Silver linings: 5 reasons why UFC shutdown isn’t all bad | Opinion

Although the fight game is on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic, it’s not all doom and gloom.

We all want to see UFC, Bellator and other major MMA promotions in business and putting on fights. Some saw the extreme efforts to pull off UFC 249 and beyond as a beacon of hope, while others deemed it foolish. Ultimately, putting on events was just not realistic during this time of global crisis, and that concept was reinforced Thursday when ESPN and Disney executives, at the urging of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, did what Dana White wouldn’t and pulled the plug on the April 18 show.

All announced events in the aftermath of UFC 249 are indefinitely suspended, as well, and there’s no telling when fights will resume. White insists it could happen as soon as a month from now on the private island he says he’s secured, but it remains to be seen if he can successfully execute that plan.

Assuming the pandemic doesn’t worsen to a more critical degree, the assumption is sports will eventually return, even if in a limited manner. The attempts to salvage UFC 249 threw the entire promotion into a loop, but the fallout of its postponement wasn’t all bad.

Below are five silver linings to the UFC temporarily halting operations.

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There’s still hope for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson

The end product in the UFC 249 hoopla would have been an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. It’s an incredible matchup that very much needs to happen at some point, but it’s not the fight the world was promised or wants to see most. We all want Ferguson to finally get in the octagon with unbeaten champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The need to scramble for a new UFC 249 main event when Nurmagomedov fell off his matchup with Ferguson for a fifth time was out of sheer desperation. If “El Cucuy” had lost, it would have truly been a shame. Now it’s absolutely necessary to go back to the Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson well.

The matchup is arguably the most important fight that can be made. It’s something of a blessing it didn’t happen at UFC 249, because we wouldn’t have gotten the best version of either fighter under these conditions anyway. Now the UFC will have the time to make sure it happens in a manner where both athletes are properly prepared.

Conor McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje can happen now

Before everything got thrown into chaos, there was growing discussion that Gaethje was the leading candidate in the sweepstakes for a summer showdown with Conor McGregor. Gaethje stepping into UFC 249 temporarily threw that idea into disarray, because a win over Ferguson would have made Gaethje the interim champion and set up a title unifier with Nurmagomedov.

Maybe the matchup with McGregor would’ve come after that and been even sweeter with a title, but I’d prefer to see it now, with one man using the win as the trajectory to a legitimate title shot. Gaethje is a fascinating test for McGregor with his kill-or-be-killed approach, and it’s the right time to make such a fight.

If UFC 249 went forward, it would’ve left McGregor in a weird spot and as something of an outside man in terms of lightweight contenders. But now he has a matchup that makes perfect sense, and hopefully it’ll get made.

The chance for bantamweight clarity

One of the cards that fell victim to the UFC indefinitely suspending events is UFC 250, which originally was set for May 9 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a bantamweight title headliner between Henry Cejudo and Jose Aldo. The matchup was heavily criticized from the outset, as Aldo would receive a title shot coming off back-to-back losses in a division where he holds exactly zero career wins.

Aldo basically was given the title shot because A) White thought he beat Marlon Moraes in his 135-pound debut at UFC 245; B) He remains a draw in Brazil, and the UFC needed someone with his name value to headline in the country, and; C) For his resume and the fact his run as featherweight champion was one of the great title reigns in UFC history.

Still, though, Aldo didn’t deserve the shot, especially when bantamweight is one of the deepest divisions in the UFC right now. Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan, Cory Sandhagen, and Moraes are all more worthy of getting that fight, and hopefully this break provides a chance to hit the reset button and make a more legitimate title bout for Cejudo’s first defense.

We’re going to get some insanely stacked fight cards

When the time does come for events to start happening in full swing again, the UFC is going to have quite a few fights to make up. White insists every athlete on the roster will get the fights owed on their contract, and surely the more notable names will be pushed to the front of the queue.

That should mean some incredibly deep fight cards going forward. Multiple title fights, matchups that would typically headline or co-headline a card filling out a main card or prelims; expect some real depth for at least the first few months once things reset.

Much-needed time off for UFC employees

The UFC staff is a collection of unsung heroes who don’t get nearly enough praise for the week-to-week effort it takes to make events happen. I’m not talking about White, the matchmakers, or other high-level executives. These are the media relations workers, the production staff, the stagehands, and more.

It takes an army to pull off events at the level the UFC does, and it happens near-flawlessly every time. I’ve covered other major sports from NBA to NHL to MLS, and the UFC has as tight an operation as any of them. Compared to other MMA promotions? It’s night and day.

The people who make that happen work tirelessly and to the bone. With 42 events per year, how could they not be exhausted? It’s a ruthless grind, and while it’s not what everyone wants, the time to rest, recovery and recharge will certainly be appreciate by those who bounce from location to location around the world to help satisfy the endless UFC calendar.