MMA's Biggest 'What Ifs' from 2018 So Far
There has been no shortage of big stories in 2018 for the sport of MMA. Unfortunately, a lot of those stories have been outside of the Octagon, and none have been bigger than Conor McGregor's tantrum at UFC 223.
Those events, potential fighter returns and failed matchmaking have left fans wondering "what if" about a number of different possibilities.
The UFC has had to shuffle the deck and survive the first-half of 2018 with most of their major stars out of action. Through personal choice or via suspensions, the sport's biggest money makers have been on the sideline. Hardcore fight fans have been treated to excellent bouts of top-tier fisticuffs, but the sport has missed out on connecting with the casual audience with a marquee fight.
Oh, what could have been? That is what we will look at by examing five of the biggest "what if" moments from the first half of the year.
What If... Conor McGregor Didn't Throw a Dolly Through a Bus Window?
Without question, the biggest "what if" of 2018 surrounds former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor. The incident at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York, where McGregor infamously chucked a dolly through a bus window, altered the UFC's current and future plans.
UFC 223 had three separate bouts scrapped due to various reasons stemming from the incident, per CBSSports.com's Brandon Wise. Artem Lobov was taken off the card by the UFC for his involvement. Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis was called off due to cuts on Chiesa's face. And Ray Borg was pulled from his fight against Brandon Moreno due to glass particles in his eye.
The superstar was due to return to the promotion at the next pay-per-view event, but those future plans were affected. MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani reported that McGregor was set to go after the interim welterweight belt against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, that didn't happen.
But what if it never occurred?
Chiesa and Pettis would have dazzled and set the winner on a course for contention in the division. Speaking of contention, Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno would have gotten one flyweight back in the win column. The UFC 225 co-main event between Dos Anjos and Colby Covington would also have never have taken place, as the interim welterweight strap would have already been decided.
UFC 223 was harmed almost beyond repair, and fans were robbed of getting the sport's biggest star back inside the Octagon.
What If... Jon Jones' CSAC Hearing Went Better?
Jon Jones returned to the UFC in 2017 and reclaimed his light heavyweight title by knocking out Daniel Cormier at UFC 214. Everything looked good, except it wasn't. Jones tested positive for an anabolic steroid, which a B sample confirmed, per ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto.
In 2018, Jones went before the California State Athletic Commission to plead his case.
The hearing started off well for Jones, or at least as well as it could have gone. There was a sense of hope he could get reduced penalties. Then Martha Shen-Urquidez began her questioning, and Jones' status went from promising to dead in the water.
Jones admitted to Shen-Urquidez that his management signed documents on his behalf that he reviewed USADA's instructional policies, per Okamoto. The problem? He hadn't. Shen-Urquidez also brought up Jones' checkered past.
Had that hearing gone better, or perhaps even if Shen-Urquidez didn't question Jones, the greatest light heavyweight we have known could already be back in action. Instead, Jones' future is still in doubt.
Jones could have been back atop the light heavyweight division, or he could have moved up to challenge Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title. Instead, those distinctions have been bestowed upon his rival Cormier.
Jones' reputation and legacy are forever stained with this entire ordeal, which did not get any better in front of the CSAC.
What If... Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw Fought?
A much-talked-about fight between Demetrious Johnson, the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, and UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw seemed to be in the plans, either at flyweight for Johnson's title or at bantamweight for Dillashaw's. However, Dana White told Los Angeles Times' Lance Pugmire the fight would not be made.
But what if it did get signed?
UFC 226 or UFC 227 would have been bolstered by one of the best fights that could be made in all of combat sports. Dillashaw and Johnson are at the top of their game. The stylistic matchup is immensely intriguing, and it could have established Johnson as the greatest of all-time with a win.
But don't write this fight off just yet.
UFC 227 will feature both men defending their belts. Dillashaw meets Cody Garbrandt for their rematch, and Johnson gives Henry Cejudo another crack at the flyweight crown. If both should win, it seems inevitable that the fight will be coming later in the year.
We were not given one of the best possible fights, but we could end up with a three-for-one deal should they come out victorious on August 4.
What If... Yoel Romero Made Weight at UFC 225?
Yoel Romero met Luke Rockhold for the UFC interim title at UFC 221. He missed weight and was ineligible to win the belt. After a brutal KO of Rockhold, the UFC still rewarded Romero with a shot at Robert Whittaker, the undisputed champ.
The match was set for UFC 225 in Chicago. Everything looked to be on point, until Romero, once again, missed weight.
There may be a contingent out there suggesting that Romero making weight would not make any difference because he lost the fight. So any potential ramifications lose the "what if" status considering the result. But that is not the case. Romero's weight issues altered the fight.
The rematch got off to a slow start with Whittaker pelting Romero and the Olympian not offering much in return in the opening two rounds. The Cuban, after another grueling weight cut, was conserving energy. The remaining three rounds would ignite a Fight of the Year contender. Romero came close to finishing the fight multiple times.
That is why there is a "what if" surrounding the bout. If Romero had a better weight cut, he could have had more energy for the bout. Perhaps Romero would have been able to be more active in the first two rounds, which would have swung the decision his way.
Whittaker only took a split decision. Perhaps Romero would have been able to finish in the third. Perhaps. The lingering questions are all due to weight mismanagement.
Now Romero is 0-2 vs. Whittaker and a third fight is unlikely. One of the most gifted physical fighters in UFC's history will have this hanging over his legacy, as he could go down as the most talented fighter to never hold a title. What could have been?
What If... Brock Lesnar Didn't Re-Sign with the WWE?
Heading into WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, it seemed as if Brock Lesnar had one foot out the door and would be dropping the belt to Roman Reigns. That didn't happen, and less than 24 hours later, WWE announced he had re-signed with the company. MMAFighting.com's Dave Meltzer reported the deal did feature an option for one UFC fight.
A similar deal was struck prior to UFC 200, but what if Lesnar did leave and signed a new UFC contract?
Well, first and foremost, Lesnar would have re-entered the USADA pool and served out the remainder of his suspension, which stemmed from a positive test around UFC 200 and was frozen once he returned to the WWE, per MMAFighting.com's Marc Raimondi.
But once that suspension is up, Lesnar offers so much value to the UFC. His return, against anyone, would be a spectacle. Lesnar is one of the few bonafide MMA stars, and the big matches would come against the winner of Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones.
And those fights are still on the table.
Meltzer noted in his Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t BloodyElbow.com's Mookie Alexander) that there are discussions for Lesnar to appear at UFC 226 to challenge the winner of the Miocic vs. Cormier superfight. As for Jon Jones, Dana White told TMZ Sports that it is a fight they are interested in doing. It's a fight both stars have openly discussed since Jones called out Lesnar following his UFC 214 victory.
The plans are still the same, but the timeline was affected by Lesnar's decision to re-sign with the WWE. However, it could have worked out for the best. The UFC has been able to sign the Miocic vs. Cormier bout while waiting on Lesnar and Jones to both clear up their issues with commissions and USADA.
"The Beast" returning to the Octagon will give the UFC the shot in the arm they need.