MMA: Dana White
A media function with Anderson Silva is always a bit of a crap shoot.
Silva, 39, has a few different faces when handling interviews. Sometimes he'll joke, play coy and offer seemingly nonsensical responses to anything he's asked. It's not unusual for him to grow bored in the middle of a line of questioning and start to answer only in "yes" or "no." He's also known to change his mind on rather significant topics, creating contradicting headlines within the span of weeks.
At rare times though, Silva allows the fight world into his head (albeit briefly).
That was the case Tuesday, as Silva held an hourlong news conference at Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro to promote a fight against Nick Diaz at UFC 183 on Jan. 31 in Las Vegas.
The Brazilian started the event in typical, awkward-Silva fashion -- saying something about reporters making jokes about his voice and legs (no reporter would make any such joke during the news conference). Between questions, he would treat his microphone like a pirate spyglass, scanning the audience for media members as they asked him questions.
Through all the antics, however, Silva spoke candidly about the pressure that had mounted on him over the course of his UFC-record 10 title defenses, expectations for the rest of his career and, of course, his recovery from the horrific leg injury he suffered during a loss to Chris Weidman at UFC 168 in December.
Silva fractured the tibia and fibula bones in his left leg in the second round of that bout, after Weidman checked an attempted leg kick. He was rushed to a Las Vegas hospital, where UFC surgeon Dr. Steven Sanders performed emergency surgery.
The former middleweight champion said he went into a state of depression after the injury.
"I don't like to remember it too much," said Silva, in Portuguese. "I went through the worst months of my life. I was in a lot of pain. The moment I broke my leg, I thought my career was over. I was depressed, upset. If I didn't have the people around me that I have, I might not have come back."
As it turned out, the break was fairly manageable from a medical standpoint. Silva avoided infection and estimates for his recovery were set at six months to one year. Five months after the injury occurred, Silva posted a video of himself kicking a heavy bag.
Since he announced he would return (immediately after the injury), headlines have gone back and forth regarding whether he'd pursue a UFC title again, how much credit he gave Weidman for the unusual win and if he wants to fight him a third time.
I went through the worst months of my life. I was in a lot of pain. The moment I broke my leg, I thought my career was over. I was depressed, upset. If I didn't have the people around me that I have, I might not have come back.” -- Anderson Silva, on life after his loss to Chris Weidman
On Tuesday, Silva (33-6) said he was neither gunning for a title shot nor avoiding one. He did say he is in full support of teammate Ronaldo Souza, who is currently campaigning for a UFC title shot.
"I went through that phase," Silva said of chasing a title. "I have to respect that 'Jacare' is out there and he has my full support to fight for the belt. I'm in the UFC too, but I've been through that phase. He's training a lot, doing very well and working hard for that. I'm not pretentious to go and fight for the belt right now. I have to qualify myself again to have that opportunity.
"This thing about returning -- it's because I feel I left something. I let go of this whole road of fighting in my last fights. I let something go and I'm looking for that again."
In comments similar to those of longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who vacated his title late last year and took an indefinite leave of absence from the sport, Silva said that the pressure of repeatedly defending a title had weighed on him and his family -- although he blamed technical mistakes for the back-to-back losses to Weidman last year.
"There's something else I felt in my past fights," Silva said. "I had a lot of pressure. I wasn't doing it because I was happy. Not that anybody was pressuring me. The UFC was not pressuring me. It was a self-pressure that ended up taking my focus and my will to do what I did. But it's been good. Everything that's happened made me restart and I've gone back a little bit. I've looked at a few things and I'm training to come back very well and continue doing what I do with a lot of love."
In regard to the left leg, Silva described it as "great." He claimed to be able to use it "without fear" and said he'd be 100 percent by the night of the fight.
Strength and conditioning coach Rogerio Camoes, who appeared at the news conference alongside grappling coach Ricardo De La Riva, boxing coach Luiz Dorea and Brazilian physician Dr. Marcio Tannure, said Silva is currently maintaining a "tactical" approach to training, relying more on pad work and drills than sparring. He anticipated Silva would continue to gain lower body strength through November and then build up his stamina in December.
Beyond Diaz, Silva didn't talk much about future opponents. He did say he would not move to the light heavyweight division to challenge defending champion Jon Jones (a move that seemed possible in early 2013) and acknowledged that a proposed boxing match against Roy Jones Jr. (another possibility that didn't seem entirely crazy in early 2013) is off the table. As he put it, UFC president Dana White took that "candy" away.
He did predict his countryman Vitor Belfort would defeat Weidman when the two meet in a fight expected to take place early next year. He repeatedly declined to express interest in a third fight with Weidman, though. He did say he intends to finish out the 10-fight contract extension he signed with the UFC in 2012.
"If I have to fight Weidman again, I will," Silva said. "A fight is a fight, but I don't like to keep talking about how I want to fight him again. People always ask who I want to fight and I always answer the same thing. I don't want to say anyone's name, so I say I want to fight my clone."
On a day when it appeared Silva was willing to be more honest (or at least more talkative) than the average day, it might be worthwhile to point out one of the final things he said.
Minutes before the news conference wrapped up, Silva, almost in a way that acknowledged his reputation for cryptic responses, offered a simple, direct statement.
"The new Anderson Silva -- he's good," he said. "No, seriously. He's very good."
Edgar (17-4-1) fights Cub Swanson in a five-round UFC main event on Nov. 22 in Austin, Texas. On paper, it looks like a clear No. 1 contender fight. Edgar has won his last two fights; Swanson (21-5) has won six in a row. Each is universally ranked inside the top five of the 145-pound division.
But in an interview with UFC.com earlier this month, company president Dana White suggested that if champion Jose Aldo defeats Chad Mendes at UFC 179 next week in Rio de Janeiro, the No. 1 contender spot could go to Irish sensation Conor McGregor.
McGregor (16-2) is ranked below Edgar and Swanson, but Aldo has prior wins over the two already (in 2013 and 2009, respectively). Also, and this part is important, McGregor is an emerging star at the box office.
When asked for his reaction to McGregor potentially skipping ahead of him, Edgar said it's not like he didn't see it coming.
"It doesn't surprise me," Edgar told ESPN.com. "As a promoter, it's probably the smart thing to do. He's got a lot of buzz going. Why have him lose before they can make money on that fight?
"Of course, I'll be upset if that happens. I'm sure Cub will be upset. But that's the nature of this game. I do want to fight for the title after I beat Cub, but if I have to fight somebody else, what am I going to do? I can't sit around and feel sorry for myself. I have to go to work and get it done."
On McGregor's abilities, Edgar said: "I think he's talented. Dustin Poirier is not an easy fight. I think there is still some unknown with him. I'd like to see him deal with a wrestler, but he's had an answer for everything so far. Maybe he's the next Anderson Silva, who knows? But I know I match up well against him."
For the record, no decision has been made regarding a No. 1 featherweight contender, although McGregor is scheduled to appear at the UFC 179 title fight in person -- an ominous sign for Edgar and Swanson.
When asked to defend the logic behind McGregor potentially leapfrogging the Edgar-Swanson winner, White reiterated that both had lost to Aldo previously and added that Edgar has been in many title fights in the past.
I do want to fight for the title after I beat Cub Swanson, but if I have to fight somebody else, what am I going to do? I can't sit around and feel sorry for myself. I have to go to work and get it done.” -- Frankie Edgar, on the possibility that a win over Swanson won't land him a featherweight title shot
"What I said in that interview is that everyone in the top five has already lost to Aldo -- and Frankie Edgar has gotten a lot of title fights, you know what I mean?"
Although Edgar, 32, can wrap his head around the idea of promoting McGregor, he does take issue with the second part of White's statement.
Edgar has been involved in seven UFC title fights, but believes he's done more than enough to earn all of them.
The fact he's been in title fights previously, shouldn't work against his chances of getting there again.
"That doesn't make much sense," Edgar said. "I've fought in a lot of title fights because I was the champion. At one point, they gave me a bunch of rematches so I was granted a rematch when I lost the belt to Ben [Henderson]. I was going to save a card for them against Aldo by taking a fight on six weeks' notice. He got injured and they kept that fight together.
"I think I've earned every single one of them, and I think I performed in every single one of them."
One of those performances was a losing effort against Aldo (24-1) at UFC 156 in February 2013. Edgar came up short in the five-round bout but arguably gave the Brazilian his toughest fight thus far in the UFC.
Edgar says he'd love to be the one to finally dethrone Aldo, who is a staple on the pound-for-pound list and hasn't lost since 2005.
But he thinks Mendes (16-1), who also has a loss to Aldo (first-round knockout in 2012), could beat him to it.
"If Aldo beats Mendes, I think Conor will get Aldo," Edgar said. "But there's no guarantee Aldo will beat Mendes.
"I think the first time they fought, Mendes was a little reluctant. I think if he goes in there like he has during this streak he's been on, he could be a nightmare for Aldo. It's a tough fight to pick, but if I'm going to pick anybody, I'll pick Mendes."
Shortly after Rory MacDonald defeated Tyron Woodley at UFC 174 in June, Firas Zahabi entered the Octagon and lifted MacDonald onto his shoulders.
After setting him down, Zahabi -- the head coach of Tristar Gym -- moved in the direction of UFC president Dana White, who mouthed something to him from his front row seat.
Zahabi couldn't hear over the arena noise. Was White trying to say MacDonald just earned a UFC welterweight title shot? Zahabi had to know -- like, immediately. So, instead of walking to the cage door and back around to White's seat, Zahabi vaulted himself over the fence.
"Rory had a great performance, and I said to Dana, I thought our next stop should be the title," MacDonald told ESPN.com. "He said something I didn't hear, so I jumped over to find out."
Unfortunately, what White was trying to relay to Zahabi was that no, the winner of a scheduled bout between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown the following month was still next in line for the title.
In a way, the simple gesture of Zahabi launching over the Octagon wall to speak to White symbolizes where he and MacDonald are at. Both understood the UFC's decision to ultimately book a rematch between Johny Hendricks and Lawler for the title, but they're ready for the shot as soon as possible. Zahabi, clearly, can barely contain his enthusiasm.
That potentially places a lot of pressure on MacDonald (17-2) headed into this weekend, when he'll face Tarec Saffiedine in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is already a clear candidate to face the winner of the Hendricks-Lawler fight Dec. 6. A win will basically hold his spot. A loss, obviously, would set him back.
MacDonald, 25, didn't necessarily consider that at UFC 174, when he said he was willing to accept another fight and not sit and wait for a title shot. He just wanted the UFC to know he deferred to them.
"I actually did ask to have a little break, but the UFC wanted me to fight and kind of felt like I needed to do it," MacDonald said. "So, I said yes, so I can make the UFC happy and fight for the belt. I'm doing what I have to do in my career to get to my goal.
"I definitely didn't ask for this fight, but I accepted it."
Despite the risk involved, Zahabi said he was a proponent of MacDonald fighting again before reaching a title fight. He referenced Georges St-Pierre's activity level when he recaptured the title in 2008 -- four fights in 12 months at the age of 26. This weekend will mark MacDonald's fourth fight in 11 months.
"I don't think of this fight as raising his profile," Zahabi said. "I think of it as a learning experience. It's going to give him something he can use one day as a champion. It's about feeding the monster. It's hard to train somebody who isn't motivated by a fight. When Georges won the title back, that was his fourth fight in a year. We generated a lot of momentum."
Even though MacDonald is likely next in line regardless of how he might beat Saffiedine (15-3), a finish would certainly put a stamp on this title run.
After recording finishes in three of his first five fights in the UFC, MacDonald has now gone nearly 30 months without one. His last four wins have come via decision -- and he admits a contingent of his fan base is starting to let him know about it.
"Once in awhile, some fans will say, 'You should try finishing a fight for once in your life,'" laughed MacDonald. "I don't take it too personal.
"I definitely care about finishing. That makes a statement that you're better than the other guy. Obviously, I want that. Fifteen minutes isn't a lot of time to finish top-level competitors. I think 25 minutes is way better. If you want to take risks at this level, you need to be prepared for the bad that comes with it. I really think risk needs to be worth the reward. I try to break my opponent down slowly, so that for sure the reward is there when I take my risk."
Well, in this particular fight, the risk was already evident the second MacDonald agreed to it. He's risking his spot in line against a dangerous opponent Saturday. The reward will be that hopefully, Zahabi won't have to jump over a cage to ask whether or not they're next.
"I don't think you ever completely know, because this business is always changing," Zahabi said. "But I think if Rory has a great fight and wins the heart of the fans, he'll get a title shot."
Assuncao (22-4), who fights Bryan Caraway on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 54 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has to be a candidate for unluckiest fighter of the year.
He is currently riding a six-fight win streak, which is the longest active streak in the UFC bantamweight division, and he was the last man to beat the current champion, TJ Dillashaw. But unless something drastic happens, you won't see him in a title fight anytime soon.
Assuncao was offered a chance to fight then-champion Renan Barao at UFC 173 in May but couldn't accept due to a fractured rib and was replaced by Dillashaw. He was ready to take on the winner, but the UFC booked an immediate rematch between Barao and Dillashaw instead because of Dillashaw's shocking upset in Las Vegas.
Then at UFC 178, seven days before his scheduled bout with Caraway, Assuncao watched his title hopes take another hit as former champion Dominick Cruz returned from a near three-year injury layoff to smoke Takeya Mizugaki in 61 seconds. The UFC immediately announced Cruz would get the next title shot at 135 pounds.
What that means, presumably, is that even if Assuncao goes out and beats the brakes off of a very tough opponent in Caraway this weekend, it doesn't much matter. His number is unlikely to be called.
"I want to think there's still an opportunity [to earn a title shot]," Assuncao said. "I don't want to try and match what Dominick did, though. He was nearly perfect. He beat the No. 6 guy in one minute. I'm not trying to match that, because it puts me in a situation where I might not be as cautious.
"I'm not angry about what has happened. Being upset is different than being angry. Frustration can build up in your heart, but I'm trying not to let it. I'm just upset. Everybody gets upset."
The 32-year-old Brazilian, who lives and trains full time in Atlanta, Georgia, spoke to ESPN.com about his fight and the landscape of the division below:
ESPN: To be crystal clear, the UFC did offer you the Barao fight at UFC 173 before they offered it to Dillashaw?
Assuncao: "I was offered the fight, yes. It's funny, people forget that. I was talking to Brazilian press and they forget. Maybe it's because of my persona, people misread it. I was offered the fight on four weeks and I couldn't take it. My chest was a mess. I had talked to [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and he offered me the fight. I had just [extended] my UFC contract. Obviously, I was interested, but it didn't work out for me. One day they called, Lorenzo Fertitta was on the line, Dana White was there, and they said, 'We need this fight signed now.' I couldn't do it."
Do you think the average UFC fan is aware that you are on a six-fight win streak heading into this fight?
"Yeah, I think more people know now. My Twitter, a lot of times I'll say something and fans are retweeting it. International fans, too, are telling Dana White, 'This guy's on a six-fight win streak. Put him in a title fight.' I do think more people are aware, yes."
You had said before Cruz came back that if you beat Caraway, you would wait for a title shot and weren't interested in any other fight. Is that still the case?
"As of right now, I'm not interested in fighting anybody else except a title fight. It's not the best circumstances to wait that long, but it has been eight months since my last fight in February and I feel great. I got to heal up, and nothing took a toll on my body during that time. We'll see what happens. I just want to get this fight over with."
A Dillashaw-Cruz title fight might not happen until February at the earliest. You will have only fought twice this year. Financially, will you be all right to be that inactive?
"Yeah, if I manage my money correctly. Twice a year, I can maintain a living. I've just got to be careful going off and buying cars."
Who would you favor in a Dillashaw-Cruz fight?
"It's an interesting fight as a fan. Cruz has the footwork. Dillashaw kind of moves at different angles and goes [southpaw] sometimes. I'd probably go with Cruz, because he's my buddy."
After winning the belt and defending it once, Dillashaw has started to gain recognition as a top pound-for-pound fighter. Do you see him that way?
"No, I don't. With all due respect, I don't think so. I just don't think he should be up there. Yeah, he's a champ. He's holding a belt. But I think there are other athletes out there that should be in the pound-for-pound."
You fought Dillashaw last October in Brazil. The fight went your way via split decision. You've exchanged words since. Would a second fight between you be personal?
"Not emotionally charged at all. We just know each other's style a lot. He has used the same style in his last two fights. I will take some time off, change my style a little and wouldn't go into a second fight with the same style."
Sure, some of it might have been his own after taking some vicious lefts from the highly touted Romero (9-1). But as the second round came to a close, Kennedy had a quickly tiring Romero out on his feet as the horn sounded. Perhaps given another 10 or 15 seconds, Kennedy would have finished Romero for a TKO victory.
Instead, it was Romero who got an extra 30 seconds.
While Kennedy was ready to go, Romero inexplicably continued to sit on his stool as his cornermen rehydrated him with water, wiped excess Vaseline off a significant gash above his left eye and toweled him off. Still clearly dazed, Romero finally got off the stool as referee John McCarthy and a Nevada State Athletic Commission official physically pulled Romero off the stool while an incensed Kennedy knew he was missing his chance to finish off a stunned Romero.
A point was deducted from Romero to boot.
Those 30 seconds seemed to allow Romero to gather himself, and shortly after the third round began, the explosive Romero charged Kennedy with a lunging jab that missed, but he managed to connect with a follow-up right hook square on Kennedy’s already broken nose. As Kennedy went down in a heap, Romero pounced on Kennedy (18-5) for the win, ending Kennedy’s four-win fight streak. Meanwhile, Romero extended his own streak to five wins.
However, the win didn’t come without controversy, and UFC president Dana White addressed the issue during the postfight news conference.
“Look, it’s one of the oldest and dirtiest tricks in the book,” White said. “The athletic commissioner was literally screaming at him to get up and his corner to get out of the Octagon. It’s unfortunate it happened. But from what I was told, he had too much Vaseline on his face. I’m still trying to figure out if it was our cut guy, or their cut guy. But it’s the responsibility of the corner people to get the stool out of the Octagon.”
At press time, there was no decision of any sort in regard to disciplinary action for Romero, but Romero apologized for taking too much time, but he wasn’t milking the clock to clear the cobwebs.
“I was ready when it was time to go,” Romero said.
The incident begs the question whether the fighters will engage in a rematch. It was reported in postfight analysis on Fox Sports 1 that Kennedy confronted Romero backstage.
“If you don’t get up when you’re supposed to get off the stool, the fight’s over,” said current UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman, who was serving as a color analyst on the Fox Sports 1 postfight analysis.
“It’s extremely dirty trick to stay on the stool an extra 30 seconds when you’re rocked,” former middleweight Brian Stann said. “But when you’re hurt, you’re going to listen to your coach. When there are a lot of people in the Octagon, there’s always some confusion as to what they needed to do.”
Controversy aside, the fight showcased the considerable explosiveness that Romero possesses.
At one point, Romero looked like a blitzing linebacker, shooting the gap and exploding through Kennedy like a rag doll. The fighters earned $50,000 each for "Fight of the Night" bonuses.
As for Kennedy, who has struggled to break through to elite contender status within the UFC, the loss sets the former Army Ranger back a rung or two. And at 35 years old, the window on his title contention is rapidly shrinking. His strikes lacked the speed and power of Romero, who is actually older (at 37) than Kennedy.
But during the postfight news conference, White alluded to the fact that both fighters might relish the idea to prove their mettle without controversy. Indeed, after two rounds, the scorecards were tied at 19-19, even after Romero was docked a point by McCarthy.
“It’s very unfortunate, it’s an odd thing that almost never happens,” White said. “But who knows? I’m sure Kennedy wants a rematch.”
For Romero, it was the second time he had come back from near defeat (and unconsciousness) in the third round to ultimately pull out the win. Against Derek Brunson at a UFC Fight Night event Jan. 14, Romero knocked out Brunson with less than two minutes left in the bout, also earning a "Fight of the Night" bonus.
Nevertheless, it’s a bitter pill for Kennedy to swallow, who literally had Romero on skates.
“If you can’t get off the stool in a minute, the fight is over," Kennedy said. "Not a minute and a half, not two minutes, not two and a half minutes while your coaches are still putting Vaseline on you and toweling you off. That fight should’ve been over, period."
Kennedy (18-5) is irate following a situation that occurred prior to the third round of his TKO loss to Romero (9-1) at UFC 178 on Saturday. Unfortunately for Kennedy, what's done is most likely done.
At the end of the second round, Kennedy hurt Romero badly with uppercuts to the chin and two hard right crosses. Romero, who was arguably tiring from the pace of the fight prior to the punches, was saved by the bell and wobbled over to his corner, where a UFC cut man applied a large amount of Vaseline over his left eye.
Romero was still being tended to when the Nevada timekeeper's whistle blew, signaling all cornermen to leave the cage.
At that point, a few things happened that would later incite Kennedy. First, Romero's corner did not remove his stool, which is probably the greatest infraction. Referee John McCarthy walked toward Romero and pointed out what he believed to be an excessive amount of Vaseline on the cut. McCarthy and the Nevada inspector then signaled one of Romero's cornermen to come back into the cage to wipe off the excess Vaseline.
The specific cornerman called back did not speak English, according to Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett. As time clicked away, with Romero still on the stool and Kennedy raising his arms, McCarthy took it upon himself to wipe the Vaseline off and eventually start the fight. The sequence gave Romero approximately 25 to 28 extra seconds of recovery time.
Romero came out and promptly stunned Kennedy with a straight left/right hook combination. He finished the fight via strikes less than a minute into the final round.
Kennedy quickly referred to statute NAC 467.728 on Twitter, which reads: If an unarmed combatant fails or refuses to resume competing when the bell sounds signaling the commencement of the next round, the referee shall award a decision of technical knockout to his or her opponent.
Bennett told ESPN.com he and the NSAC legal counsel would review tape of the incident "in the near future," but only as standard procedure and not necessarily in response to a formal Kennedy appeal, which he is expected to submit. Bennett added he felt McCarthy, as the acting referee, handled the situation appropriately.
"Quite frankly, I think John did a good job," Bennett said. "We could play devil's advocate and ask, 'Why is he touching a fighter who has a cut and removing Vaseline?' But I thought he took appropriate measures and got that fight moving as quickly as he could."
When asked if the extra time was significant in allowing him a chance to recover, Romero simply stated, "I don't know."
Kennedy, who at least was paid a $50,000 UFC bonus for being involved in the "Fight of the Night," is highly unlikely to win any kind of formal appeal. Although he certainly has reason to complain, it was a UFC cutman who applied too much Vaseline, and it would be difficult to blame Romero for remaining on the stool when the NSAC inspector didn't forcefully remove him from it when the timekeeper's whistle blew. There was stern instruction to the cornermen to remove themselves from the cage, but the physical stool Romero sat on went largely unnoticed until time had gone by and McCarthy removed the Vaseline.
Bennett, who emphasized the fact he would have to review the tape, pointed out the low success rate of appeals in general within the state.
"At this point in time, I defer that to our legal department," Bennett said. "Historically, if you look at the number of appeals submitted to our office and that have [gotten a call] overruled, I think it's slim to none if I'm not mistaken. There is a rule under Nevada administrative code [that allows an appeal] but very seldom does an appeal [overrule a call]."
UFC president Dana White acknowledged the fact that corner "stalling" is "one of the dirtiest tricks in the book," but said the fact it was a UFC cutman who made the error of applying too much Vaseline changes the dynamic of the situation, as opposed to it having been one of Romero's cornermen who did it. He was non-committal on the idea of a rematch.
"I think the thing that throws a kink in this whole thing is that it was our guy putting Vaseline on," White said. "It's a very unfortunate, odd thing. It never happens. Who knows? I would love to see how [Romero] feels [about a rematch], and I'm sure Kennedy wants a rematch. Who knows?"
LAS VEGAS -- Outspoken UFC featherweight Conor McGregor has always looked at Brazilian camp Nova Uniao as nothing to fear when it comes to his title aspirations.
In addition to that now, however, he says he’s starting to see outright weakness.
McGregor (15-2) has plenty to deal with outside of Nova Uniao, as he will face highly ranked Dustin Poirier this weekend at UFC 178. The 26-year-old Irishman has never backed down from sharing his thoughts on future opponents, however.
And one potential opponent would obviously include UFC champion Jose Aldo, who will seek his seventh title defense next month against Chad Mendes at UFC 179. The UFC has already invited McGregor to attend the Brazilian event.
When asked to give his thoughts on the Aldo-Mendes fight, McGregor waffled in his pick, but said the Nova Uniao camp, which houses Aldo and former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, is perhaps not at the top of its game heading into the fight.
Aldo (24-1) was forced to postpone the title fight against Mendes in August because of a neck injury. Later that month, Barao (32-2) pulled out of a title rematch against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 177, when he fainted trying to make weight the day before.
“I like the mental side of combat sports -- of anything, really,” McGregor said. “That win over Barao with TJ Dillashaw changes the shift in things. That’s a factor. Then you’ve got the fact Barao missed weight.
“There are definitely problems in that camp. They’ve been complaining about money and then injuries back and forth. I feel a weakness in the mind frame of these people, which can go up and down sometimes, so you never know.”
McGregor went on to say Aldo still might have a mental advantage over Mendes, as a previous meeting between the two ended in a knockout win for Aldo. He made one thing about the fight abundantly clear, however.
“Ultimately, I don’t give a s---,” McGregor said. “I’ll whoop both of them.”
Aldo, 28, signed with the now-defunct WEC organization in 2008 and captured the title within 17 months -- finishing six consecutive fights in the process.
Since then, five of his eight five-round fights, all of which he has won, have gone the distance -- a statistic that has drawn some criticism from UFC president Dana White.
McGregor, as he often does, has an opinion on the matter.
“So many mixed martial artists get into this situation where they stay the same,” he said. “They get to a level and then it’s ‘maintain.’ Spar hard and stay fit, but you’re not really growing to that next level.
“You’re putting your body through hell and your skill level is remaining the same. And eventually, through battles in the gym and battles in the Octagon, it starts to take a toll, and that is what I believe has happened [to Aldo].”
McGregor said none of these observations have to do with an attempt to try and get under the Brazilian fan base -- a marketing strategy other fighters have employed.
“Brazil is a phenomenal country,” McGregor said. “I’ve always dreamed about going to Brazil. Look, I’m pinching myself every day. This is phenomenal for me, and I’m having fun along the way.
“I know I might rub people the wrong way, but I’m just a kid living my dream, so it is what it is. I’m enjoying my life.”
LAS VEGAS -- For one half of the equation, the Conor McGregor-Dustin Poirier fight at UFC 178 was made over a fine Irish whiskey at the Four Seasons in Dublin.
Immediately after McGregor (15-2) starched Diego Brandao in front of a rabid, sold-out Irish crowd at O2 Arena, he, UFC president Dana White and billionaire UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta retired for the night at the five-star hotel.
The subject of McGregor’s next conquest was broached. Poirier, September and Las Vegas were agreed upon. Splendid. Hear, hear.
For the other half of the equation, it was decidedly less glamorous.
Now, there is no doubt Poirier (16-3) is a very willing participant in this week’s fight between him and McGregor at UFC 178. This is a fight he asked for via the magic of Twitter, from his couch at his South Florida home, the day of McGregor’s last fight.
This is a no-brainer fight for all involved: McGregor, Poirier, the UFC. It’s interesting, though, how the matchup might feel as though it has become two-against-one if you're Poirier.
Last week, McGregor flew to Las Vegas, home of the UFC headquarters, to acclimate to the time change and arid weather. He was set up in the presidential suite of the Red Rock Hotel and Casino, which is owned and operated by the Fertitta family.
Safely said, there are worse accommodations to prepare one's body for a cage fight.
“You walk into this presidential suite and the marble floors are warm,” McGregor said. “Have you ever walked on marble in bare feet? It feels phenomenal.”
If Poirier has never felt the clean feel of a warm marble floor, it’s unlikely to happen this week. He will share a standard room at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino with his two cornermen, who will rotate using the spare bed and a cot.
Not that this is a bad setup, but it’s not a presidential suite. Poirier has fought 10 times for the UFC, dating back to 2011. He has been involved in two "Fight of the Nights" and is technically ranked higher than McGregor heading into the bout.
Unlike McGregor, however, he has never toasted whiskey with White or Fertitta. He has never stood in Fertitta’s office and been custom-fitted for a suit or watched live UFC fights from a suite with White (as McgGregor did last week).
“I shake their hands at weigh-ins,” said Poirier, on his experience with UFC brass. “I talked to Dana a little after my last fight and that’s it.”
Poirier, 25, understands this is all business (as does McGregor, by the way). He gets what McGregor represents -- in fact, it’s why he asked to fight him.
“I know they really like this guy,” he said. “They see huge potential to make money and break into Irish money. The guy sells fights and people want to hear him talk. It is nothing personal. It’s business.”
The one aspect of the McGregor-UFC "bromance" he has taken issue with is the fact that last Friday, McGregor said he received an invitation to attend the upcoming featherweight championship fight between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes next month in Brazil.
McGregor has already said he's ready and willing to fight that weekend if anything happens to Aldo or Mendes. When asked if he's studying Portuguese, he said kings don't need to talk. He'll just wave.
I do take that as disrespectful. I'm going to go and beat him up, and then what? He's going to Brazil to watch the fight with a busted eye?” -- Dustin Poirier, on the UFC extending an invitation to view the next featherweight title match to Conor McGregor -- and not Poirier
Poirier, as you might have guessed, has not received an invitation to the fight (at least as of last weekend). There are a few ways one could interpret that. One seems more obvious than the others: There is an assumption being made by the UFC that McGregor will win this weekend.
“If the UFC did tell him that and they are looking past me, they’re going to have their plans spoiled,” Poirier said. “That kind of ruffles my feathers. I’ve been in this game a long time and I’ve fought to where I’m at. I didn’t talk my way here like he has.
“I do take that as disrespectful. I’m going to go and beat him up, and then what? He’s going to Brazil to watch the fight with a busted eye?”
There’s nothing wrong with the UFC showing one of its emerging stars love. And in McGregor’s mind, it’s a very fragile thing. Something that must be earned constantly.
“These people are changing my life,” he said. “I am grateful every single day for what these people have done for me and what that has done is spurred me on every day to prove my worth to them.
“I think what can happen is people get too comfortable and consider themself part of the furniture. Then they start showing up a little less. That isn’t me. I’m well aware this is a business and it can be cruel. I show up here to conduct business.”
On Sunday, Poirier (maybe from his couch again) sent a tweet to White and Fertitta. Who knows? Maybe McGregor was nearby and they read it together. Basically, the message was: I’m here to conduct business, too.
“Don’t go all in on this clown,” Poirier wrote. “I’m coming to destroy. The truth will be told Saturday.”
He’s not really in a position to ask for anything. But if he were, he says he’d aim high.
“If I could have chosen anyone to fight [this weekend], it would be the champion,” Akiyama told ESPN.com through a translator. “That would be great.”
Akiyama (13-5) returns to the Octagon on Saturday, for the first time since February 2012. He will meet Amir Sadollah on a UFC Fight Night card in Saitama, Japan. The event will air in the U.S. on Fight Pass, the UFC’s Internet subscription service.
With no disrespect to Sadollah (6-4), one might have thought it would have taken a bigger name opponent to lure Akiyama out of a 31-month layoff. Akiyama, however, says he never considered retirement and just accepted the first bout he was offered.
“It was always the expectation that I would participate in the UFC again,” Akiyama said. “I never say 'no' to any decision made by the UFC. I respect any path the UFC has chosen for me.
"Regarding Amir, he is powerful and I’m quite looking forward to it.”
To the U.S. fan base, it might seem that Akiyama disappeared after he dropped out of a fight against Thiago Alves at UFC 149 in July 2012. A knee injury forced him from the card and eventually snowballed into a long layoff.
In Japan, where Akiyama resides, it’s far different. The former judoka turned model and mixed martial artist is never far from the spotlight. He models regularly and appears on several television shows -- mostly of the reality genre and not linked to fighting.
Akiyama says he trained regularly during his layoff, and other than the knee, he affirms his health has been fine. He visited Las Vegas late last year to train at Xtreme Couture, mostly to be near UFC headquarters. He attended UFC 167 in November.
In his last fight, the UFC persuaded Akiyama to drop from middleweight (185 pounds max) to welterweight (170) after suffering three losses in a row at middleweight. Now two years older, it would not have been a shock to see him back at middleweight for this fight, but he’s committed to 170.
“This feels like it’s actually the best weight for me,” said Akiyama, who said he got up to 198 pounds during the break. "I've consulted a trainer, and the weight loss really hasn't been too difficult."
One opponent who might change his mind and send him back to 185 pounds is former Pride middleweight champion and UFC veteran Wanderlei Silva, who is facing a possible suspension in Nevada for skipping a random drug test.
Akiyama, who UFC president Dana White once said turned down another fight offer because he wanted to fight only Silva, was not aware of the commission issues Silva is facing but said it doesn’t change his desire to fight him at some point.
“Yes, I still want to fight Wanderlei Silva,” Akiyama said. “I’ve been very fond of him in terms of his skills and everything about his fights. We’re on the same stage, so yes, I want to fight him. Nothing changes my mind about that.”
Of course, first comes Sadollah on Saturday -- the matchup the UFC wanted. If Akiyama looks good, perhaps he will be in a position to make requests for his next fight.
“I’m definitely still aiming to be a champion,” Akiyama said.
In those 11 years, Souza (20-3) has failed to get his hand raised only three times. In two of his three losses, you might say Souza got his money's worth.
In his professional debut at Jungle Fight 1 in September 2003, Souza, despite strong grappling credentials, stood with fellow Brazilian Jorge Patino, tired quickly and was knocked out by a stinging right hand a little more than three minutes into the fight.
Almost exactly five years later, Souza suffered his second knockout loss, this time to Gegard Mousasi during a Dream Middleweight Grand Prix in Saitama, Japan. Souza was knocked out by a Mousasi upkick, as he uncorked what is surely one of the wildest right hands he has ever unleashed in his life.
Looking like a 10-year-old impersonating a pro-wrestling move from the top ropes, Souza launched into a crashing right hand after standing over Mousasi's guard. He was met midair by an upkick, which knocked him out cold.
Souza, 34, learned a few lessons that day -- one of which, of course, was to not launch himself wildly into the guard of a savvy fighter like Mousasi. He also simply learned a few things about Mousasi, which he might apply on Friday, when the two meet for the second time in the main event of UFC Fight Night 50 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
"I cannot say it was a lucky move that beat me the first time," Souza told ESPN.com. "It was clever how he caught me. Every one of my fights I learn something and that fight taught me many things.
"One of them was that [upkick] that I need to be aware of. Also, Mousasi is a clever fighter and he needs to be the only thing on my mind right now."
Whether this second meeting between Souza and Mousasi produces the UFC's next 185-pound title challenger or not (president Dana White hinted it might not right away), there's no mistaking its inevitable impact on the middleweight division.
Mousasi (35-4-2) is looking to further prove himself in the weight class after a quick submission victory over Mark Munoz in the first round of a bout in May.
Souza looks like a legitimate threat to the title. He is riding a six-fight winning streak into the bout, including five finishes. The Rio de Janeiro-based fighter says there is no disputing he should fight for the UFC belt pending a win on Friday.
"If I win this fight, there is no doubt I deserve that," Souza said. "I am next. You look at the UFC rankings and I'm next."
Last week in Sacramento, California, however, White told ESPN.com that Souza likely would have to fight again before getting a title shot, as the promotion's middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort on Dec. 6 is three months away.
"[Souza] is definitely right there, but I'm not saying [he's next in line with a win]," White said. "It's possible. The problem with saying he'll get a title shot is that there's already a fight set, so he'd probably have to fight again before he gets a title shot."
Souza said his full focus is on getting past Mousasi on Friday, but that he's ready to fight the Weidman-Belfort winner next.
"I think it's fair Vitor is getting a chance, he deserves it," Souza said. "I'm happy he is cleared with the [Nevada State Athletic Commission]. Weidman is the favorite. It's really hard to take the belt from a confident champion and I see Weidman winning by points or some time in the third or fourth round."
Like, literally, he wasn't ready. He was stark naked, lying on the floor of his hotel bathroom.
"I had just got done making 136 pounds for my [original] fight," Soto said. "My team told me, 'Dude, the UFC is trying to call you. Better answer before you get cut.'
"The matchmakers said they wanted me to go down to the lobby, that it was an emergency. I run downstairs and they said, 'Barao is injured, you want to take the fight? You want to fight Dillashaw?' I said, 'Yeah, I'll fight him.'"
Hours before the official UFC 177 weigh-in, Barao (32-2) fainted while attempting to cut to 135 pounds. The Brazilian was immediately taken to the hospital and withdrew from the title fight.
Soto agreed to step in without hesitation, prompting a wave of "Who is Joe Soto?" pieces and posts on websites and social media.
The 27-year-old has accumulated a solid resume since his professional debut in 2006. He won the inaugural Bellator MMA featherweight title in 2009, but surrendered it in his first attempted defense to Joe Warren in September 2010.
A former All-American NJCAA collegiate wrestler, Soto is currently on a six-fight win streak and has finished 13 of his 15 career wins.
"It's still surreal a little bit, but I'm a professional," Soto said. "I've been doing this for a long time -- 17 fights, a lot of title fights. I've been in this position before.
"Not this crazy of a position, but this position. When I first got to Bellator, they didn't think I was going to win a title and I did. So, I've won titles where I was not expected to win. Nothing this crazy, though. This never happens."
UFC president Dana White said replacing Barao with Soto was a relatively easy call, even though the former Bellator and Tachi Palace Fights champion has never fought in the UFC before.
"He was the guy with the most experience, he has a great record and he has held a title before," White said. "He was the right guy for the job."
According to Dillashaw (10-2), the two have trained with each other previously, as recently as six weeks ago. Soto fought Terrion Ware at a TPF event on Aug. 7 and attended pro practice at Dillashaw's Team Alpha Male several times in preparation.
Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw's head coach, said he had seen Soto fight before and was in the process of breaking his style down.
"I watched his fight with Joe Warren," Ludwig said. "It's a completely different fight [than Barao], but nobody can beat TJ. His style, timing, accuracy power, thought process -- nobody can beat him right now, period."
That will be the consensus thought heading into Saturday's main event, but if Soto is looking for inspiration, he needs to look no further than across the cage. Dillashaw dominated Barao three months ago in a title fight at UFC 173 in Las Vegas, despite being an overwhelming underdog.
The upset was so significant, the UFC's marketing team employed the slogan, "Never Trust the Odds" ahead of the Barao, Dillashaw rematch. That slogan still applies with Soto.
"Greatness is right there," Soto said. "It's mental. You just have to believe. Look at Dillashaw. He beat Barao. Nobody thought he was going to win, so, don't trust the odds."
On Wednesday, Bellator announced Bonnar (15-8) had signed a multifight deal and hinted his first opponent could be former UFC champion Tito Ortiz.
Bonnar has not fought since he suffered a first-round TKO loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 153 in October 2012. After the fight, Bonnar tested positive for drostanolone, an anabolic steroid. He was suspended by the UFC for one year.
Although he announced his retirement shortly after the loss, Bonnar had remained under UFC contract until now. White cut him loose so he could sign with Bellator.
"I wish him the best," White said. "What he told me is that he wants to beat the s--- out of Tito, and I'm always down for that. So, I released him."
White gave the comment tongue in cheek. The UFC executive has had a long, rocky history with Ortiz (17-11-1), whom he once managed.
Bonnar was inducted into the UFC's Hall of Fame last year, along with Forrest Griffin. He is best known for his 2005 back-and-forth fight against Griffin in The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale.
Bellator officials have not made an official announcement on a fight between Bonnar and Ortiz.
Barao (32-2) was forced to withdraw from his title rematch against Dillashaw this weekend at UFC 177, when he fainted while attempting to cut weight on Friday. UFC newcomer Joe Soto replaced Barao in the pay-per-view main event.
UFC president Dana White said that kind of thing is, "going to happen" occasionally in mixed martial arts, but said Barao would not keep his place in line at 135 pounds.
"He won't get a title fight after this," White told ESPN.com.
Naturally, Dillashaw and his camp agreed with that sentiment. The 28-year-old had already stated he didn't feel like Barao deserved an immediate rematch, considering how dominant of a performance Dillashaw had in the first fight.
An agitated Dillashaw said on Friday he felt the failed weight cut was partially due to the fact he "mentally broke" the Brazilian at UFC 173 in May.
"He hasn't missed weight in any of his fights," Dillashaw said. "I think I mentally broke him and he didn't want to fight me. His coaches wanted the fight more than he did. He should have just done this a couple weeks ago."
Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw's head coach, echoed those statements.
"Renan Barao lost his place in line, for sure," Ludwig said. "I don't know the circumstances about him passing out, but I saw him in the hotel lobby around 11 [a.m. on Friday] and he looked fine.
"I was talking to [Barao coach] Andre Pederneiras and Barao was looking right at us, alert to our conversation, and he looked fine to me. For him to pass out a half hour later is weird."
In late 2012, the UFC offered free agent Eddie Alvarez an eight-fight contract.
The contract consisted of an initial base salary at $70,000 with a $70,000 win bonus, with $5,000 increments each time Alvarez won. Additionally, the contract awarded Alvarez pay-per-view profits in his first fight and any subsequent bout in which he defended a UFC title. He was also to receive a $250,000 signing bonus, to be paid over three installments.
Alvarez, 30, accepted the deal but (as everyone knows by now) didn’t join the UFC. His former employer, Bellator MMA, exercised its right to match the deal. Alvarez, following a legal dispute with Bellator, eventually returned to its cage in 2013.
Earlier this week, Alvarez (25-3) received his unconditional release from Bellator and immediately agreed to a UFC contract. He will fight Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC 178 on Sept. 27 in Las Vegas.
The second UFC president Dana White announced Alvarez’ UFC contract -- actually before that, since everyone assumed Alvarez was headed to the UFC -- the question was whether or not Alvarez would still receive such a lucrative deal.
Legally, Alvarez is refrained from sharing specific details on his UFC contract, but the former Bellator lightweight champion told ESPN.com he’s very satisfied.
“It’s comparable (to the 2012) deal -- it’s better,” Alvarez said. “Let’s just say that I’m pleased. I’m not sitting here with a sad face. That’s all I can say.”
Alvarez (25-3) said he’s looking at his initial fight in the UFC as a No. 1 contenders bout -- at least for himself. He is currently on a three-fight win streak, including a split decision over Michael Chandler for the Bellator lightweight title last November.
“I can’t speak for Dana, but I don’t want to wait in line too long,” Alvarez said. “Give me dangerous guys, let me show what I can do against them and give me a title shot. I don’t want to sit around and fight a bunch of guys I already know I can beat. I want the guys everybody thinks are dangerous. Let’s do that.
“(Cerrone’s) best attributes are his setups. He’s crafty but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. I don’t think he’s very good defensively. I think I’ll be able to take advantage of that.”
The game plan was to "cut Matt loose" around the third or fourth round.
Scott Sheeley, head trainer to UFC welterweight Matt Brown, thought the best time to attack Robbie Lawler on July 26 in San Jose would be late. Give Brown (19-12) enough time and he'll break anyone, Sheeley thought -- plus Lawler tends to fade.
The game plan hit a snag, though, when Brown injured his right hand during the UFC No. 1 contender bout against Lawler (24-10). Brown continued to throw punches despite the injury, but ultimately lost the bout via unanimous decision.
Brown, 33, is scheduled to undergo X-rays on his hand and nasal area today in Columbus, according to Sheeley. He received facial stitches on the night of the fight.
Looking back on the loss, Sheeley says it was Lawler's night and there were plenty of areas Brown could have improved -- but it would have been nice to see what the late rounds would have looked like without the hand injury.
"Matt's strength is cardio and breaking guys down," Sheeley told ESPN.com. "It was hard losing the right hand. That's one of our major weapons against the southpaw.
Matt [Brown]'s strength is cardio and breaking guys down. It was hard losing the right hand. That's one of our major weapons against the southpaw.” --Scott Sheeley, head trainer to UFC welterweight Brown, on Brown's fight against Robbie Lawler
"I'm not going to disrespect Robbie, though. I knew he had won the fight. Maybe we should have pulled the trigger a little sooner. In that fifth round, you saw Matt was coming forward, trying to break him. Maybe we should have done that sooner.
"It's a learning experience. We make adjustments from this and we move forward."
The California State Athletic Commission medically suspended Brown for up to six months, pending medical clearance on a possible broken nose. Sheeley said Brown was treated for a deep laceration on his nose, but didn't think it was broken.
Regardless of the medical update Brown receives Monday, Sheeley said he'd like to see him take a small break following last week's five-rounder. There was an issue with a knuckle on Brown's right hand going into the fight, which Sheeley would like to see heal.
Immediately after the Lawler fight, UFC president Dana White stated he felt Brown's stock actually went up despite the loss. Sheeley agreed and said he's hopeful Brown will remain highly ranked in the division, which took a long time to achieve.
"He belongs there," Sheeley said. "Hopefully everybody sees that now. That fight and what he's done in past fights -- he's always the underdog. After this fight, I hope he's not much of an underdog anymore.
"He has the ability to beat Robbie. I think he was getting the better of Robbie in the clinch. On the outside, he was a little slow getting off. I thought his wrestling was OK. I think if we got his boxing going a little better, we squeeze that one out."
Sheeley, who is based out of Ohio same as Brown, had no thoughts on whom Brown should fight next. Whoever puts him back into a position similar to the one he was in last week would be fine.
"I think even with the loss he belongs in the top five," Sheeley said. "Matt, he'll step up and fight anybody so it's really whoever the UFC wants him to fight.
"There’s really not a beef or anything with anybody and Matt. Honestly, whoever we need to fight to get us back to the belt the quickest is what we want."