Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor: Booking the Biggest Card in Combat Sports
By now it’s no real secret: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor is on the table.
It’s on the table to the extent Dana White has publicly made a first offer to the combatants, McGregor has insisted his next scrap will be under boxing rules, and Mayweather has talked almost exclusively of the Irishman as his next challenge.
There’s been some back-and-forth from all parties involved, as is the case with any negotiation, and opinions vary on the plausibility of the fight happening. Still, with talk as hot as it’s ever been about the crossover fight and people from both sides of the combat sports aisle weighing in, it’s hard not to think you’ll be watching Mayweather and McGregor slug it out by the end of 2017.
Part of the deal in the earliest stages of the discussion surrounding the bout has been talks of who will be responsible for building the undercard. If White is to be believed, it will be the UFC—a potential boon for the MMA giant, which would be granted the chance to get the sport in front of its largest pay-per-view audience ever (and maybe the largest pay-per-view audience ever).
If they’re going to secure that right and then pull it off with the proper pomp and circumstance, the promotion will need to put together a card full of title fights, proven stars and stars of tomorrow to truly maximize the opportunity.
Going on the presumption the event will be a five-fight main card taking place late this year and with Mayweather-McGregor in the main event slot, here are the four bouts that should support the two biggest names in the business on what would be the biggest night in UFC history.
Middleweight Bout: Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping II
While this may seem to be a very odd choice to open the pay-per-view, consider the context and history before dismissing it.
Anderson Silva is, by most accounts, the greatest mixed martial artist to ever compete in the sport and has a highlight reel dating back a decade. He’s stopped guys cold with back elbows, front kicks to the face, knees to the gut, triangles, rear-naked chokes—you name it, he’s done it. To have such a legend still active and still, quite literally, kicking, is a blessing, and it deserves to be treated as such.
Michael Bisping II is similarly renowned, even if his greatest peaks have come at the very end of his time in the game. He spent a decade living and dying to get to the precipice of the elite, being knocked back from the top of the mountain every time he got close. Then, on a couple of weeks’ notice, he knocked out a bigger, stronger, younger champion (who already had a win over him) to shock the world and finally win a title.
The two men also put on an iconic fight in London last year, a wild brawl that perfectly encapsulated the styles of both men—Bisping all volume and heart, coming forward for 25 minutes, Silva picking his spots and almost smoking the Brit on a number of occasions. It was easily one of the best fights of 2016, and no one would refuse the chance to see it again.
It would be a great way to start the event by giving a tip of the cap to two of the foundational names in the modern UFC, both of whom are still great middleweights. Each man would get paid handsomely and, should Bisping defend his title against Yoel Romero between now and the end of 2017, there’s a chance it would be for the middleweight strap as well.
Bantamweight Title: Cody Garbrandt, TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz Rematch
Coming out of the summer of 2017, an intriguing bantamweight title rematch is going to be on the docket one way or another. There is a trifecta of truly elite talent sitting at the top of the division, far and away from their peers, and matching up some combination of that trio for a title fight on the Mayweather-McGregor undercard would make a lot of sense.
Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw will coach The Ultimate Fighter this spring and settle their score once the season runs on television, meaning one of them will hold the title. Depending on the outcome of that bout, the UFC could rematch the two if they provide an exciting battle in their first meeting or give a title fight to former long-term champion Dominick Cruz, who dropped the belt to Garbrandt at UFC 207.
However the promotion looks to do it, the effect remains the same: It gets some variety of star in front of a massive audience. Garbrandt appears to be a man on the rise in that department, Dillashaw could be with a little more exposure, and Cruz is ahead of both thanks to his long title reign and time as an analyst on Fox.
Historically it’s been tough for the UFC to sell smaller guys to the type of mass audience it’d be targeting here. Based on the excitement Garbrandt-Cruz and Cruz-Dillashaw provided in the past, and also what one could reasonably anticipate from Garbrandt-Dillashaw, a bantamweight title rematch between two of these three guys might be the best chance the promotion ever has to catapult the weight class into the broader sporting consciousness.
Women’s Strawweight Title: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson
One of the greatest elements of mixed martial arts is the level of equality it affords its female athletes. The ladies are as respected and beloved as their male counterparts, revered for their toughness, grit and athleticism in a sport that requires every ounce of each for a person to excel.
With that in mind, what better way to showcase that fact than by dropping a women’s strawweight title fight right in the middle of the card?
Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk has become a darling of the MMA community, ferocious in the cage and media savvy outside of it. In terms of capacity to produce beautiful, technical violence, there may not be a better individual in the sport, and for those who have never seen her or are unaware of her excellence, she’d surely get their attention on such a giant stage.
Michelle Waterson provides the perfect foil and, with a few breaks, might be right in line for a title shot by year’s end. After beating Paige VanZant in December, she’s been showing up more regularly in UFC promotions and media and has the look and personality to stand out in the lead-up to the fight. She’s also incredibly scrappy and athletic and has come into her own competitively over the past few years. She’d surely be the underdog against Jedrzejczyk, but she’d be a live one given her proven ability to rise to the occasion.
Regardless of the outcome, this fight might be the most likely to create a UFC superstar. If Joanna Champion retains with her signature style, she’ll have the combat sports world eating out of the palm of her hand, and if Waterson can dethrone her, she’ll instantly become a focus of respect from hardcore fans and adulation from those not previously familiar with her or with women’s MMA.
It’s a guaranteed UFC win and the perfect way to transition the card to the co-main and main events.
Lightweight Bout: Nate Diaz vs. Jose Aldo
As a co-main event to the biggest fight of Conor McGregor’s career, are there any two mixed martial artists who make more sense in a matchup than his two greatest foes?
You’d have to think not.
Nate Diaz and Jose Aldo are the two men who served as footing for McGregor’s launch into international sporting notoriety. The feuds he had with both made people take notice, and the fights they produced elevated them all to new levels (even Aldo, who despite losing in 13-seconds, got more media and attention than ever both before and after the bout).
Beyond the connection to McGregor, a fight between Diaz and Aldo serves a number of purposes. On its face it appears likely to produce an exciting striking battle—a theme which has been the goal of this entire fantasy booking exercise, as the UFC would have to appeal to the boxing audience in this context.
It would be a compelling, competitive matchup, with Diaz holding an advantage in size and boxing, while Aldo is quicker and more diverse. The ground battle would be a wash in the event it ever went there, likely to produce exciting scrambles and pursuit of submissions instead of lay-and-pray or stall tactics.
Furthermore, having the two compete in such a prestigious slot would set the winner up for a crack at McGregor’s UFC lightweight title once he returned to the Octagon from his sojourn into the boxing world. That might have to wait until the interim title saga of Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov plays itself out, but at this point it wouldn’t be hard to imagine WME-IMG simply cashing in on Diaz or Aldo as a title contender ahead of its interim champion given its big debt load and need to service it.
Frankly there isn’t another fight out there for the UFC to offer as a co-main event for Mayweather vs. McGregor.