Conor McGregor vs. the UFC, and What to Think About It

 

It’s absurd. We’re more than three months away from potentially the biggest UFC event ever.

Suddenly, the biggest star of the event, Conor McGregor refuses to fulfill his promotional obligations. Yes, the same person that’s done more promotional work in the past couple of years than anyone in the company

The UFC removes him from the event.

What’s Really Going On

”It doesn’t set a good precedent. It’s not fair,” said Dana White at last night’s UFC 200 Press Conference.

You’re damn right it’s not fair. But who is Dana kidding?

The Conor McGregor situation is about a power struggle between the UFC and its biggest star. It’s not about being unfair to other fighters; it’s about Conor trying to tell the UFC how to do the marketing for their events.

Besides, you want to talk about fair? Was the firing of Stitch Duran fair? Has the Reebok deal been fair to fighters? Was it fair to blame Jon Jones for UFC 151?

And that was just off the top of my head. Dana White is many things (including a brilliant fight promoter) but an advocate of fairness is not one of them.

Fairness, though, is exactly what should matter here.

The Hurt Business

The way you make money in this business is self-promotion. McGregor is one of the few fighters who understand this aspect of the combat sports business.

Fighters are private contractors to the UFC – they’re not employees. The difference is that instead of working to promote the UFC, fighters should work to promote themselves. The main focus should be on building their own brand and generating interest for what they’re doing. (Fighting on a pay-per-view event is one of the products they sell.)

When you get a chance to go on ESPN, you get a chance to promote yourself while selling your product (the upcoming PPV). When you get interviewed by the MMA media, you get a chance to promote yourself while selling your product. When you’re at a UFC press conference, you get a chance to promote yourself while, again, selling your product.

The UFC gives you an access to those platforms.

Many fighters seem to look at the media stuff as just another part of the job. They go to interviews and press conferences, set-up social media accounts, etc. because the UFC tells them to. Then they do the minimum work required to get through those ordeals.

None of those fighters will ever become big stars.

Most people buy PPVs because fighters with strong brands (that generate a lot of interest) are fighting. They buy PPVs because there’s a story behind the fighters and because they want to see how the story develops. The UFC always prefers fights in which both competitors have some history with each other so that they can create a story around it (also why we’re getting so many rematches – there’s automatic history).

The UFC matchmakers also try to ensure that both outcomes of any given fight lead to interesting stories.

Fighters (the private contractors) get paid based on how much money they help to generate for the UFC. If an event sells a million additional pay-per-views because you’re on it, you should make a lot of money, and certainly much more than someone who sells fewer pay-per-views.

McGregor’s argument is that while other fighters have done the bare minimum, he’s put so much effort into promoting himself and the UFC’s products (the PPVs, tickets, merchandise, Fight Pass memberships, etc.) that he now deserves some time off.

But that’s business.

What do we, the fans, care about it? What should we care about?

This Is Still a Sport

In other words, what does it matter if McGregor made the company $400 million in the last eight months? That’s between him and the UFC. None of the fans made – or are going to make – any of that.

In fact, it was the fans who paid for all the success. The more money McGregor and the UFC have made, the more money we, the fans, have spent.

No, this should be strictly about seeing a fair fight.

Regardless of how much money McGregor has made for the UFC, he shouldn’t get a competitive advantage over Diaz because of it. Diaz had to take a break from training to be there, and McGregor should have done the same thing. McGregor’s already got a better contract to make up for all the previous promotional work (they both show up for the same fight but McGregor leaves with the bigger check).

Now, if both opponents were to be exempt from the same promotional duties, there’s no competitive issue. If you’re exempt from your promotional duties, so should your opponent be. Making the company hundreds of millions of dollars is no reason to get an unfair advantage over your opponent.

There’s no reason Diaz should be at a disadvantage just because of what McGregor has done to promote himself in the past.

And remember: even though Diaz accepted the UFC 196 fight on short notice, he still showed up for lots of promotional work, even though that took most of the little time he had to prepare for the fight (the same thing with Mendes).

The question for the fans is: what is this weird obsession about how much money a fighter makes? Why are we so obsessed about big business to the point where a PPV does better just because it’s hyped as a potentially big financial success? (It felt like all the Mayweather vs. Pacquaio hype was based on this selling point.)

Are we still interested in MMA as a sport? A sport in which both competitors are on an even playing field? Are we still interested in the actual fight instead of the theatrics and the business side of things?

UFC 189 Post-Fight Analysis: Mendes vs. McGregor

McGregor vs Mendes
Image Credit: Irish Mirror

A basic one-two combination drops Chad Mendes, followed by a few punches to seal the deal. At 4:57 of the second round, the fight is over.

Conor McGregor is the new Interim Champion of the featherweight division, just like he said he would be. Also, Chad Mendes fell in the second round, just like McGregor said he would.

“To the naked eye, they don’t look like much.
Only me and him know about it.”
– Conor McGregor

McGregor got busy on the feet right from the start. Within the first five seconds, he had already landed a spinning back kick and a flying knee.

By the first half of the first round, he had landed tens of strikes to Mendes’ body and head. Some claim the three weeks Mendes had to prepare for the fight were insufficient for a five-round fight. I agree.

Then again, Mendes looked tired after two minutes so there must have been more into it. And there was: McGregor’s work to the body.

Straight kicks, spinning kicks, straight punches, uppercuts. When thrown accurately, those strikes take the fight out of you, and I believe they were the biggest contributors to McGregor’s victory.

Here’s a sequence of all the strikes McGregor was able to land to Mendes’ body within the first minute of the fight:

men-mcg-seq4-1 men-mcg-seq4-2 men-mcg-seq4-3 men-mcg-seq4-4 men-mcg-seq4-5 men-mcg-seq4-6 men-mcg-seq4-7 men-mcg-seq4-8

It’s fascinating how few MMA fighters target an opponent’s body, but even more fascinating when someone does. In McGregor may have the best strikes to the body in MMA. He’s consistent and it pays off.

With all the straight strikes McGregor throws, an 8-inch reach advantage becomes colossal. Mendes did find a way to counter (more on this subject below) but he mostly caught McGregor at the end of the punches which decreased the impact and allowed McGregor to keep eating them.

Smooth Sailing? Not Quite

For Mendes, the right hand was ”money” in the first round. He landed a mix of uppercuts, hooks and overhand rights, and certainly gave McGregor’s future opponents some ideas.

For example, McGregor tends to overcommit with his left straight punches and hooks – so much that Mendes would repeatedly slip or duck the punch (or take it flush) and land one of his own as McGregor was too late to pull back. Many of Mendes’ counters landed clean.

Mendes slips McGregor’s punch and returns one of his own – McGregor is too late to get out of the way and eats the punch:

men-mcg-seq2-1 men-mcg-seq2-2 men-mcg-seq2-3

McGregor almost never had his hands up either, and when he would throw with his left hand, his hands returned closer to his waist than his chin (in the sequence above, he happens to return his left hand near his chin after throwing the punch).

As a side note – as the sequence above illustrates – McGregor punches through his opponents, not at them. When the punches land, they do damage; when they miss, they leave you open for counterpunches and takedowns.

Mendes anticipates a punch coming from McGregor and goes first, landing with his right hand while McGregor misses by a mile. Notice McGregor’s forward momentum and how low his hands are when Mendes lands:

men-mcg-seq1-1 men-mcg-seq1-2 men-mcg-seq1-3 men-mcg-seq1-4

It was also overcommitting to punches that allowed Mendes to secure takedowns.

Mendes slips the punch, grabs McGregor’s front leg and turns to complete the takedown:

men-mcg-seq3-1 men-mcg-seq3-2 men-mcg-seq3-3 men-mcg-seq3-4

Mendes proved McGregor can be taken down and kept down. Then again, nobody else in the division can match Mendes’ wrestling skills, and McGregor just beat him in two rounds.

Interestingly, McGregor never attempted to espace from the ground other than when Mendes went for a submission. Perhaps his goal was to ride out the situation and save energy. Well, it worked, as Mendes went for a guillotine which allowed McGregor to scramble back up and finish the fight.

Could Mendes have kept him on the ground until the end of the second round while throwing the occasional elbow? Then regrouped in-between the rounds and gone for another takedown in the beginning of the third?

Maybe. So much of the fight game comes down to strategy and tactics.

Conclusion

While this post showcased some of the flaws in McGregor’s game, “impressive” is insufficient to describe the way he finished Chad Mendes within two rounds – especially considering the drastic change of an opponent three weeks before the fight.

But now, everyone will be coming for McGregor’s head, knowing how much money and publicity is up for grabs. He will have some of the best people in the game breaking down his style and tendencies like never before. And just based on the Mendes fight, they have plenty to work with.

Aldo vs. McGregor is one of the most exciting MMA fights in the history of the sport. What will Aldo take away from this fight, having seen McGregor both get taken down (and controlled on the ground) hit in multiple instances? How much more confidence will McGregor have after breaking  his “stylistical nightmare” within two rounds?

 

Jon Jones Drug Test: Cocaine, Testosterone Levels, T:E Ratio, and More

Jon Jones in the Octagon
Photo by ESPN

Disclaimer:
I do not claim any content in this article to be factual. I’ve written this article based on my findings online, but I take no responsibility for the reliability of the information within this article. I’m not a medical professional.
December 4th, 2014
Jones takes a random out-of-competition drug test, which is performed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). They take not one but two tests because the first test seems ”watery”. Both tests are positive for cocaine metabolites.

Cocaine, however, may not be the most newsworthy detail of Jones’ drug test results. His testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio (commonly referred to as “T:E ratio”) and epitestosterone levels raise some questions as well.

Jones’ T:E ratio is abnormally low in the first test: 0.29:1. An average T:E ratio is 1:1 although averages differ based on, for example, ethnic background. T:E ratio tells us how much testosterone he has in his body compared to the amount of epitestosterone – it doesn’t, however, tell us anything about his actual testosterone levels. The “non-watery” test shows testosterone levels at 1.8 ng/ml and epitestosterone levels at 6.1 ng/ml.

Most reference ranges online are for blood samples while Jones submitted urine samples. I have been unable to find strong sources of information for urine sample reference ranges – the only sources I’ve found are this PDF file and a tweet by BALCO Laboratories founder Victor Conte, which indicate low testosterone levels:

December 18th, 2014
Jones takes another test which later comes back clean of cocaine metabolites. Interestingly, the executive director of the NSAC, Bob Bennett, now claims Jones was never tested for recreational drugs on December 18th, claiming how a test for recreational drugs was never supposed to be a part of an out-of-competition test.

In a picture of the December 18th drug test (published by Kevin Iole on Twitter), it clearly shows that Jones was tested for narcotics.

This time, Jones’ T:E ratio is even lower than in the December 4th test: 0.19:1. It should be noted, though, that urine tests aren’t the most reliable when it comes to testosterone testing (they need blood for more accurate results) so there’s going to be some variation. But curiously, tests show that testosterone and epitestosterone levels have had significant increases relatively.

Two weeks after the first test, the results now show 4.9 ng/ml for testosterone. If the reference ranges mentioned above are correct, testosterone levels are still very low even though they increased by 2.7 times from his previous test – such increase at low testosterone levels, however, sounds more understandable than at higher levels. Tests also show that epitestosterone levels have gone from 6.1 ng/ml to 27 ng/ml which is a 4.4x increase. Suggesting the reference ranges are correct, epitestosterone has stayed within range but relative increase has been significant.

Why are the T:E ratios that low? What causes both the increases in testosterone and epitestosterone levels, and what causes the testosterone level to be so low? I’m not a medical professional, so I don’t know. The anti-doping guidelines set the threshold at 4:1, meaning you’re allowed to have four times as much as testosterone as epitestosterone until they become suspicious. They don’t have a minimum threshold, however, so perhaps there is a sound medical explanation for such low T:E ratios and all the other changes, one that I’m unaware of. Still, hopefully the NSAC looks into taking Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) tests on the backup samples. This test should be able to detect synthetic testosterone. CIR tests cost more and are usually performed only when a positive test has been challenged.

December 23rd, 2014. 
The NSAC gets the results of the first test back and, as mentioned, finds the test positive for cocaine metabolites, known as Benzoylecgonine.

Interestingly, Jon Jones, the person being tested, doesn’t find out about the results at this point. He’s only notified two days after the fight, and not by the NSAC who performed the tests, but the UFC.

Technically, Jones violates no rules since it was an out-of-competition test and recreational drugs aren’t prohibited out-of-competition. The definition for in-competition is 12 hours before the fight or after the fight and everything not considered in-competition is considered out-of-competition.

Why did they even test for recreational drugs out-of-competition if they’re legal anyway? Apparently, it was never supposed to happen.  The Executive Director of the NSAC, Bob Bennet – the same person who claimed Jones was never tested for recreational drugs on December 18th – called it “a bit of an anomaly.

January 3rd, 2015.
Fight night. This one would have been a hard to figure out regardless of which sports betting tips you were following since now, even after the fight, it seems like both are physically capable of winning but the one with better tactics was victorious, and tactics will likely be the main factor in the eventual rematch as well. 5Dimes gave Jones-Cormier -205 / +175 odds while Bovada gave them -210 / +170 odds.

Both Jones and Cormier take urine tests before and after the fight.

January 5th/6th, 2015.
The UFC notifies Jones regarding the failed test. Two questions: why does Jon Jones only find out now, and why the UFC is the one delivering the message instead of the NSAC, considering this:

Excerpt from NSAC Memo Regarding Drug Testing

Update: Dana White appeared on UFC Tonight and confirmed they (the UFC) were aware of the drug results before the fight took place.

The results only came out due to a reporter requesting access to them (you can request drug test results from the NSAC based on the Freedom of Information Act).

It’s important to note that the more shows the UFC puts on in Nevada, the better it is for the NSAC. To my understanding, they get compensated based on how well an event performs. If they’re being too strict in any way, the UFC could, in theory, look at other venues for their fights. Furthermore, one of the owners of the UFC, Lorenzo Fertitta, was a commissioner for the NSAC before getting involved with the UFC, and Marc Ratner, the current Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at the UFC, was previously the Executive Director of the NSAC.

The first quarter of the year is an important one for the UFC as their credit rating was downgraded at the end of 2014. They’ve just announced a huge sponsorship deal with Reebok. One could assume that canceling the fight a couple of weeks before it happens – with little time to find a suitable replacement – might be disastrous, considering all the hype and build-up that involved in the fight.

According to his statement, Jones checks into a drug rehab facility after the fight. So far no discipline from the UFC even though Jones seems to have violated their Code of Conduct.

Some reporters have stated the NSAC are unable to punish Jon Jones for a positive out-of-competition recreational drug test. What about NRS 467.157 / Revocation of License which, to my understanding, basically allows them to discipline him for any ”sufficient” reason? Then again, would it be right to discipline him now, considering they knew about the results well before the fight took place and did nothing?

January 7th, 2015.
Jon Jones checks out of rehab just 24 hours or so after entering it.

January 15th, 2015.
According to Bob Bennett, the Executive Director at the NSAC, CIR testing was used on Jones’ test samples from both December 4th and December 18th, and test results came back clean, implying that no synthetic testosterone has been used.

According to this article, Cormier’s T:E ratios were 0.4:1 (December 2nd) and 0.48:1 (December 17th), quite far from the standard 1:1 ratio as well, but still, relatively speaking, clearly higher than Jones’ ratio.

January 17th, 2015.
The UFC has announced a $25,000 fee to Jones for violating their Code of Conduct. Jones pocketed $500,000 for the fight plus the $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night, making this fee 5% of his fight commission or half of his fight bonus. (Dana White was also recently quoted claiming that Jones has $15 million in the bank.)

Members of MMA media also received proof of Jones’ clean CIR tests. This answered one question (did Jones have synthetic testosterone in his body during the test? No.) but there’s still plenty to wonder about – for example, why did he have such low testosterone levels? Being tired from training can cause your testosterone levels to drop, but by that much?

January 19th, 2015.
Jones is interviewed for the first time since the drug test scandal. In the interview, Jones tells us that him entering rehab was a collective decision made with his business partners. Later, Jones says he isn’t a cocaine addict and not even a frequent user – so why enter rehab at all, then? Was it a mere publicity stunt?

Sadly, the interviewer never pressed Jones to answer more questions about his testosterone levels. In fact, the single question about this subject was about the T:E ratio, and Jones brought up how Daniel Cormier also had a low T:E ratio. That’s true (although they weren’t as low as Jones’) but the real issue is the actual level of testosterone in his system, which was way below average while Cormier’s levels were just about exactly what the average is.

I’m constantly updating this page as the story develops.

You can follow me on Twitter or contact me at subjectmma@gmail.com.

Note: I refuse to accept comments with hate towards UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones. The point of this article is to give you a summary of how the situation has developed and what we know so far. It’s important for the sake of the sport to write about this situation. Hopefully they are further studied (and everything’s OK), mr. Jones does well in rehab and we can see him back in the Octagon in no time.