Conor’s next opponent? Masvidal, Bisping, McGregor’s camp weigh in

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Editor’s note: Watch the replay of this week’s Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show here.

Trying to determine who Conor McGregor will fight next is one of the hottest talking points in all of sports. Even before McGregor stopped Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in 40 seconds on Saturday, speculation about his next opponent dominated interviews and social media.

Will it be Jorge Masvidal, Justin Gaethje or Nate Diaz? Will he wait for the winner of the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson lightweight title fight on April 18? Even welterweight champ Kamaru Usman has been mentioned as a potential opponent.

The topic was broached to several guests Monday on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show.

Masvidal wants the payday associated with a McGregor bout, but he doesn’t believe McGregor wants to fight him because he hasn’t called him out yet. Many thought McGregor would call out his next opponent after Saturday’s bout.

“He has different plans,” Masvidal said. “He’s got his own plans, things he wants to do. Go and get them done, brother. I couldn’t give a f— less. I’m gonna go and get money either way.”

But Masvidal made sure to point out he will knock out McGregor — or baptize him, as he describes it — if they fight: “If that contract gets in front of my face and the numbers add up to what I’m asking for, yeah. Then Conor is getting baptized on TV, man. Easy math. Simple.”

McGregor’s manager Audie Attar said McGregor will leave his options open while McGregor coach John Kavanaugh said he believes his fighter’s next bout will be before the summer.

“Let’s see what motivates him,” Attar said. “That’s the most important thing.”

ESPN analyst Micahel Bisping wasn’t vague with his prediction.

“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, I guarantee he fights Nate Diaz next,” Bisping said. “Masvidal and [Kamaru] Usman are probably going to fight each other. Khabib’s going to fight Tony in April, then it’s Ramadan. If he beats Tony, he’s not going to fight anytime soon. And Conor already teased Diaz, and that’s good business for everybody involved. Fans want to see it, everyone makes money, so that’s what’s going to happen. That’s my prediction.”

After McGregor’s win, Diaz tweeted out how unimpressed he was with the performance. McGregor responded with a “let’s go” response, leading many to wonder if the trilogy fight would indeed happen soon.

Dana White appears set on having McGregor challenge Nurmagomedov for the lightweight belt if Nurmagomedov can beat Ferguson, but could fan interest create enough momentum to change his mind? Nurmagomedov likely won’t start training until Ramadan is over on May 23, so does McGregor want to wait until late-summer for next fight? Not according to his coach.

Among all the speculation, two truths appear evident: Masvidal wants to fight McGregor, and McGregor isn’t ready to call anyone out yet.

Holly Holm on her father’s recent health struggles: ‘It was definitely a journey’

Holly Holm secured a clear decision victory over Raquel Pennington Saturday at UFC 246, a performance made all the more impressive when she revealed in the post-fight press conference that her father Roger had suffered a stroke as she was preparing for the fight.

Holm talked to Helwani on Monday afternoon from her car in her dad’s driveway after picking him up from the rehab facility.

“He got out today,” Holm said. “It was definitely a journey.”

Holm recalled that on the Saturday before Christmas she had talked to her father and thought something might be wrong, even recommending he get some blood work, but he demurred. On Sunday morning, as Roger was preaching, members of the congregation thought something was seriously awry and reached out to Holly. Holm rushed to the church and brought her father to the emergency room, where they discovered he had had suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage.

“He was in the ICU for four days an in the hospital for 12 days,” Holm said.

As Holm entered the home stretch of her fight camp, she and her brother, who drove in from Arizona, took turns sitting at Roger’s side.

“Between him and I, we didn’t really leave my dad alone,” Holm said. “We made sure that somebody was there. When you’re dealing with brain bleeds, there’s a lot of confusion. We wanted to make sure he had a familiar face there any time that he would wake up.

“There were some long nights there, and some scary days in the hospital. Those little hospital chairs, I spent quite a few nights sleeping on those hospital chairs and going back to training in the morning.”

She’d run late at night whenever she found a free moment, and the rehab facility was just a half-mile away from where Holm trained, alleviating a little bit of the pressure. While Holm predominantly kept a daytime schedule, the flexibility of both her team and her family allowed her to pivot as needed.

“I’d train at night sometimes, late, and my team was so great that if I could make it to the gym at night, even if it was late, they would just show up and make sure I could get my training in when I could. I knew that my dad wouldn’t want me to not pursue what I’m doing,” Holm said. “That’s why I kept pushing forward. And I knew that no matter what, if this was going to be something permanent, or something temporary, or whatever it was, we were going to have to work together, move forward and live with it.”

Roger, who doesn’t remember any of the time he spent in the hospital, started to gain a better grasp of his memory and the situation in general in the week leading up to the fight, and two days removed from Holly’s victory, she was able to drive him back to his house. In the short-term, they were happy to see there was no paralysis, and according to Holly, Roger is on the road to a full recovery.

When asked to explain how she was able to juggle everything and come out of the fight with a victory, Holm chalked it up to being able to buckle down when she needed it the most.

“In this life, you can dig down and get energy where you need to.”

Roxanne Modafferi thrilled with her win, feels bad for Maycee Barber



Roxanne Modafferi joins Ariel Helwani on his MMA show to discuss her UFC prelims win over Maycee Barber.

Roxanne Modafferi shocked a lot of people by besting previously undefeated Maycee Barber Saturday night at UFC 246. A lot of attention has been paid to the ACL injury suffered by Barber, which Maycee’s father said happened in the first 10 seconds of the fight, but from her perspective in the cage, Modafferi begs to differ in terms of when the injury happened.

“I don’t think it was the first ten seconds,” Modafferi told Ariel Helwani on Monday afternoon. “I think it was when I hit her in the second round, she stepped and went down funny. I think it just that accident… the step was the accident, not the punch.”

Modafferi’s suspicions about the extent of Barber’s injury were confirmed when the ringside doctor checked out her knee in between the second and third rounds. Modafferi didn’t hear what the doctor said during that exchange, but while she knew Barber’s leg was severely compromised, it didn’t cross her mind to attack that limb.

“I didn’t hear any of that, I just knew that it was bothering her,” Modafferi said. “Never once did it cross my mind to kick the leg. Some people would. I was going to take advantage of the mobility issue, but I didn’t really want a huge injury. That sucks, really, for anybody.

“I didn’t really think [those] thoughts during the fight, but now I’m reflecting on it [and] one of my philosophies as a martial artist is to win fights without causing actual pain. That’s why I love jiu-jitsu. You can choke them, they go to sleep or they tap out.”

So does she think Barber should have bowed out when she realized she was so severely injured?

“No. She’s a warrior,” Modafferi said. “Let her go out on her shield. I really respect her for that. I know she was in obvious pain, but she was still fighting as hard as she could, saying she was fine, which was a lie, but I would do the same exact thing.”

Modafferi embodied her nickname “The Happy Warrior” by avoiding the easy, destructive target. She felt bad for Barber in the moment, and they exchanged a few words both during and after the fight.

“I said I’m sorry, actually during the fight. I don’t talk to people during the fight, but when she went down I accidentally said I’m sorry, but it was more like I have to keep beating you now,” Modafferi said. “I hated that her leg was injured and she said, ‘No, it’s OK, it’s all part of the game.’ And then we kept punching each other.

“After the fight I said, ‘You will be a champion someday.’ I believe that. She’s talented, she’s a hard worker.”

Kevin Lee not getting a “Cowboy” fight

Kevin Lee put his career back on track in November by ending a two-fight losing streak with a knockout of rising lightweight prospect Gregor Gillespie. That earned him a main event slot in the UFC’s March 14 event in Sao Paulo against one of Brazil’s hottest fighters, Charles Oliveira, winner of six in a row, all finishes.

“I’m the one who’s gotta take fights like this. I don’t get to fight Cowboy coming off two losses and he’s looking a little chinny,” Lee said, making disparaging reference to Conor McGregor’s win over Donald Cerrone over the weekend. “I gotta fight the guy that’s coming up in his prime, with a whole lot of experience behind him, fought a whole lot of big names. And I got to take him on his hometown, in [front of] the most hostile crowd that there is in the world.”

Lee’s geography is a bit off — Oliveira is from Brasilia, some 600 miles from the coastal city that will host the fight — but his point is well taken.

“I had my comeback fight in November, and I took on an undefeated guy,” said Lee. “I didn’t take on somebody a little over the hill.” If Lee gets by Oliveira, the fight he wants after that would be against 17-1 Islam Makhachev. In Russia, naturally.

Dober eyes Iaquinta fight, long time in the making

After earning a performance-of-the-night bonus for his TKO of rising star Nasrat Haqparast, Drew Dober is hoping to get in the Octagon with powerful lightweight Al Iaquinta next.

Dober said the two were once paired up to fight in a Midwest promotion, but it fell through. Then they were both on the live season of The Ultimate Fighter, but never fought.

“So I’ve had my eyes on him for a long, long time,” Dober said. “It’s all respect, the dude is super talented. I love all his fights, so having a dance partner like that would be absolutely amazing.”

Dober said he’s worked on his mental game, and is hoping to build on his most recent performance.

“It’s my job to use this energy as motivation for my next fight and the fights further on,” he said. “Finally now, people are seeing what I’ve been telling myself for years.”

Ferreira’s fight goes according to plan

Diego Ferreira continued his hot streak at UFC 246, earning a signature victory over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Ferreira, who has won six straight, said on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show that the game plan was simple: keep the explosive and athletic Pettis grounded. He certainly did that, taking Pettis down three times before earning a second-round submission win. It was a change in style for Ferreira, who had managed three takedowns in his previous nine fights.

“I tried my hardest to go to the ground,” said Ferreira, who handed Pettis his first career submission defeat. “Normally I don’t [deliver takedowns] as much, I do a lot of transitions, I like to scramble. But I put a lot of effort on my takedowns and my wrestling, and I got it. Three takedowns in one fight is a lot for me.”

Did Brian Kelleher earn another UFC contract with win?

Brian Kelleher began Saturday night’s fight with his hands behind his back, as an homage to someone sitting at cageside in a Versace robe.

“I was going to do exactly what Jorge did, just run and do a flying knee or a flying kick,” he said, referring to Masvidal’s five-second KO of Ben Askren in July. “Something crazy out of the gate. I wanted to make the fight exciting.”

Kelleher’s desire to make a bold statement was befitting the stage he suddenly was on. Just the day before, his bout against Ode Osbourne had been moved up from the early prelims to the UFC 246 main card, three fights before Conor McGregor‘s return.

Kelleher and Osbourne both were aware of the brighter spotlight shining down on them. Osbourne, making his UFC debut, was basking in it, proclaiming that someday people would be saying McGregor fought on his card. Kelleher offered his counterpoint at weigh-ins.

“The Irish fans, they always cheer, ‘Ole, ole-ole-ole,’ so he was making it like, ‘Oh, look, they’re already cheering my name: Ode, Ode-Ode-Ode,'” said Kelleher, singing the chants. “And I said, ‘No way, no way-no way-no way.'”

In the end, Kelleher’s sing-songy narrative won out. He didn’t run across at the start and Askren his opponent, but midway through the first round he sunk in a guillotine choke that got Osbourne to tap out at 2:49. Osbourne’s arms were immobilized, so he had to tap with his leg.

“We made him tap dance, baby,” said Kelleher.

This was Kelleher’s last fight on his current UFC contract. He hopes that this win keeps him with the company and on the path to a title shot.

“I fought out my contract,” he said. “I had a crazy amount of pressure. Honestly, I don’t know anything else but fighting. I don’t have a trade. I’m not a handyman. I don’t know what other job I would do that I would be happy doing, to be honest. I’m terrified to not continue this career and keep making make the most money fighting because I have no idea what’s next.”

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