TGIFighting: Is Conor McGregor Feeling the Pressure?

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterApril 16, 2021

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregorJohn Locher/Associated Press

Happy Friday and welcome back to TGIFighting. We'll get you set for this weekend's MMA action and break down the news of the day. Let's get it on.

                      

Is Conor McGregor Feeling the Pressure?

If you haven't already heard, Conor McGregor got a little animated on social media this week. Also water is wet, the sun rises in the East and so forth.

But this time was a little different. It centered around a massive $500,000 McGregor (22-5) publicly pledged to the charity organization of his once and future opponent Mr. Dustin Poirier (27-6 [1 NC]).  

To make a long story short, Poirier tweeted that Team Conor lost interest in the donation once the bright lights went down, letting communication lapse between the two camps. So, following a recent McGregor victory prediction, Poirier called him out for said lapse. And McGregor blew a Twitter gasket, even by McGregor standards, in a now-deleted tweet, at one point indicating the fight might be off:

"You're ripped you inbred hillbilly," McGregor fired back on Twitter. "Why do you wink with your ears? You f--king brain dead hillbilly. 500k with no plan in place. Ye hang tight. Fool. You must be new to money. The fight is off btw. I'm going to fight someone else on the 10th. Good luck on your old contract kid."

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Even McGregor's manager, Audie Attar, got in on the action, calling Poirier's actions "a low move." As a reminder, that's in defense of a person who purportedly hasn't followed through on a pledge to donate to a charity, according to the charity's founder.

Once you wade through the invective, the core of Team Conor's argument is that Team Dustin didn't have an adequate plan in place for how to spend the money, so they cut off communication. Here's a nickel's worth of free advice for McGregor and his crew: When I don't have enough information on something, I "ask" about it. Here's an example.

"Could you provide more information about what you'll do with this money?"

It's just that simple! Hey, maybe they did ask, and at the end of the day this is all speculation, but it seems unlikely that that plan of "asking," once tried, wouldn't at least lead to a line of communication that would have prevented the need for the sort of conflict that goes well beyond the confines of standard trash talk. (In other words, it seems unlikely Poirier would have dragged his charity into a social media spat if all he wanted to do was hype a fight. McGregor's not hard to find in that regard.) Poirier has since walked back his comments, but McGregor's reaction was still his reaction, and based on the fact that McGregor deleted his tweets, he had to know on some level that he had gotten out of hand.

But let us now ask a larger question. Is McGregor starting to feel a bit cornered in his fight career? He seemed pretty touchy in this exchange, arguably unnecessarily. It lacked his customary playfulness. To me, it seemed to come from more a place of rage than of smack. If nothing else, it's worth asking whether the UFC's first double-champ is starting to feel the weight of living in the public eye.

It might not have been remarkable if it hadn't come at a time when McGregor badly needs to regain his MMA mojo. Remember, he's only competed three times in the past two-plus years, and two of those three were losses, one to Poirier and one to the best lightweight ever in Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0). Both are great opponents; neither bout was especially competitive. As the world knows, McGregor and Poirier will fight their rubber match at UFC 264 on July 10. (Note: UFC President Dana White on Wednesday stated that the fight was indeed signed, sealed and delivered.)

If McGregor drops his third contest in four outings, the bloom will be off the rose. He'd be consigned, at least temporarily, to lower-level contenders or "fun" matchups that will bring eyeballs but won't be serious fights—if championships are still the goal. For a man living in a fish bowl, and with a lot of personal and professional interests that transcend the cage but heavily rely on his success there to fuel them, the pressure to perform in July must be intense. We'll see how he does between now and then. In the meantime, here's hoping he can figure out how to help Poirier's charity, like he said he would.

                         

Whittaker vs Gastelum: Will the Winner Leapfrog Vettori for a Shot at Adesanya?

When Kelvin Gastelum (16-6 [1 NC]) accepted a middleweight main event with Robert Whittaker (23-5) on short notice less than a month ago, this bout quickly took on new significance. The winner is potentially well-positioned for a rematch against champ Israel Adesanya (20-1). That adds extra intrigue to the bout, which goes down Saturday at UFC Vegas 24.

Both of these men have faced (and lost to) Adesanya previously. But Gastelum made the champ work, using wrestling to stifle and wear down Adesanya over five long rounds before Adesanya gutted out the W. Adesanya had an easier time beating Whittaker, then the lineal champ, with a second-round knockout. 

Robert Whittaker (right) punches Yoel Romero in 2018
Robert Whittaker (right) punches Yoel Romero in 2018Jim Young/Associated Press

Gastelum has dropped two of three since, while Whittaker has taken two straight in convincing fashion. In both cases, overall record and past performance against Adesanya would, when combined with a win Saturday, make a pretty strong argument for either man, especially given that middleweight is looking a little thin these days.

One man who may take issue: Marvin Vettori (17-4-1), who's fresh off a win over Kevin Holland (21-7) at UFC on ABC 2. Vettori has himself faced Adesanya, pushing the brilliant kickboxer in a close bout Adesanya took by split decision. That was only Adesanya's second fight in the UFC, so he was pretty green for MMA, but it still left an impression and may justify a rematch, especially after Vettori's most recent win, his fifth straight.

Whittaker and Gastelum are both otherworldly tough, with a tendency to pressure and pound opponents into metaphorical if not literal submission. It will be tough to deny the winner a runback with one of the best middleweights to ever do it.

                     

Andrei Arlovski: I'm Not Sure He's Ever Going to Stop

Also on Saturday's main card: heavyweight Andrei Arlovski (30-20 [2 NC]). At age 42, he's an exercise in MMA longevity, even if it might go against the advice of any reasonable person.

Ready to feel old? Arlovski's UFC debut happened on November 17, 2000—a month before we knew whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would be the next president.

Andrei Arlovski (left)
Andrei Arlovski (left)Jim Young/Associated Press

He faced Tim Sylvia three times, in addition to one no-contest. He fought Pedro freaking Rizzo, who last competed in the UFC in 2003. He competed on the same EliteXC card that featured the MMA debut of someone named Kimbo Slice (RIP). His longevity is a little scary because, you know, it's fighting, but he's 3-2 in his last five (many of them punishing affairs) and a decent-enough presence in the decidedly top-heavy heavyweight division.

Good, bad or indifferent, you have to recognize Arlovski's unusual staying power.

                        

ONE Championship Can't Catch a Break

First, Eddie Alvarez (30-8 [1 NC]) gets a dicey DQ. Then Demetrious Johnson (30-4-1) gets knocked out. Now, ONE Championship has lost another golden boy, at least for the time being, as MMA Ken doll Sage Northcutt (11-3) has pulled out of his April 28 bout with grappling legend Shinya Aoki (46-9 [1]), with COVID-19 symptoms to blame.

The timing couldn't be worse for ONE, which made its stateside TV debut last week with the card that culminated with the Alvarez-Johnson two-step of disappointment. 

Demetrious Johnson
Demetrious JohnsonEugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

Sure, ONE has plenty of homegrown talent, including Adriano Moraes (19-3), the super-talented flyweight champ who knocked off Johnson. But we all know that homegrown talent isn't going to move the needle, not like two former UFC champions and a well-known personality in Northcutt. Here's hoping things turn around, as the Singapore-based promotion, if healthy, can provide healthy competition for the UFC-dominated MMA market. 

                   

Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the Week

Record to date: 6-0

For the UFC Vegas 24 lock, let us look to the undercard, where women's flyweights Tracy Cortez (8-1) and Justine Kish (7-3) square off. According to DraftKings, Cortez is a -286 favorite to handle Kish, who has dropped three of her last four as part of an OK but unspectacular UFC career. 

This feels like a chance to put Cortez over. She hasn't lost since 2017 and has the kind of inspiring backstory—she took up MMA to carry on the legacy of her brother, also a fighter, who passed away from cancer—the promotion loves and does its best to safeguard. Practically speaking, though, the key is her heavy-duty wrestling, which could wreak havoc on Kish, who can be passive at times. Lock it in.

                    

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