Counterpunch: McGregor Deja Vu; 'Cigano' And The Heavyweights; Andy Wang For President?

By Jacob Debets Mar 15, 2019
We’re 11 weeks into 2019 and leading into the weekend I was feeling pleasantly surprised at how little bile I’d accumulated along the way. Jon Jones is back in the Octagon throwing leather and spinning s—t, and ostensibly keeping his self-destructive impulses in check outside of it. The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s transition to ESPN has been a refreshing and necessary change of scenery -- with one or two caveats -- and outside the Velasquez-Ngannou fight last month, the events have delivered. The UFC’s competitors -- Bellator MMA, Professional Fighters League, One Championship, etc. -- have been signing streaming deals and free agents, and the industry looks healthier than it has been since the Strikeforce days.

But then the afterglow of the Junior dos Santos-Derrick Lewis slugfest wore off, and Conor McGregor got arrested again. My bile came back, I dusted off the old op-ed-writing-quill, and here we are for another lighting round of spit-balling known as Counterpunch.

The McGregor Circus Continues

I’ll admit it: when I was scrolling through my twitter during my lunch break and I saw that the Conor McGregor had been arrested for “strong-arm robbery,” I immediately assumed the worst. I pictured McGregor and his “Irish Goon Squad.” I pictured police cars and innocent victims. I flashed back to OJ Simpson stealing sports memorabilia at gunpoint in Nevada and the lengthy prison stint that awaited “Juice.”

When I read on, and learned that “The Notorious” had merely (allegedly) smashed, then taken off with, a fans’ phone that had been used to take his picture, I was relieved. But only for a minute, until I realised that we’ve become so conditioned to McGregor’s inability to control himself that we almost give him a pass on some pretty problematic behaviour.

To be clear, I get that having iPhones shoved in your grill every five minutes would be maddening, and that members of the public can act extraordinarily entitled around the rich and famous. But in the week after McGregor completed his community service hours for smashing up that bus last April, and with a young child and partner back at home, one can’t help but question why he’s out at all hours on Miami beach -- and what Ahmed Abdirzak could possibly have done to warrant such an (allegedly) extreme reaction.

McGregor obviously has anger management issues which he has failed to address, and as much as he likes to talk on social media about 2019 being the year he reclaims UFC gold, it seems just as likely that he’ll spend it attending arraignments and paying through the nose for legal counsel.

Which is a shame, because for a decent portion of the non-MMA inclined public McGregor is their only reference point. Having a figurehead as erratic and narcissistic doesn’t do our sport any favours culturally, especially when his misgivings outside the cage prevent him from getting back inside it.

Do better, Mac.

A Heavyweight Holding Pattern

Junior dos Santos has challenged for the UFC heavyweight championship three times in the last eight years, lifting the title from Cain Velasquez in 2011 and then coming up short in his subsequent two attempts against Velasquez and Stipe Miocic. The fact he is in conversation for a fourth crack, off the back of a three fight winning streak with two TKOs, speaks just as much to JDS’ tenacity and resilience as it does the historical shallowness of the heavyweight division.

But should he get the next shot? There are a few variables we have to consider in approaching that question. The first is whether it’s fair to make Dos Santos -- and the rest of the heavyweights -- play second fiddle to Brock Lesnar, who will be nine years removed from his last official victory if and when he steps back into the cage. That’s been the holding pattern since July last year, when “DC” and the WWE stalwart exchanged words (and shoves) in the aftermath of UFC 226, ostensibly locking down a fight sometime early this year. Since then, Lesnar has retreated into radio silence as he attends to his professional wrestling obligations, but whenever UFC president Dana White is asked about the division the former champion is held out as the next contender.

The answer as to whether this is a justifiable state of affairs is an obvious and resounding “no,” but in the WME era that is going to have as much impact on the UFC’s decision making as a domestic violence charge (i.e. none). The organization knows that a Lesnar pay-per-view will outdraw “JDS”-Daniel Cormier by a factor of at least three-to-one, ultimately putting the ball in Brock’s court as to whether he wants to catch a whooping from Cormier.

So let’s assume that Lesnar does the smart thing and leaves the professional fighting to professional fighters; does beating beating Blagoy Ivanov, Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis make dos Santos the clear No.1 contender at heavyweight?

In my view, yes -- especially given Lewis was the last man to challenge for the heavyweight strap. Francis Ngannou has a decent claim too, having wiped out former champion Cain Velasquez in February and Curtis Blaydes a few months before that in Bejing. But with youth on his side, and the traumatic 25-minute shellacking he took at the hands of Stipe Miocic barely a year old, “The Predator” should probably get a few more rounds (or minutes) before he makes his sophomore appearance in a title fight.

Andrew Yang for President

OK, not Andy Wang. One of the most surprising things I came across on my newsfeed earlier this week was prospective presidential candidate Andrew Yang using his platform to blast the UFC’s labor practices -- and question whether ESPN reporter Ariel Helwani is restricted from giving the issue proper coverage.

Yang, who is seeking the Democratic nomination and has made a Universal Basic Income the centerpiece of his campaign, has been outspoken on the subject of fighter pay and conditions since at least last year. In an interview with in 2018, he claimed to have been a diehard fan for more than a decade, and given how insignificant that issue is to the lives of 325 million Americans, you can probably bank on that being true. Yang recently tweeted he would gladly sign the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act into law if elected, and has also expressed sympathy for a fighter’s union.

I don’t have much to say on Yang, except that’s it’s refreshing to hear a candidate voice support for reforms that would swing the pendulum in favour of fighters. This is in stark contrast to last year’s presidential contenders: Donald Trump, who was recently spotted in a vainglorious UFC documentary, and Hillary Clinton, who was presumed to look unfavourably upon the Ali Act based on her connection with Ari Immanuel.

Watch this space -- the plight of guys like this might be getting a lot more air time soon.


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