Since the announcement of the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match/carnival festival, rarely has a story or segment occurred without someone bemoaning that this one-off, boxer vs. mixed martial artist, is sucking attention away from real boxing.
Specifically, the Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin middleweight title fight scheduled for Sept. 16 in Las Vegas.
(In a twist, all of the talk about how no one is talking about Canelo-GGG has created more talk about Canelo-GGG than would have occurred at this point without Mayweather-McGregor.)
Not mentioned as a victim of the Mayweather-McGregor hype is real mixed martial arts. Case in point is Saturday’s stacked UFC 214, headlined by Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones, which has been rarely mentioned anywhere outside of core MMA circles.
This is the best UFC card of the year thus far. The Cormier-Jones light heavyweight title fight, a rivalry rematch years in the making, is likely to be the most anticipated MMA fight of 2017. Perhaps only a McGregor return to the UFC for a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz could supplant it. And that’s a maybe.
In a year where the UFC is in a slump, particularly when it comes to star fighters, this is the long-awaited moment. And yet, with time dwindling, almost everything mixed martial arts this spring and summer has been about McGregor, who isn’t even fighting in mixed martial arts at the moment.
There is still fight week to go and the UFC is putting forth everything it can to promote the card. It remains forever confident it will draw a major pay-per-view number.
Yet with Mayweather-McGregor and its $99.99 price tag looming a month from now, it’s a legitimate question if having to pay for that telecast might limit sales of this one from some fans, especially outside of the hardcore fans who wouldn’t miss it for anything.
While Mayweather-McGregor is considered by some to be a detriment to the boxing business, Mayweather has no obligation to care about the sales of Alvarez-GGG – or any fight not under the Mayweather Promotions umbrella.
The UFC, however, does care about Cormier-Jones. It owns the show. The promotion is getting a cut of Mayweather-McGregor, once considered a win-win that actually may wind up cannibalizing the UFC 214 buy rate on some level.
Time will tell. Since no one is going broke here, don’t feel too bad.
Yet, as sure as Alvarez-GGG deserve more attention, so too does Cormier-Jones on a card with two other title bouts (Tyron Woodley-Demian Maia for the men’s welterweight title and Cris Cyborg-Tonya Evinger for the women’s featherweight belt).
Cormier-Jones has it all: redemption and revenge, a rematch and a belt, bad blood and pent-up frustration. Not to mention the return of Jones, arguably the sport’s greatest of all time.
“It’s the highest level of mixed martial arts,” Cormier said.
If there is a break-through-to-the-mainstream night this year for the UFC, this is it. And with Ronda Rousey retired and McGregor sidelined since November 2016 (with no certainty as to when he’ll get back in the Octagon), this might be it.
The UFC needs stars and Jones is the biggest one it can count on right now, which is saying something since he’s fought once in 30 months. Jones defeated Cormier by decision in January 2015, but was stripped of the belt after an April 2015 hit-and-run accident.
Cormier took the title in May 2015 and has held it ever since. He was set to defend it against Jones at UFC 200 on July 8, 2016, but two days before the fight Jones was suspended by USADA for the presence of an estrogen blocker that is linked to a sex-performance drug. That cost him another year of suspension and a further hit to his reputation.
Meanwhile, Cormier has fumed and waited for his chance to avenge a loss that detracts from his title reign. He’s 19-1 … the one being to Jon Jones.
“He goes, ‘I didn’t need to beat you, you beat yourself,’ ” Jones said Monday. “But until you beat the guy, you’re not the guy.”
“The guy has no idea what he’s in for,” Cormier soon shot back.
The stakes are at least as big for Jones, considered by many to be the best to have ever fought. He’s 22-1, but the loss was a controversial disqualification for illegal elbows some eight years ago.
He’s been unstoppable in the Octagon and plagued with problems outside of it. The hit-and-run and drug issues were serious. The estrogen blocker was less so. He swears he’s living a clean and proper life now. Whatever it is, though, he knows that he needs to stop worrying about image and concentrate on reminding fans why they ever liked him in the first place.
“It’s a really, really big fight for my legacy,” Jones, 30, said. “[It’s a chance] for people to remember why I’m an exciting fighter. I think people have forgotten about the things that make me special and outweigh everything that happened two years ago.”
Perhaps most importantly, these two don’t like each other. They never really have. Cormier cried briefly in frustration prior to UFC 200 when he was informed that Jones’ drug test would cost him his chance at revenge.
Now that it’s finally here, he hasn’t held back. Jones says every comment from Cormier is “an attack on my character.” And he sounds frustrated by it.
“He’s fighting just to prove I’m the bad guy,” Jones said. “[Expletive] it and just call me the bad guy … I’m going to finish the guy this time.”
“You know you ain’t finishing nobody,” Cormier said.
A bad guy. A good guy. Or a good guy and a bad guy. Doesn’t matter. Each fighter will have his fans as they enter an explosive second chapter with the return of the all-time great who swears he’s focused for the prime of his career.
It all goes down Saturday in Anaheim.
Conor McGregor won’t be there. Neither will Floyd Mayweather.
Their presence is not needed. Or, at least it shouldn’t be.