Will Conor McGregor and Jon Jones fight in the UFC again this year and other key questions

Alex Rea 14/08/2017
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The UFC collectively holds its breath as the current of attention flows from the Octagon to the boxing ring for a blockbuster bout between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather on August 26.

September will see the promotional machine kick back into gear as they accelerate into the last quarter of the year.

Five pay-per-view cards are scheduled with smaller events in between, but there is a sense the UFC has finally gathered some momentum after a sluggish start to 2017.

With that in mind, we take a look at the four key questions facing the promotion ahead of a crucial period.

WILL JONES AND MCGREGOR FIGHT IN THE OCTAGON THIS YEAR?

Jon Jones and Conor McGregor are the two biggest cash cows in the UFC’s stable of stars but whether or not they have the opportunity to milk their promotional pull again this year remains to be seen.

UFC president Dana White has insisted the 155lbs champion will transition back into MMA after completing his experiment in the sweet science but doubts remain over when, if ever, that will be.

Of course, much will depend on the outcome of his August 26 clash with Mayweather with White clinging onto the hope he returns to the Octagon for UFC 219 on December 30.

The probability of Jones making the cage walk again in 2017, however, is much greater.

While the 205lbs champ has talked up a superfight with Brock Lesnar, the WWE phenom has numerous obstacles blocking his path back to the UFC – including the small matter of a USADA anti-doping ban which is yet to expire.

A rematch with Alexander Gustafsson appears the most likely first defence of his second rein as light-heavyweight king but having ruled out UFC 217 in New York it leaves only 218 and 219 as the viable options.

Jon Jones, Dana White and Conor McGregor

Jon Jones, Dana White and Conor McGregor

IS ROUSEY GOING TO OFFICIALLY RETIRE?

Amanda Nunes fights for the first time since she decimated Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 to close out 2016 with a defence of her bantamweight crown coming against Valentina Schevchenko at UFC 215.

Ever since that brutal beating, many had anticipated the official retirement of Rousey and yet no word has been uttered from her camp, only chatter she is preparing for a run in the WWE.

Depending on the interpretation, the launch of her new website earlier this month teased a potential conclusion to her MMA career but the clip didn’t exactly rule out an Octagon return either.

Regardless, it’s likely 2017 will see the journey end for Rousey the mixed martial artist as new avenues open up.

Ronda Rousey after defeat to Amanda Nunes

Ronda Rousey after defeat to Amanda Nunes

HOW WILL THE MIDDLEWEIGHT DIVISION LOOK AT THE END OF THE YEAR?

Michael Bisping is the most wanted champion on the UFC’s roster.

The middleweight division is a murders row of talent with Robert Wittaker the interim champ, Luke Rockhold back to work in September after losing the belt to Bisping while Chris Weidman and Yoel Romero are also in the queue.

Indeed, they all want the opportunity to take on the perceived weakest UFC belt holder but all have been forced to their wait their turn with Georges St Pierre ending his four-year hiatus to face the Brit at UFC 217.

The complications from that bout range from GSP, regardless of the outcome, moving back down to the welterweight hotbed he made his name in, to Bisping calling time on his near two-decade career.

Add in Whittaker is out injured until early next year and the middleweight muddle becomes ever more tangled.

Bisping faces off with GSP

Bisping faces off with GSP

WILL UFC 217 BE THE BEST SELLING CARD OF THE YEAR?

News emerged this week that Jones’ rematch with Daniel Cormier, which headed up a loaded UFC 214 card, was trending at 860,000 PPV buys, stretching it well in front as the year’s best selling event.

But with the attraction of fighting at Madison Square Garden, all available top stars have signalled their desire to fight at UFC 217 with Bisping and GSP slated to main event.

Stephen Thompson is back from injury, Khabib Nurmagomedov has called for a No1 contender’s scrap with Tony Ferguson, bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt’s heated rivalry with T.J. Dillashaw could reach its climax in New York while the baddest woman on the planet Joanna Jedrzejczyk may defend her strawweight strap against Rose Namajunas.

If the UFC decides to load the deck the dividends could be enormous.

Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk

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Jon Jones is an otherworldly talent and a fight with Brock Lesnar is a complete mismatch

Alex Rea 30/07/2017
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As Jon Jones ground and pound Daniel Cormier into the core of the earth, the resulting tremors of his victory were felt around the globe.

Jones is back and everyone is talking about it.

The 30-year-old retained his light-heavyweight title and with it, a future as the UFC’s leading star.

In the absence of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, the UFC has been shorn of a legitimate pay-per-view draw. But with Dana White claiming UFC 214 is trending to hit one million buys, they have a worthy replacement in Jones.

The manner of his win in Anaheim was justification of that claim because ‘Bones’ is box office, the best in the world and the greatest this young sport has ever seen.

At the age of 30, his hit list of prominent victims reads: Bonnar, Bader, Shogun, Rampage, Machida, Evans, Belfort, Sonnen, Gustafsson, Teixeira, Saint-Preux and Cormier times two.

That record is absurd, he’s cleaned out the 205lbs division and the only element of interest resides in the land of the big men with Jones now targeting the biggest of them all.

“Brock Lesnar,” he said to a roar from the California crowd, “If you want to know what it feels like to get your ass kicked by someone who weighs 40lbs less than you, meet me in the Octagon.”

A USADA suspension which still has six months left to run means any hope of a 40-year-old Lesnar returning to take on Jones is, for now at least, a fantasy. But it didn’t stop the WWE superstar from fanning the flames.

“Be careful what you wish for, young man,” Lesnar told the Associated Press.

On the evidence of Saturday, a superfight between the two would be a complete mismatch because Jones possesses otherworldly talents and he used them to knock Cormier out of this one.

Granted, the first two sessions were competitive as the incumbent closed distance well and found some success with his dirty boxing in close, the highlight of which saw him knock Jones’ mouthguard out in the opening round with a string of uppercuts.

But on the perimeter Jones always looked deadly, his 12 inch reach advantage almost comical as he persistently kept Cormier at distance with his hands outstretched, akin to holding a child at bay with a hand on their forehead.  

‘DC’ found his rhythm in the second but in the third, a shuddering head kick changed the entire complexion as Jones’ shin connected flush on chin.

Cormier staggered back and Jones ruthless in finding the finish hunted him down, astutely tripped his wounded opponent before applying hellacious ground and pound strikes. 

“We knew he dips his head to the left and were waiting on him to instinctually dip that way,” Jones said. “We surprised him with one, and it did the job.”

Understandably, Cormier was emotional post-fight as he was left with the bitter taste of a second defeat to Jones who remains the only man to beat him in MMA.

“I don’t know, man,” Cormier said. “I thought the fight was going well. I don’t even know what happened. I got kicked in the head. Oh, man, I am so disappointed.”

Asked about the rivalry he simply said: “I don’t know. If you win both fights, there is no rivalry.”

It was a harsh assessment from Cormier because in another narrative he is the No1 fighter.

Jones, though, is simply unrivalled in this sport and after this victory, the whole world is in his hands. Ensuring it doesn’t slip from his grasp again will be his greatest challenge.

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Things learned from UFC 214, including why booing Tyron Woodley is at best harsh and at worst degrading

Alex Rea 30/07/2017
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UFC 214 provided the promotion a much needed shot in the arm after a lacklustre first half of the year.

Top to bottom the card delivered on its hype, topped out by a phenomenal performance by Jon Jones to regain the UFC light-heavyweight belt from Daniel Cormier.

Away from the main event, though, key narratives formed so here are four things learned from UFC 214.

Criticism of Tyron Woodley is harsh

It was foolish to have hoped UFC crowds had outgrown booing and jeering fighters but the moronic gesticulating returned in the co-main event of UFC 214.

Yes, Tyron Woodley’s win over Demian Maia was far from enthralling but booing any fighter who steps foot into the Octagon is infuriatingly obtuse.

The welterweight champ faced a challenger who has suffocated his last seven opponents, a BJJ specialist who will capitlise on any error.

Caution reigned supreme but at the highest level of competitive sport, and this is a sport despite the separating line from entertainment ever more blurring, finding a way to win supersedes the performance.

Punishing the champ, who is undefeated in his last six fights, by taking away a clash with Georges St-Pierre is ruthless and the ensuing criticism from fans and UFC president Dana White harsh at best and at worst degrading.

Tyron Woodley reacts to defeating Demian Maia

Cyborg is women’s MMA GOAT

A UFC belt wasn’t required for confirmation but by adding the featherweight strap to her collection, Cyborg cemented her spot as the greatest women’s MMA fighter ever.

The Brazilian, is virtually unbeatable and her dominance unquestionable. Victory is a matter of when, not if and against a tough as nails Tonya Evinger the ‘when’ was the third round.

Evinger recovered from a first-round knockdown to at least delay the inevitable before being crumpled by hard knees to the body in the third session.

Cyborg has long been anointed the best female MMA fighter on the planet and with UFC gold wrapped around her waist, she has the crown to legitimise that claim.

And for the first defence of her title, Cyborg targeted one of the best strikers in the game, Holly Holm – serve it up.

Robbie Lawler is the next in line

The fun is over, now it’s time to get back to business. Former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler stepped back into the Octagon for the first time since losing the belt to Tyron Woodley and he took a decision against Donald Cerrone.

From a rankings perspective the fight did nothing for Lawler but as a savage spectacle, watching these two high-output strikers go toe-to-toe was the brawl we all imagined it would be.

As Cerrone said after defeat “that was fun” but Lawler was typically stoic in victory as he put himself firmly back in the title picture.

The performance didn’t inspire too much confidence as he scraped the first and final round but welterweight isn’t exactly flooded with contenders right now and if Woodley has lost out on the GSP fight then Lawler could be next.

Volkan Oezdemir is king of the boop punch

It took Volkan Oezdemir 42 seconds to replace Jimi Manuwa as the man next in line for a potential 205lbs title shot.

The Swiss has taken out two light-heavyweight contenders in just 70 seconds as he followed up the 28 second stoppage of Misha Cirkunov with a dynamite finish of Manuwa.

And both have come from shots with virtually no leverage, just short and accurate strikes to the chin, a sneaky left-hook in the clinch taking the legs from Manuwa before he bounced his head off the canvas.

It marked his third straight win in the UFC and fifth overall capping a remarkable ascension in the last five months from complete unknown to top-five light-heavyweight and a contender for 2017’s breakout fighter.

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