Sunday 25 March 2018

'UFC 197 set to dwarf eagerly-anticipated UFC 200'

Conor McGregor, left, and Helly Holm
Conor McGregor, left, and Helly Holm
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

As 2015 drew to a close there was a great deal of speculation about the UFC 200 events in Las Vegas in July.

All the big fights were being linked to that date – the Holly Holm v Ronda Rousey rematch, Conor McGregor rematching Aldo or even Conor fighting Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight title.

This all seemed to fit. UFC 100 was the biggest event the UFC has held to date and still holds the Pay Per View record of 1.6m buys and featured two title fights - Brock Lesnar retained his heavyweight belt beating Frank Mir via TKO and welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre defeated Thiago Alves.

UFC 200 is another nice round number to associate with the new $375m arena being built in ‘The Fight Capital of the World’, which the UFC are likely to buy the naming rights of.

If you add a Fan Expo, International Fight week, maybe throw in a Fight Night event, maybe an InvictaFC show like last year, the third IMMAF amateur world championships and a stacked UFC 200 card, you’ve now got a potential record breaker.

But as Woody Allen said, "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". The MMA gods work in mysterious ways but at least the UFC are starting to recognise that.

With Rousey seemingly out indefinitely due to a combination of rehabbing injuries and movie/TV duties, Holly Holm wasn’t prepared to wait. She hit the TV circuit hard after separating Rousey from her senses and her belt last November and has grown her fan-base, media followers and name value by a multiple.

Also at 34, time is against her if she wants to build a legacy and bank balance. Holm was underwhelming in her three previous UFC outings and would not have had much leverage in a contract negotiation. Now she has reached to top of the mountain; it’s time to get paid.

Likewise, we know McGregor wants to fight. In fact, the biggest difference between ‘The Notorious’ and most other MMA ‘celebrities’ is all he wants to do is fight.

The only time the Dubliner comes out in public is when he is promoting a fight or a deal he’s made. We never see him hanging in the clubs or partying with A-listers. Sure he’s been linked with a few movies, but he has never spoken of doing anything else other than work inside of the Octagon.

UFC 197

Originally slated for Rio de Janeiro, Anderson Silva claimed the UFC cancelled the event due to the economic downturn in Brazil. The UFC denied this but suspicions remained.

It was announced last night that McGregor will indeed move up to lightweight and immediately challenge champion Rafael Dos Anjos for his title.

Conor has narrated his own career to perfection so far. He says it and it has happened, so far. You’ll see in the video highlights of the ‘Go Big’ press conference last September, even before he fought Jose Aldo, he was talking about what he saw in the lightweight division and how he would become a dual weight champion.

Instead of having to wait till July for the bumper event, we’ll get it in March. It makes perfect sense. Why ask fans and fighters alike to spend half a year sitting around waiting for the fights they really want.

The only way UFC 200 could now top UFC 197 would be if McGregor and Holm take no damage en route to victories in March and can roll into another fight camp in time for July.

Add in some other marquee names and maybe even another title fight and now UFC 200 is back on the potential record breakers list. Not beyond the bounds of reason, but maybe too good to be true.

History in the making

Though it's still early days, the announcement that McGregor will move up has been greeted positively by the MMA media.

Even to have a fighter who could potentially become a dual weight champion is historic. It has never happened or been realistically considered before mainly because there was no fighter that would have been a legitimate challenge at two weights.

There was talk of Georges St.-Pierre fighting Anderson Silva at one point. Silva was at the height of his powers and for whatever reason it never happened. As good as GSP was, Silva may have been a step too far.

Anderson Silva fought a number of times at light-heavyweight while holding the middleweight championship belt. They made Silva look good at the higher weight but were all against mid-tier fighters. He was never mentioned as a threat to then champ Jon Jones.

BJ Penn won the UFC welterweight title beating the seemingly unbeatable Matt Hughes. He subsequently left the promotion and returned to capture the lightweight title. He moved back up to welterweight to challenge GSP for his title and was soundly beaten.

Former light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones has talked for a number years about eventually moving up to heavyweight but never talked about continuing as a light-heavyweight at the same time. Though he has since been stripped of his light-heavyweight title he’s expected to recapture gold when he rematches Daniel Cormier.

Flip-flopping between light-heavyweight and heavyweight would be a huge ask.

A competitive heavyweight generally tips the scales around 240-250lbs/109-113kgs. To bulk up to this weight and then drop back down to the light-heavyweight limit of 205lbs/93kgs would take a lot longer to manage.

All the above mentioned fighters have been considered at one time in their careers to be The GOAT – Greatest Of All Time – in MMA. Yet none of them were ever considered for the opportunity that has been presented to Conor McGregor.

For the UFC to give Conor this opportunity speaks volumes about his standing with the company as a fighter and as a marketer.

He has transcended the role of employee a long time ago. He is somewhere between a company asset and an executive partner.

UFC 197 has become the must see event of the 2016 calendar overnight.

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