The upset losses of Conor McGregor and Holly Holm at UFC 196, particularly the former, shook up several different UFC divisions in one crazy hour.
McGregor was making noises about being a three-division champion, but after being submitted by Nate Diaz, a lightweight — even though the fight was at welterweight — it was a major reality check regarding the limitations of size.
McGregor is simply too small for welterweight. To get to that size, he would have to carry weight, even if it’s muscle, that slightly slows him down. More gets him tired faster. McGregor had never shown an inkling of a conditioning problem at featherweight. He had gotten bigger and the weight cut had seemed more and more difficult. But it wasn’t an issue facing Chad Mendes, who he had a major reach edge on, and the Jose Aldo fight was over in 13 seconds. It wasn’t necessarily going to be a factor.
With Diaz, he no longer had the reach edge, and got tired.
Had McGregor won, a fight with Georges St-Pierre would have broken all company records, particularly in a UFC 200 setting. St-Pierre was even at ringside for Saturday’s fight, although was noncommittal as to why, and remained coy if he’s even interested in fighting again. Rumors were swirling, although Dana White claimed St-Pierre vs. McGregor was not something being discussed. He also said he didn’t know if St-Pierre would fight again.
But McGregor vs. welterweight champion Robbie Lawler was discussed beforehand. The idea was intriguing, although the reality was that Lawler was a bad opponent for McGregor. McGregor’s style of having no fear of taking punches had worked against featherweights, but the difference in power against one of the sport’s hardest hitting welterweights would make that style far too dangerous.
There is still question regarding what would have happened had Rafael dos Anjos not pulled out. An in-shape Diaz was a tough opponent stylistically for McGregor. But Diaz went in as a heavy underdog with the feeling he was taking the fight on short notice and giving up the conditioning edge. As it turned out, it was the conditioning that made the difference. Diaz, aware of his limitations, started slow, absorbing the early onslaught and then took over in round two.
Even though dos Anjos beat Diaz in a one-sided fight, McGregor would have had the reach edge and height over dos Anjos. Whether he could stop dos Anjos takedowns , survive his ground game, stand up to dos Anjos’ punches and now the conditioning question are still the unproven factors if such a fight was to happen. Either way, it wasn’t a fight McGregor was talking about after the loss.
McGregor is and still will be a star maker in UFC. Diaz, who was always popular, is now a superstar who can headline the biggest shows. If McGregor fought at lightweight, everyone he faced, whether it would have been dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone, Tony Ferguson, Edson Barboza, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Anthony Pettis or Eddie Alvarez, would have benefited greatly. With his talking ability combined with the depth of legitimate talent, lightweight would have likely become the company’s marquee weight class.
But that may not be in the cards any longer. And even if it is, it will have to wait.
The biggest beneficiary of the Diaz win, besides Nate Diaz himself, is the featherweight division. Instead of being placed on hold while McGregor chased new belts, McGregor indicated he’s coming back. Exactly how the loss will affect his drawing power is unknown. There are no featherweight fights that would have done the business of McGregor vs. St-Pierre, but McGregor is going to draw strong numbers as long as he doesn’t go on a losing streak and keeps talking.
Whether that means 1 million buy pay-per-view shows and $8 million live gates, that’s to be determined. The rule of thumb is that one loss doesn’t kill a real marquee player’s drawing power, but falling out of the title picture does. UFC has never had anyone at McGregor’s drawing power level. The closest comparison is Ronda Rousey, who is likely to draw bigger when she fights next because of the prospective opponents, but that’s an untested theory at this point.
Chuck Liddell drew until he retired, but not at the level he drew as champion with the belt. Brock Lesnar’s numbers fell significantly for his fight with Alistair Overeem after his loss to Cain Velasquez, but that also wasn’t a championship fight. Chael Sonnen, the closest thing to McGregor as a talker, drew well with Jon Jones even after two losses to Anderson Silva, and was a strong television ratings draw even after that. Sonnen’s drawing power actually increased with his first loss to Anderson Silva due the fact he was winning the fight until the latter stages, but there was a difference after the second Silva fight.
The women’s bantamweight division direction also underwent an overhaul.
The idea going in was Miesha Tate was someone Holly Holm was facing enroute to Rousey, and another of the biggest fights in UFC history. Now, everything is up in the air.
In a perfect world, Rousey would return and face Tate, someone she’s beaten handily twice, win the title and then face Holm. Those would be two monster fights from a business standpoint. But it’s not a perfect world.
Rousey has movie commitments for much of 2016. While the talk in UFC is that she’ll return in November, there are plenty of questions about even that time frame. If Rousey failed to win the title from Tate, a lot depends on how the right goes and if Rousey was willing to continue. Rousey vs. Holm would still be a big fight, but it’s unknown if it would happen.
Tate wasn’t the level of athlete that Holm was. It was clear throughout the fight. But she couldn’t be mentally broken, and was clearly superior on the ground, and that spelled the difference. Holm very well could win a rematch.
With Rousey on the sidelines, that could happen. Putting Tate against anyone other than Holm before Rousey comes back risks the current dynamic. Based on comments Dana White made the week of the fight, the company probably wasn’t thrilled the guaranteed Holm vs. Rousey 2 fight was jeopardized by Holm being so adamant about fighting now. They would likely be less willing to risk an even bigger hit should Tate lose to anyone other than Holm next.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed on what will likely be remembered as one of the more historic nights in company history. Click the link for the full article on www.mmafighting.com