223 fight week, only one thing is clear:
When it comes to McGregor, expect the unexpected.