When Conor McGregor talks — or tweets — everyone in the MMA world is sure to take notice. That’s a pretty strong reaction for a guy who has had one cage fight in two years.
But for McGregor, that’s where the problem lies. As he geared up for his January Octagon return versus Donald Cerrone, McGregor stated that he wanted three fights in 2020. He hasn’t had one since he beat Cerrone, and it seems that McGregor wants action — now.
McGregor tweeted just over a week ago that he is “boxing Manny Pacquiao next in the Middle East.” Then days later, McGregor hit Twitter again to propose a charity MMA fight with star UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier. That perhaps forced the hand of UFC president Dana White, who has formally offered McGregor a fight with Poirier in the Octagon.
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event features two top bantamweight contenders, with Marlon Moraes facing Cory Sandhagen. Moraes, who is No. 2 in ESPN’s bantamweight rankings, has won five of his past six fights. Sandhagen, ranked sixth, had won seven straight before falling to Aljamain Sterling in June.
UFC Fight Night: Moraes vs. Sandhagen
• Saturday, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
• Main card: ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
• Prelims: ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
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No doubt, that fight would be huge. So, too, would be a battle between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and former light heavyweight king Jon Jones.
Those two don’t like each other, and take a look at their social media accounts for any evidence you might need. But would they ever meet in a UFC fight at light heavyweight? That would be difficult with Adesanya having to move up to 205 pounds and Jones having left the division to fight at heavyweight.
As far as fights that are scheduled to happen, bantamweight contenders Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen are set to meet in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event. While Sandhagen is looking to rebound off a loss, Moraes is aiming to put himself at the front of the line for a title shot. Would an impressive win jump him ahead of Aljamain Sterling, the UFC’s No. 1 contender?
ESPN’s MMA experts — Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim — break down what’s real and what’s not.
Real or not: Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will have an exhibition sparring session
Ariel Helwani examines Conor McGregor’s latest tweet, in which McGregor claims he’s fighting Manny Pacquiao as his next opponent in the boxing ring.
Helwani: I think there is a much better chance the McGregor vs. Manny Pacquiao fight happens than this fight. I just have a hard time believing the UFC would allow two fighters who are under contract with the promotion to fight outside the organization. There’s just no way. Not these fighters.
This is a big-time fight. Why would they allow it, even if it’s an exhibition for charity? And that’s precisely why the UFC’s response to this idea was to offer the real fight to McGregor in the Octagon. We all know this fight wasn’t in their immediate plans, but the best way to squash the exhibition talk is just to offer it for real. However, I’m told McGregor is more interested in the Pacquiao fight and the UFC isn’t against that one either, essentially because both sides will stand to make a ton of money off it.
Is it the fight we want to see next for McGregor? No. But it makes dollars and sense for both sides, so that makes it a real possibility. The McGregor-Poirier sparring match in a Dublin gym doesn’t.
Real or not: Daniel Cormier is right — Israel Adesanya is the best 205-pounder in the UFC right now
Raimondi: I’m not quite buying what Cormier is selling here. Adesanya is not the best 205-pound fighter in the world; Jon Jones is. There’s no argument there. If you want to say Jones has left the light heavyweight division, what are we even talking about then? Adesanya has never even fought at light heavyweight in the UFC.
Daniel Cormier believes @stylebender could be “the best light heavyweight in the world right now” and “it might be time already” for Adesanya vs. Jon Jones ?
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 28, 2020
Now, if Adesanya moved up right now and fought for the title, he might be favored to beat new champion Jan Blachowicz. But until there is hard evidence supporting that Adesanya is better than Jones — or even Blachowicz, for that matter — I can’t co-sign Cormier’s point.
Adesanya is great. He’s the best middleweight in the world — and maybe the best since Anderson Silva. The gap between Adesanya and the rest of the division seems to be widening. If you look at the UFC’s official rankings, Adesanya has beaten seven men in the top 15 already and he has only two title defenses. We can acknowledge Adesanya’s excellence at 185 pounds without saying he’s better than all the guys who have been grinding at light heavyweight for years.
To me, there’s only one way Adesanya can prove he’s the best light heavyweight in the world: Go fight Jones at 205. If he were to somehow win that fight and end Jones’ historic unbeaten streak, Adesanya would go down in history. Then we could start talking about where he ranks among the best fighters of all time, not just at light heavyweight.
Real or not: Jon Jones and Israel Adesanya will fight in 2021
Paulo Costa catches Israel Adesanya with a kick early, but it’s all Adesanya for the rest of their bout at UFC 253.
Wagenheim: Fans love a good old-fashioned grudge match, and both fighters do seem to crave the opportunity to punch the other in the face, all of which has Dana White salivating. But I just don’t think we’re going to see this matchup, at least not next year. I know the UFC doesn’t always consider the long game in its matchmaking, but what future would this fight lead us to?
Would Adesanya remain at light heavyweight after a Jones fight, and if not, would it be worth his while for the middleweight champion to bulk up for a tussle with not just any 205-pounder, but a big 205-pounder, just to then go back on a diet afterward? For Jones, while taking out one of the sport’s shiniest stars would add to his massive list of accomplishments, he would be doing it against a 185-pounder, which isn’t exactly picking on someone his own size. Couldn’t “Bones” make an even bigger splash for his legacy by moving up to heavyweight and conquering the division’s scariest man, Francis Ngannou, or its greatest champion ever, Stipe Miocic?
If Jones hadn’t vacated his title at light heavy, maybe there’d be a path forward beyond this fight, since the chance at a second belt would be a long-lasting incentive for Adesanya. But as it stands, this one seems more EA Sports than real sports, a fantasy one-off just to see who’s best at puffing out his chest. Is that what we want from the sport? Sometimes it’s OK for fighters to just chirp at each other — without having to back up their mean words.
Real or not: If Marlon Moraes is dominant in beating Cory Sandhagen, he will get the bantamweight title shot against Petr Yan
Okamoto: Yeah, I’m buying this one. And for the record, I was asked to give one bold prediction for the second half of 2020 in a program earlier this year, and my answer was that Aljamain Sterling would be the UFC bantamweight champion by the start of 2021. I’m very high on Sterling. I think he’s put it all together and he’s a tough matchup for anyone. But the UFC has dragged its feet in declaring Sterling the No. 1 contender. It doesn’t seem the company is all that enthusiastic about it.
If Moraes gets a knockout this weekend, he will have won six of his past seven. Plus, he’s a former WSOF champ, and he holds a knockout over Sterling from 2017. He was also supposed to headline an event against Yan earlier this year, before COVID-19 canceled the fight. Personally, I’m a Sterling believer. I’m predicting he will hold the belt at one point or another, but yes, I do think Moraes will get the title shot ahead of Sterling if he is dominant on Saturday.
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