5 Rounds on injuries changing December cards, NAC action, Conor McGregor’s ACL, Jon Jones’ return and a new UFC Arena

Updated: October 30, 2015
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Round 1
Injuries open the door for Barboza, Namajunas in December

A highly intriguing main event for Dec. 10’s UFC Fight Night got even better this week when a knee injury forced co-headliner Joanne Calderwood out of her schedule fight with young rising star Paige VanZant — in what could have been labeled a title eliminator bout in the women’s straw weight division. Instead, the UFC will do something that I didn’t think they had the guts to do and will match up their two biggest faces of the future in the division, when VanZant faces Rose Namajunas.

Namajunas was the runner-up on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, putting her one win from being the champion of the division. The UFC seemed primed to make her the next young women’s star to push. Then along came VanZant, who fans immediately rallied behind and swooned over. Unfortunately for the pair, current champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk seemingly came out of nowhere to leapfrog them as the top young female inside the cage. But the movie-star good looks of the young Namajunas/VanZant pair have kept them high on the UFC’s marketability list. Putting them in the cage together at this juncture guarantees that one of them will be forced to take a step back now, instead of the UFC running their careers at a parallel rate for an eventual showdown. I love the matchup; it will get me to watch the card on Dec. 10, but is it the right business move for the UFC in 2015?

Another Dec. contest lost is the planned Khabib Nurmagomedov/Tony Ferguson fight for the Dec. 11 event, the finale of this season’s Ultimate Fighter. This fight had all of the makings of an epic clash of styles that would either elevate Ferguson to a top contender or lock Nurmagomedov into the top contender spot that the UFC badly wants him in. Instead, yet another training injury has forced Nurmagomedov out of the fight. He has not fought since April 2014 when he beat current lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Ferguson will now fight Edson Barboza in a battle that could earn the winner a top-five fight next. It is a huge door open for them both as Barboza could jump up the rankings quicker now and Ferguson has, what many feel, an easier fight to win.

Round 2
NAC back in action with Palhares, Diaz and Silva

After several weeks out of the news after the Nick Diaz debacle, the Nevada State Athletic Commission was back at it this week, handing out penalties, trying to make amends and delaying the always delayed.

They slapped Caio Magalhaes on the wrist, suspending the fighter a mere six months for spitting blood at opponent Josh Samman after Samman defeated him in July. But their big fish to fry this week was former World Series of Fighting champion Rousimar Palhares, who was suspended for two years and fined $40,000 for holding a submission on Jake Shields for too long at WSOF 22 in Aug. Palhares has long had a reputation as a dirty fighter, often injuring opponents by keeping submission holds on too long, but he went over the top with his submission against Shields and the NAC came down hard after, rightfully so, after the WSOF stripped him of his title and suspended him themselves.

News also came out this week that lawyers for Diaz are in talks with the NAC about a settlement. After the uprising following Diaz’ five-year suspension ultimately manifested in an official White House petition that garnered just under 115,000 of the needed 100,000 signatures, it’s not shocking to see the NAC scramble. What this ultimately leads to, only time will tell. But the group may have realized that they overstepped their bounds with Diaz and are being forced to play a nicer hand before lawsuits are brought against them.

The NAC’s newest hearing with still-suspended Wanderlei Silva was postponed again due to a clerical error. The NAC initially handed down a lifetime ban to Silva for skipping town when a random drug test was about to happen. A court struck down that ruling and the NAC is supposed to meet again to hand out a new punishment. That could happen as soon as November.

Round 3
Conor McGregor tore his ACL prior to interim title win?

Conor McGregor garnered more looks of confusion and maybe amazement this week when he announced that he fought Chad Mendes at UFC 189 with a mostly torn ACL. It was known going into the fight that McGregor had some injuries from camp before his planned fight with Jose Also, but a torn ACL was news to pretty much everyone.

“Fourteen weeks before the fight I tore 80 percent of my ACL. I could barely walk, I could barely kick. I had a lot of experience coming back from that injury. I was aware of my body, I was aware of my balance. I had a good team around me. I trusted everyone that was there. That’s how I perform. So, once again, I had a lot of adversity to overcome. But honestly, I went into that fight and I beat Chad on one leg. After going through that adversity I feel like I have gained three new legs,” McGregor said during a fan Q&A in Dublin.

Questions remain around the injury, including why he still fought at UFC 189 when his original opponent Aldo pulled out of the fight. To this point, nobody is really questioning the authenticity of the claim, but McGregor fighting (and winning) in an interim title bout essentially on one leg, as he suggests, means he is either the toughest, craziest or dumbest fighter in UFC history.

Round 4
Next steps with Jon Jones back

With former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones‘ reinstatement to the UFC, it seems like a no brainier to most people what’s next: a rematch with current champion Daniel Cormier for the title that ‘Bones’ never lost. But not so fast.

Why? Why does he get an immediate rematch after being suspended from the UFC for such significant bad behavior? Jones’ downward spiral was years in the making and what message does it really send to just give him a title match immediately? Doesn’t that disrespect the point of stripping him of the title in the first place? Bellator MMA recently did the same with former middleweight champion Brandon Halsey. Halsey was stripped of the title when he missed weight this summer, only to be plugged into a bout for the vacant title his next fight out. So why strip anyone at all?

Instead, why not let Jones go back into a rematch with someone else. It warms him up, it proves a point, and honestly, it puts more months between his reinstatement and his likely re-crowning to see if he’s going to mess up again. What if Jones wins the title back immediately and then does something illegal or downright stupid and embarrassing again? Does the UFC want that kind of egg on its face? Instead, matchups with Rashad Evans or Alexander Gustafsson could be the perfect fit for the returning Jones. Evans may be on a major career backslide, but people will tune in for the fight — not just because of Jones’ return, but because of the major bad blood that has always existed between these two former training partners. A rematch with Gustafsson would be immediately a money fight. Despite Gustafsson’s current two-fight losing streak, he was the first person to ever really test Jones and some may claim that he’s the only to test him. A Jones/Gustafsson rematch would be more interesting today than seeing Jones/Cormier II.

It also allows for Ryan Bader, the clear top contender, to finally get a world title shot. After all, why is it fair to punish Bader, a good company man on a five-fight win streak. just so that a criminal can come back to an immediate shot at the title?

Round 5
UFC Arena in Las Vegas?

A new arena will be built in Las Vegas. We know that.

That arena will host the grand UFC 200 event next July. We know that.

But now the UFC may take it a step further, as they are inquiring, at least, about naming rights to the new venue owned by the MGM and AEG. The 29,000-seat arena would be a great place for the UFC to name as their own and would give them a center stage for all of their big events that they don’t want elsewhere in the world. Las Vegas is already their home turf, but to have an arena baring their name in the center of that turf would be huge for the company and the sport.

More on this will develop in the coming months, but it’s a great opportunity for the UFC and Las Vegas. The only question would be how many millions of dollars the UFC would have to spend for naming rights to this arena over multiple years. And with that kind of money being dished out, which has already been questioned, how can the UFC continue with their current pay scale, including the payouts for a Reebok sponsorship to fighters?

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