<
>

Helwani: 21 thoughts on the week in MMA

Another victory could deliver Donald Cerrone a long-awaited UFC title opportunity. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It's Monday, time for another edition of Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, which airs live starting at 1 p.m. ET on Twitter and YouTube. After it ends, you can listen to the entire show via the ESPN podcast center.


Happy Monday, friends. I believe you've heard me say this before, but we've got another incredibly busy week of MMA action coming up.

PFL's Season 2 debut, Bellator 221, UFC 237, plus ONE Championship, LFA and a whole lot more. The fun never stops. Of course, UFC 237 features the long-awaited return of strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, who faces Jessica Andrade. Can't believe it's been 13 months since we last saw Namajunas fight.

More on "Thug Rose" in a moment, but for now, here are some thoughts on the week that was and the week to come in MMA:

1. I remember talking to Donald Cerrone after his win over Dennis Siver at UFC 137 in October 2011. At the time, the win extended his UFC record to a perfect 4-0 and his overall winning streak to six. Cerrone said something back then that I have never forgotten.

As we spoke at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Cerrone showed very little interest in fighting for the UFC lightweight title. I couldn't believe it. All he cared about at the time was fighting once more that year. How was this possible? This guy is either a liar or nuts, I remember thinking. I had never heard anyone say that before. After all, everyone cares about the title! Well, he wasn't lying. At the time, all Cerrone truly cared about was fighting as much as possible and, in turn, collecting as much money as possible.

His I-don't-care-about-the-title stance lasted seven more years. I'm sure you've heard him talk about it before. It's one of the many things that has made Cerrone, now the winningest fighter in UFC history, unique. But a funny thing happened last year: Cerrone became a dad.

Becoming a parent can affect someone in great ways. One nice byproduct of parenting is it gives you balance and perspective. It also gives you focus. So it's no surprise to this father of three that Cerrone has now changed his stance. He finally wants the UFC belt. He keeps talking about it. And while it still sounds weird hearing him care so much about the title, I like hearing it.

Winning a major title is really the only thing Cerrone hasn't done, so why not go for it at this point in his career? Yet despite how good he looked on Saturday night against Al Iaquinta and how impressive he's been since becoming a dad (3-0), there's a logjam at the top of the lightweight division. I don't expect him to get a title shot next. One or two more performances like Saturday night, though, will easily change that.

2. With that in mind, here's how I would book the top of the lightweight division next: Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson versus Conor McGregor and Justin Gaethje versus Cerrone.

3. Where would that leave Nate Diaz, you ask? Yes, I know Diaz hasn't fought in almost three years (time flies, eh?), but he is itching to come back. I believe he will fight again this year. I'd like to see him return on the Aug. 17 pay-per-view card at 170 pounds against Anthony Pettis. Diaz doesn't want to cut to 155 pounds, and Pettis looked good in his welterweight debut, plus they've had a thing for years. It's time.

4. Speaking of Aug. 17, the UFC has discussed booking Yoel Romero versus Paulo Costa on that card. Let's see if it actually happens this time.

5. Brock Lesnar hasn't confirmed he's done, but according to sources close to him, he is really done ... for now. Ultimately, you never know what Lesnar will do, but as he approaches 42 years old in July, it says here his MMA fighting days are behind him for good. I am at peace with this.

6. I genuinely feel bad for Daniel Cormier. He never asked for Lesnar. The UFC dangled that carrot in front of him. Of course he was going to take it. That was the biggest and easiest fight he could get. Now he has to get motivated to beat Stipe Miocic again in what could very well be his final fight. Interestingly enough, he gets to do it in Anaheim, California, which is where Jon Jones knocked him out two years ago.

7. I hope Iaquinta takes a break after Saturday's loss to Cerrone. The pride of Wantagh, New York, is tougher than a $2 steak, and while it was a disappointing night at the office, I have no doubt he'll be back and will learn from this. Remember that loss to Mitch Clarke?

8. The UFC's return to Ottawa was a bit of a mixed bag, but I thought Shane Burgos, Merab Dvalishvili, Walt Harris, Macy Chiasson and Matt Sayles looked good. I wish Chiasson would stay at 145, though. She's exactly what that division needs right now.

9. Arjan Bhullar, the first Indian fighter in UFC history, fought out his contract on Saturday. Should the UFC re-sign him? I believe so. He's green, but I think his upside in and out of the cage is high. WWE is interested in his services, too, I'm told.

10. It didn't get much fanfare going into Saturday, but Bellator's Birmingham main card was outstanding. It featured four incredible finishes, highlighted by Raymond Daniels' knockout of the year contender, which has been posted and replayed by every major outlet out there. I remember covering Daniels' MMA debut in 2008 at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thomson and being so excited and then subsequently disappointed in his performance (a second-round submission loss to Jeremiah Metcalf). He took an 11-year break from the sport while continuing to thrive in kickboxing, so it's cool to see him get all this love. I mean, a 720 knockout? Beautiful.

play
1:00

Daniels spins, then floors opponent with right hand

Raymond Daniels nails Wilker Barros with a kick, then spins in the air before knocking out Barros with a right hand at Bellator Birmingham.

11. This weekend's Bellator 221 card also is flying under the radar, but it is deep. Michael Chandler versus Patricio Pitbull, Michael Page versus Douglas Lima and Pat Curran versus A.J. McKee are very intriguing fights. It also features Jake Hager (aka Jack Swagger of WWE fame) in his second pro fight.

12. Perhaps he'll sway me otherwise when we speak later on the show, but I'm still not convinced that Rory MacDonald should be fighting next month.

13. Congrats to Brianna Van Buren, who won Invicta's one-night tournament on Friday to become the promotion's new strawweight champion. That was a dominant night for the native of Gilroy, California. I know Cormier, who trains with her at the American Kickboxing Academy, is high on her potential.

14. Chan Sung Jung versus Renato Moicano is a fine fight. I suspect it will be action-packed and a lot of fun. But it lacks teeth for the UFC's debut main event in Greenville, South Carolina. That spot should have gone to Greenville's own Stephen Thompson, but unfortunately, his knockout loss to Pettis in March ruined those plans. Makes you wonder why he was booked on that card if Greenville was coming up three months later, though.

15. Updating two items from last week: Darren Till is back on social media, and Yoel Romero's court case for his lawsuit against the makers of the tainted substance he ingested was postponed until later this month.

16. Rizin FF deserves a ton of credit for the way it is co-promoting these days. First it was loaning Kyoji Horiguchi to Bellator to rematch Darrion Caldwell, and now it's booking super atomweight champion Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Invicta 105-pound champion Jinh Yu Frey. The sport desperately needs more of this.

17. MMA, and the fight game in general, for that matter, has forever been filled with questionable managers. That's just an unfortunate byproduct of combat sports. However, ONE's new agent certification program is not the answer to weed out those characters. It's incredibly restrictive and exclusive. Why do you have to live in Asia for at least a year to be a good agent? Why must you have a minimum of 10 years' experience in the martial arts industry when ONE isn't even 10 years old? The promotion is at odds with one or two agents, so it is trying to make a splash, but I suspect this never gets enforced, which only makes the announcement that much more unsettling.

18. I have so much respect for Namajunas for traveling to Brazil to fight Andrade. This kind of thing doesn't happen often, and I feel like more should be made of how honorable it is. (It brings shades of Ronda Rousey versus Bethe Correia at UFC 190, though this is a tougher task because Andrade is much more talented than Correia.) Call me old-school, but a champion, especially one as popular as Namajunas is, should never have to fight in the challenger's home country. But Namajunas is different, and that's why she's so popular. Also, is it me, or are a lot of people counting her out going into this fight?

19. Lots at stake when Alex Volkanovski fights Jose Aldo on Saturday night. Not only did Volkanovski's best friends postpone their wedding so he could take the fight, but I don't know how he could be denied a title shot with a win. The win would improve his record to 20-1 and his UFC record to 7-0. If the UFC wants to give Frankie Edgar the next shot at featherweight champion Max Holloway based on status, that's fine by me -- Edgar is a legend -- but Volkanovski should not have to fight anyone else if he wins Saturday.

20. Looking forward to covering my first PFL event in person Thursday on Long Island. As you probably heard, the promotion makes its ESPN debut this week, and I think this is a great moment in the sport's history. It's hard to quantify just how massive it is that ESPN is now home to two MMA promotions. Who would have believed this two years ago?

play
1:49

Professional Fighters League brings true sport format to MMA

The PFL, which begins May 9 on ESPN+ and ESPN2, features a regular season, a playoff bracket and championship fights with million-dollar payouts.

21. Ben Askren is a mensch. He's competing against Olympic gold-medal wrestler Jordan Burroughs at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden later Monday, but first, he's traveling to Bristol, Connecticut, to join us in studio on the show. Trust me when I say that very few would do this. I am incredibly appreciative.


Today's lineup + times

1 p.m.: Ben Askren

Askren will join us in studio to preview Monday's wrestling match against Jordan Burroughs and his upcoming fight against Jorge Masvidal.

1:50: Randy Couture

The PFL color analyst also will join us in studio to discuss the promotion's second season and more.

2:45: Daniel Cormier

The UFC heavyweight champion will discuss not fighting Brock Lesnar and his upcoming rematch against Stipe Miocic.

3:00: Rory MacDonald

The Bellator welterweight champion will talk about his recent comments about his future and preview his upcoming fight against Jon Fitch.

3:20: Arjan Bhullar

The heavyweight will talk about why he fought out his UFC contract, his win over Juan Adams in Ottawa and what's next for him.

3:35: Cynthia Calvillo

The UFC strawweight contender will discuss some recent changes in her career and whom she wants to fight next.

3:55: George Lockhart

The famed nutritionist will share some news regarding his future in MMA.