International fight week is typically a time when the UFC puts all their promotional efforts into giving the fans a stacked pay-per-view card and maybe another decent event or two leading up to it. Right in the middle of summer. The NBA, NFL, and NHL are in the off-season. Baseball is nearing the all-star break. Its a slow time in the sports calendar so they can shine a little more light on themselves. Unfortunately for three years running now the company’s best laid plans have been disrupted by forces outside of their control. In 2015 UFC 189 was supposed to be the culmination of Conor McGregor’s first world tour ending with a title shot against all-time great Jose Aldo but Aldo pulled out with a foot injury. Chad Mendes stepped up in his place, Conor survived the early wrestling before TKO’ing him and the rest was history as he would later go on to knock out Aldo in 13 seconds. Last summer UFC 200 had whirlwind of changes all the way up to the event. Originally slated to be headlined by Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2 then changed to Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier 2 after negotiation issues. Following the positive PED test by Jones the day before the weigh-in Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt was briefly the main event before they settled on Amanda Nunes vs. Miesha Tate.
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This year we were rumored to get the return of Georges St. Pierre against middleweight champion Michael Bisping but that never came to fruition. Instead it was announced that TUF 25 coaches and bitter rivals Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw would settle their grievances for the bantamweight title in the main event. After Garbrandt gave the fans ‘No Love’ and pulled out with a back injury it fell on Nunes again with her rematch against Valentina Shevchenko. Luckily the rest of the main card was filled with good fights. But then Donald Cerrone vs. Robbie Lawler was pushed back to UFC 214 and on the day of the event Nunes pulled out with chronic sinusitis. Much was made of the last minute withdraw especially from UFC president Dana White who told anyone that would listen that she was medically cleared and her pulling out was 90% mental. There wasn’t exactly much love lost between the women’s bantamweight champion and White already after she demolished company favorite Ronda Rousey last December and this certainly won’t help matters. White vowed that she would never headline another pay-per-view again which of course we should interpret to add “unless its convenient”. Its unfortunate that this happened but I’m not sure anyone can really be to blame. I doubt Nunes was scared to fight and wanted to not get paid after training for weeks to defend her belt. But at the same time if she has a sinus infection bad enough to heavily handicap her in a fight why would she put the money that comes with having that belt on the line. The UFC wouldn’t pat her on the back for going through with it and tell her they owe her one. Looks like the fight is being re-booked for UFC 215 in September. It would be hilarious if it was the main event.
With Nunes/Shevchenko off the interim middleweight championship became the new main event. Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero came into their clash a combined 15-0 in the UFC at middleweight. There is no doubt they both deserved a shot at Michael Bisping but because of his inactivity due to first waiting for GSP to be ready to fight and then an injury, they had to fight each other. Fans weren’t complaining especially after the fact. It was a great fight that saw both combatants have moments of success. But the real story was how Whittaker was able to overcome an early knee injury and survive long enough for Romero to gas out. After that happened he was able to use his great takedown defense and crisp boxing to win the last three rounds. Its been a great run for ‘Bobby Knuckles’ having taken out Romero, Jacare Souza, and Derek Brunson in his last three fights. Its an eight fight win streak overall that leads to his next bout with Bisping, who has to be a little disappointed to not be fight Romero next. They had built up a nice little rivalry with Bisping even ripping up a printed out Cuban flag behind Romero between rounds. I could see ‘The Count’ finding a way to beat Yoel, kind of like Whittaker did, but ‘The Reaper’ is going to be much tougher test. The young New Zealander is seemingly better than him in every area. But thats why they go through with the fights, crazy stuff happens all the time.
Like the night before at The Ultimate Fighter 25 finale. Michael Johnson was welcoming freshly signed Justin Gaethje to the UFC in the main event. Gaethje was 17-0 coming into the bout but in the World Series of Fighting the question was what did that really mean? The level of competition is just not the same in smaller organizations like that and his no defense, all offense style led a lot of people, myself included, to wonder how he would hold up against the killers in the deepest division in combat sports. He certainly got put to the test in his debut fight and passed with flying colors. In what is certainly the front runner for fight of the year Gaethje and Johnson immediately met each other in the middle of the octagon and played rock ‘em sock ‘em robots for a little less than two rounds. ‘The Menace’ rocked Gaethje late in round one and looked like he might finish him but the WSOF import was able to survive and completed the comeback in round two, overwhelming him with volume to get the TKO win. Its a break out performance in a debut like few other. The guy could headline against a crash test dummy and make it entertaining. It was announced this week that his next fight will be against Eddie Alvarez after they coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter in the fall. Sounds like a great idea its just a shame that we have to wait so long to get it. At least Gaethje’s brain will get some extra time to heal following that war.
Speaking of this past week I’d be remiss not to mention the whirlwind world tour that took place for the Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather boxing match coming up on August 26th. Four cities across three countries, they dominated the headlines all week with this circus act. It had its fair share of controversies but overall was extremely effective in increasing the interest in the fight despite interest already being huge. Each stop had its high and low points but it was mostly entertaining in a WWE way with trash talk, jokes, and obviously pre-written bits. Toronto in particular was a spectacle. I would be surprised if the event didn’t break the PPV record set by Mayweather/Pacquiao a little over two years ago. If they would’ve adapted the UFC’s way of handling press conferences instead of using the stale boxing model they would be even better off but something tells me they’ll survive. As for the fight itself I still think its going to be a one sided affair in Mayweather’s favor. Either a dominant decision or late round TKO after McGregor exhausts himself. But we’ve doubted ‘The Notorious’ before in these types of situations (well, not exactly this type) and his almost supernatural sense of self belief has propelled him to previously unfathomable heights. Maybe he can take his latest trick to the biggest stage of all.