Ariel Helwani on which UFC Twitter feud to believe; what to expect from Tyron Woodley

Usman sends message to Twitter champs Masvidal and McGregor (0:57)

UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman critiques Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor for being "champions of Twitter" and invites either for a title shot. (0:57)

I have a confession to make.

Usually, I like social media.

It's fun, it provides value, it's entertainment.

Last week, I didn't like social media very much. Why?

Allow me to explain that, and much more, in this week's column.

1. There were way too many mixed messages being thrown around last week on social media, and they left me very confused. I suspect they left you confused, too.

Here's where we thought we stood before last week:

All great fights, right?

I think only one of those things is true right now.

Let's start with Usman and Masvidal.

For the past few months, all we've heard about is Usman and Masvidal, and with good reason. It's a great matchup with legitimate heat attached to it. At the beginning of the year, there was some chatter here and there about Masvidal fighting McGregor, but that never materialized.

One matchup that had no heat behind it was Masvidal vs. Diaz 2. You could argue that it should have been more prominent considering Diaz picked Masvidal to be his dance partner in the inaugural BMF title fight, and considering Masvidal said he would grant him a rematch after their November clash ended somewhat unceremoniously with a doctor stopping the bout in the third round because of a cut around Diaz's right eye. But there was no talk of it recently. Fine.

Then, Saturday afternoon, all that changed when Masvidal tweeted that he wanted to run it back with Diaz.

And then, Diaz said he was in.

But what happened to Usman-Masvidal?

And then, the following day, Usman's team said it wanted McGregor.

This is the same team that recently said McGregor would have to win 10 more times before getting a lightweight title shot against Nurmagomedov, whom it also represents.

And then Usman tweeted that he doesn't understand why we would want to see this fight because it would be too easy.

Is your head spinning yet?

Here's what we know to be true: Negotiations for Usman vs. Masvidal hit a snag, sources say. So, Masvidal decided to move on. I believe this to be a sincere move on his part, but it just came out of nowhere. So, to retaliate, Usman turned his attention to McGregor. That matchup feels like a tough sell considering the talented contenders available at 170 -- Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, the winner of Tyron Woodley-Gilbert Burns, but OK. We get it. Money fight.

Also, I wonder if Usman's team, which also represents Gaethje and Nurmagomedov, is trying to link Usman with McGregor all of a sudden for this reason: What if Nurmagomedov decides he doesn't want to return in the fall? What if he needs a little more time at home, and understandably so, considering his father's illness, and wants to fight in, say, November or December? Then, what if the UFC decides it wants McGregor to fight Gaethje in the interim? That would be a big fight, right? But maybe Gaethje's team doesn't want that to happen because it's better if its two clients -- Gaethje and Nurmagomedov -- fight each other, so it will try to drum up interest in Usman fighting McGregor and keep Gaethje on ice until Nurmagomedov returns. Catch all that? Lots of speculation, I know, but these are wild, confusing times and none of this would surprise me.


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Justin Gaethje has shifted his focus toward a potential title fight vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov and addresses Conor McGregor's tweeting storm. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.

So, where do things stand? Nowhere, really.

Games are being played. People are posturing. And we are left trying to decipher the real meaning behind every tweet. It's all a bit exhausting, to be honest.

The one thing everyone seems to forget is they can tweet all they want, but ultimately the UFC decides which direction it will go in. If it doesn't like the sound of a fight, it won't explore it. And right now, there isn't a whole lot of exploring going on because the UFC is trying to get its Apex events up and running and trying to finalize its island plans (more on that in a bit).

Anyway, if it were up to me I'd go back to the original slate: Usman vs. Masvidal, McGregor vs. Diaz, Gaethje vs. Nurmagomedov. Is that too much to ask?

2. Now, the bigger question is, why is this all happening?

One reason and one reason only: Money.

And that's not a bad thing, by the way. It should always be about the money. That's what prizefighting is ultimately all about. But, if fighters are expecting the UFC to break the bank right now when it is losing out on gates, they've got another thing coming. Now, the UFC would be saving a lot of money by holding events at its own UFC Apex, no doubt about that, but several reps have already told me the lack of gate revenue has been used in negotiations as a reason for not wanting to discuss pay raises. So, you're seeing fighters indirectly lash out on social media.


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3. Which brings me to Jones vs. Ngannou. A frustrating situation, to say the least.

Everyone agrees: We love everything about this fight. We want this fight. We couldn't think of a more interesting matchup right now for either man.

We got all excited. The tweets were fun. We were waiting to see when talks would warm up. They finally did, and then they died.


Contrary to popular belief, I'm told the talks never entered the negotiating phase. More exploratory, if you will. And while I very much appreciate Jones giving us the play-by-play of what was going on when he did, he never explained why the UFC shut him down. He alluded to money, but just how much was he asking for? Was he asking for so much money because he knew they would say no? Was he asking for a reasonable amount and the UFC was being frugal? This remains unclear.

UFC president Dana White said last week that the fight wasn't happening, but he didn't explain why, either.

And, so, that's it? We're not going to try to figure this out? That can't be right. We have to figure this out. Any other fight for either man at this point would feel like a letdown.

Personally, I don't feel like it's dead. I think talks will be explored again. Will the fight ultimately be made? Who knows in these wild times, but again, I'm holding out hope.

4. Meanwhile, if all that wasn't wild enough, Henry Cejudo has apparently retired and is no longer the bantamweight champion of the UFC.

Now, the big question is, has he informed USADA that he is retired? That is notable because if he doesn't, and as a result remains in the drug-testing pool, he can resume his career whenever he pleases. If he does inform the USADA that he's done, he'll need to be subjected to a six-month testing period before he is eligible to resume active competition.

I asked the USADA whether Cejudo notified the agency of his retirement, but I was told he'd have to inform the UFC first. I asked the UFC, and there was no comment.

Regardless, he's no longer the champ. That's significant.

Am I surprised he gave up the title so quickly? No. As I said after he announced his retirement, Cejudo is ready to take a break. He has been competing at a very high level -- which includes the grueling task of cutting weight -- for over two decades. He's tired. He wants to explore other projects. He's also in love.

So, I'm not surprised he is at peace with walking away. But I don't believe for a second that we've seen the last of Cejudo fighting. I'm sorry, Henry. I'm just not buying it. You're too good to never fight again.

Will he be back in a year or two? I'm not exactly sure. I don't believe he knows, either. But I know enough not to believe that a supremely talented double champion, who is only 33 years old, is done fighting. It's an especially hard thing to believe when you consider the fact that he was just turning into a draw, too. The fight game always figures out a way to lure the draws back in.

5. I'll admit, I have been reluctant to buy in to the idea of Fight Island since the jump. My stance has always been that until the fighters and managers are approached about fighting on this island, it's not a real thing.

Well, last week it became a real thing. On Wednesday, I spoke to five important people in the sport who assured me it was real and talks were finally underway to hold events there, with the action starting in July.

Now, no one knows where this island is. I've heard some whispers here and there but nothing I feel comfortable putting out into the ether.

Bottom line is: This is great news for international fighters. The UFC could put on only so many events with American-based athletes. So it is imperative for business to make this idea into a reality so that it can start booking all the great international fighters as soon as possible.

Getting Nevada to give it the green light to return to Las Vegas would be a huge win for the UFC. An announcement is expected Wednesday. Holding events at the Apex would make things infinitely easier. Getting Fight Island up and running would be another massive victory for the company.


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6. I'm often asked about Derrick Lewis' status. Remember, several months ago he scared us when he said on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show that he might have an illness that will cut short his career. Well, according to his manager Lou Di Bono, that has been rectified and he is 100% ready to fight again. Di Bono wouldn't go into specifics, but he reiterated multiple times that Lewis is cleared and just waiting on his next fight. I vote for Alistair Overeem.

7. There is lots of talk about who is MMA's GOAT these days. This is such a hard debate because you're comparing people whose careers are either done or about to be done to those in their primes. That doesn't seem fair.

Also, like Daniel Cormier, I have two lists: the "Everyone is included list, even if you've tested positive for a PED or two." And the "You're only included if you've never tested positive" list. Things get really tricky after the top 3 for me on the first list.

List 1:

Georges St-Pierre

Jon Jones

Daniel Cormier

Easy enough. But then you have the likes of Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson, Fedor Emelianenko, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo, Jose Aldo and Stipe Miocic to choose from. Pick any of those and I wouldn't mind.

List 2 makes things a little easier once you insert the PED stipulation:

Georges St-Pierre

Daniel Cormier

Demetrious Johnson

I feel good about those three at the top, followed by the other candidates.

All in all, no wrong answer. A fun debate for a rainy day. Nothing worth getting all worked up about.

8. I can't wait to see how Tyron Woodley looks on Saturday. Remember, his last fight was in March 2019 when he lost his welterweight title to Kamaru Usman. That night, he looked listless, distracted, unmotivated. Take nothing away from Usman, he dominated Woodley from start to finish, but even Woodley admitted that he was distracted going into that fight. He had way too much going on in his life. Heck, he planned an album release party for two days after the fight, a clear sign that his mind was elsewhere.

He has had almost 15 months to sit on that loss. He was supposed to fight in March against Leon Edwards, but that card was canceled. At 38, this could be his last chance to right the wrong of that fight and get back on track. If not, it will be a long climb back up the ladder. I'm really curious to see how he looks.

9. On the flip side, what an opportunity for the 33-year-old Burns. He has won seven of eight, including five in a row, and is really coming into his own. His last win, against Demian Maia, was supremely impressive. This is what I like to call a classic Joe Silva fight. Silva, the former matchmaker of the UFC, loved to pit the former champion/veteran versus the relatively unknown rising star. This is that kind of fight.

10. The second-most interesting fight on the card, in my opinion, was Kevin Holland returning on 14 days' notice to fight Daniel Rodriguez. Unfortunately, we found out Tuesday that Holland is out of the fight because of an injured shoulder. So, here are some other questions that I'm looking forward to answering this weekend:

a) How does Mackenzie Dern respond following her first pro loss?

b) Will Katlyn Chookagian be able to exact revenge on Valentina Shevchenko's sister, Antonina?

c) Which prospect has the brighter immediate future -- Roosevelt Roberts or Brok Weaver?

d) Is Augusto Sakai a legitimate contender in the heavyweight division?

e) Can Louis Smolka continue his winning ways at 135?

f) Will the UFC make any modifications to the broadcast or arena setup once it sets up in the Apex?

g) Will the weird judging trend continue?

We'll find out Saturday.

11. One last thing: International Fight Week sadly isn't a thing this year, but the UFC's July 11 pay-per-view still is. I suspect it will want to make a splash for that one. Will it mark the debut of Fight Island? Will McGregor fight on it? How about Israel Adesanya? The clock is ticking. I'm curious to see how that card shapes up.

Final thoughts

I miss those classic Memorial Day weekend events. ... I'm blown away by how good Mike Tyson looks these days. I'd really like to know how he got into such great shape. ... All the best to legendary MMA coach Andre Pederneiras, who recently announced that he tested positive for COVID-19. ... Bellator is still targeting a return in July, sources say. ... I am very excited for Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen next week, and I still think that fight should be for the vacant bantamweight title. ... UFC 250 needed a little Suga. Glad to see Sean O'Malley put on that card, and I like the Eddie Wineland matchup for him. Fine next step, if you will. ... I also like Chase Hooper vs. Alex Caceres on that card. Sneaky good fight. ... Paige VanZant's UFC career probably comes to an end on July 11, unless something drastic happens. It's going to be interesting to see how quickly Bellator, which is where her husband, Austin Vanderford, fights, goes after her. ... I like the fact that the UFC is now requiring fighters and their corners to take two COVID-19 swab tests before they compete, but I would argue that a third -- taken before they are ready to return home -- is necessary, too.

In closing, I want to send my condolences to former UFC fighter and Canadian MMA legend Sam Stout, who along with his wife, Jessie, suffered an unimaginable loss last week. Their 1-month old daughter, Sydney Love Stout, tragically died. My heart goes out to the Stout family.