Is a sparring partner feud just an attempt to set up another boxing match down the road for MMA’s biggest star? After years of pushing for it, why don’t fighters want to work in New York anymore? And will UFC 215 bring a return to normalcy, even if that’s bad for the box office?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
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I’m not going to say that the gym feud between Conor McGregor and Paulie Malignaggi is fake, exactly, but it sure seems like both sides are determined to milk it for every last ounce. Malignaggi can’t seem to stop talking about his brief time as McGregor’s sparring partner, whether it’s on social media or in multiple interviews. Team McGregor naturally has a conflicting account of the saga, which has served to keep this a top news story all week.
For promotional purposes, that’s all great news. After the press tour and the subsequent shock and awe that follows four days of loud, inane swearing, this fight needed a new kick to fuel headlines as Aug. 26 creeps closer. McGregor vs. Malignaggi provided that kick, and right on time, which ought to make us at least question what we’re seeing here.
Will it result in an actual fight? A lot will depend on how McGregor does against Floyd Mayweather. If he gets thoroughly schooled by Mayweather, I’m not sure how interested people would be in seeing him fight a lesser opponent for the sake of a grudge.
If McGregor hangs tough against Mayweather, but ultimately loses, that would still surprise enough people to generate some continued interest in him as a boxer. Of course, at some point the UFC is going to get less supportive of McGregor’s boxing career, but a contractual challenge to his right to box could potentially force an Ali Act showdown, which the UFC might rather avoid.
Then there’s the least likely scenario, which is a McGregor victory over Mayweather. If that happens, why fight a recently retired former champ like Malignaggi next? Why do anything except an immediate rematch, and for literally all the money that exists in the world?
First would be, don’t overdo it all at once. Remember the old Jon Jones, the one who wanted us to see him as a nice, polite choir boy even while he was partying his way through training camp? People didn’t buy it because it was so clearly an image he was trying to project rather than a life he was trying to actually lead. Eventually the dissonance between the two erupted in a way that was impossible to miss, which is bound to breed some skepticism going forward.
It’s not going to be as simple as fan giveaways or gracious interviews. That’s the stuff we can all see, and we know that he knows it. His problem in the past has been the stuff he says and does when he thinks we can’t see.
If Jones wants to change his image, he’ll have to do it over a longer timeline. It won’t just be what he does, but what he doesn’t do. Because, yeah, we see you being nice to fans and enemies alike. We’re also wondering if there’s not more police bodycam footage in your future. You’re going to have to convince us the same way you convince your insurance company: slowly, over time, and with the absence of notable events.
Any sport where people are hitting each other in the head repeatedly and on purpose is bound to be bad for the brain. Helmets won’t save you, as NFL players have discovered. And while more rest and greater training precautions could probably help fighters, you’re never going to completely remove the risk of brain trauma from combat sports like MMA and boxing.
MMA and its fans will have to find one way or another to make their peace with that, just like with the NFL. One thing that makes it tougher in our sport is that fighters will likely face many of the same health challenges as they age, but without all the money and ongoing care that comes largely as a result of the NFL Players Association.
If you think it can’t get worse than former sports heroes freezing in their cars because they can’t remember to put a coat on, just imagine them doing that with less money and fewer resources to help them when they need it. My guess is MMA has a lot of depressing GoFundMe campaigns in our future.
I’m worried about Johny Hendricks. It was a little over a month ago that he came in heavy at middleweight, then got knocked out by Tim Boetsch. He didn’t look good at any point in that outing, whether before or during or immediately after. Frankly, he looked like a guy who might need to take some time and get his act together before he thinks about fighting again.
So what’s he do? He turns right around and signs to fight Paulo Borrachinho at UFC 217 in November. If Borrachinho’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the guy who knocked out Oluwale Bomgbose at UFC 212. He’s undefeated powerhouse of a middleweight, and he’s a scary dude to face if you’re not completely focused and prepared.
Just as concerning is what this booking says about how the UFC views Hendricks right now. He’s 2-5 since winning the vacant UFC welterweight title, and he hasn’t looked like he really wants to be there in a very long time.
I don’t get the sense that the UFC is throwing him in against Borrachinho because it wants to halt the young Brazilian’s momentum. Seems more likely that the goal here is to give the unbeaten prospect a win over a former champ, making Hendricks the wet rag that the UFC is intent on squeezing every last drop of value from before it tosses him aside. That ought to worry him. The possibility that it’s still not motivating enough for him at this point is what worries me.
First, take a day off and try not to think about what size gloves McGregor and Mayweather will wear, or whether the two megalomaniacs threatening each other with nuclear fire will actually pull the trigger and doom us all. Just mental health-wise, you need a break.
But if it’s going to be a true break, you need to get away from anything that might alert you to what’s happening on the internet/world. For this, I suggest a book, like maybe this one, in which Elmore Leonard spins a fictional yarn about a U.S. Marshall and a bunch of captured Nazi soldiers. Or how about this one, a nonfiction tale about the sinking of the Lusitania, which may or may not have been part of a conspiracy to pull the U.S. into World War I.
What’s that you say? You can’t actually read? In that case, watch a movie or something. Have you seen the documentary “Tickled”? Because that is straight-up bananas. And if you don’t like movies, I don’t know, go see a play or something, you weirdo.
The good news for New York fight fans concerned about a fighter-led boycott is that most fighters don’t have the pull that Jones does, and therefore can’t avoid the Empire State so easily. Also, plenty of them are still starstruck enough by the idea of fighting in Madison Square Garden that they’ll overlook the tax burden that comes with it.
But honestly, I’m weirdly glad to see some fighters getting a little smarter about their tax situation. Pro athletes who work as independent contractors in several different states over the course of any given year face a tricky deal come tax time. If this is how we end up with Jones defending his title exclusively on floating barges in international waters, so be it.
UFC 215 might be a good barometer of the general MMA pay-per-view market in the year 2017. As we saw in Anaheim last month, the UFC can still do big numbers on pay-per-view without McGregor or Ronda Rousey. It just has to offer something special, like a much-hyped rematch between two of the best in the world, plus two extra title fights in support, in order to make up for the loss of the two most famous fighters on the roster.
But UFC 215 is a bit of a throwback. It’s got two title fights featuring zero famous people. The two champions – Demetrious Johnson and Amanda Nunes – aren’t exactly beloved even inside the MMA bubble right now. History tells us that sales should be dismal.
But wait, the undercard for this one is actually really compelling. Francis Ngannou vs. Junior Dos Santos? Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez? Rafael dos Anjos vs. Neil Magny? When you lump them all together, you get a pretty good value for your money.
The question is whether fans will care. The surest path to breaking through on pay-per-view is with a name-brand star. But those are tough to come by, and the problem for the UFC has been that such stars quickly look to leverage their drawing power in some other field, like boxing or movies, because even big paydays for MMA are relatively small paydays for those other endeavors.
That’s something the UFC will have to figure out if it wants to continue basing so much of its business on pay-per-view in a changing media landscape.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.
Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie