As the UFC wraps up its outstanding 2019 that saw the rise of stars like Israel Adesanya and Jorge Masvidal, fans have a natural tendency to immediately look ahead to what 2020 has to offer. As of this writing the UFC has already announced a slate of big fights already on the docket for the first quarter of 2020, ranging from title fights for Jon Jones and Valentina Shevchenko on February 8th, as well as massive title-implicating bouts at heavyweight and bantamweight on January 25th. But even though the promotion has already announced headliners for both events, there remains an event on January 18th, in Las Vegas, that remains unaccounted for.
If the date of January 18th sticks out in your mind as an MMA fan, it’s probably because January 18th is the date Conor McGregor announced back in October as the date of his anticipated return, and while the comment was made unofficially with no UFC representation whatsoever present, the promotion has now booked an event in Las Vegas for said date, which at the very least would imply that involving McGregor on the card is the plan. But, here we sit, closing in on just six weeks out from the event, with only six fights on the card so far and seemingly no indication of McGregor fighting. To give perspective, UFC 247 on February 8th has seven bouts scheduled at the moment with a main event in place. That’s not to say he won’t get booked for the card, the UFC may be planning some sort of Brock Lesnar, UFC 200-sequel teaser that’ll air during the UFC 245 live telecast. But given the fact that McGregor is not only the UFC’s biggest star, and even then primarily so for his ability to build fights- paired with the fact the UFC has no live events scheduled until December 7th, two weeks from this writing- why wouldn’t they announce their biggest star’s return in this time of lull, not only to keep the company in the headlines, but also because of his ability to captivate mainstream audiences with his witty and clinical trash talk?
A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:52am PST
There’s really no way for someone who isn’t directly in the inside to answer that question, therefore the only thing that I can do is speculate. But if previous rumors regarding McGregor and his “return” are in any way true, then it’s fair to assume that the asking price coming back is likely something either the UFC doesn’t feel appropriate- like McGregor wanting a stake in the company- or is something the UFC is willing to do with some sort of asterisk option- such as meeting McGregor’s contracted fiduciary demands but not giving him full PPV revenue or full incentive pay.
Another potential issue is the issue of his opponent. The rumors have indicated that Donald Cerrone is the name in play for McGregor’s return, as well as Justin Gaethje as another option. When fighting McGregor, agents of potential opponents tend to negotiate in a much more aggressive fashion given the undoubted high demand the fight will be in. The UFC tends to pay opponents a higher number than their contracts have them signed on for- rightfully so- but that negotiation process has been notoriously (no pun intended) arduous in the past, not only with McGregor but also with every big name fighter. While I don’t doubt that Cerrone or Gaethje would want a fight with McGregor, I can absolutely see them negotiating for a larger sum that the UFC probably isn’t willing to dole out.
A post shared by Donald Cerrone (@cowboycerrone) on Sep 4, 2019 at 3:51pm PDT
But, let’s circle back to the real question at hand, if this January 18th date really is the long awaited return of Conor McGregor, then why hasn’t anything been done about it now six weeks out? Also worth noting is that a typical training camp for a fighter in the UFC is eight weeks, so if he is indeed fighting, he’s likely already training or it’ll be an abbreviated camp, which I can’t imagine would be ideal for a man coming off of a loss via finish. Again, the UFC could be trying to pull wool over our eyes until UFC 245, but it seems so unlikely that the fight would happen without some sort of media tour or series of press conferences beforehand. Those media events have made Conor McGregor what he is, those events have allowed him to show off the aspects of his game and personality that make him such a polarizing star in both MMA, of course, but also the mainstream sports community. Every ESPN interview of a fighter, whether it be with Adesanya, Masvidal, Cormier, Miocic, literally whoever the interviewee is, the anchor will almost always somehow link in a question about Conor McGregor, and in the vast majority of instances, he literally plays no part in the equation regarding that fighter.
A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Oct 19, 2019 at 2:29pm PDT
What I’m getting at here is, Conor McGregor is the biggest star in MMA history, and with the exception of maybe Ronda Rousey, his star will probably never be outshined in terms of translation into the mainstream. That’s why this has been such a perplexing situation. Like I mentioned before, this week and a half prior to the next live event seems like the perfect time to announce a Conor McGregor fight to juice up the sports networks and get them talking about the UFC again.
The UFC should announce this fight, or announce another headliner for January 18th, if not for anything else politeness to the loyalist fan base, or they could decide to keep fans on a cliffhanger for as long as they please. Whatever the decision is, it seems to be an odd one if McGregor is indeed fighting. Prime time is now for a huge fight announcement, if one, at least involving the sport’s biggest star, is indeed happening.■ Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro