McGregor’s coach confident star returns in 2019, prefers Diaz next

MMA

The latest episode of Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show featured Conor McGregor‘s head coach, two fighters recently cut by the UFC and multiple competitors battling back from key injuries.

Here’s what you might have missed:

John Kavanagh sees Conor McGregor fighting this year

Conor McGregor’s coach is expecting a return for “The Notorious” before the close of 2019.

John Kavanagh, head man at SBG Ireland, told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s episode of Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show that he believes McGregor will be back in the Octagon before the end of the year. If he had the first choice of opponent, Kavanagh said, he would choose a third fight between McGregor and Nate Diaz.

“I always loved the Diaz trilogy,” Kavanagh said. “I’ve kind of said that from the start. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Nate looks in the fight that’s coming up. That would just be, as a fan, very exciting.”

Diaz will return after three years to fight Anthony Pettis in the co-main event of UFC 241 on Aug. 18 in Anaheim, California. Diaz has not fought since falling to McGregor by majority decision at UFC 202 in August 2016.

Kavanagh said he’d also be interested in McGregor fighting Justin Gaethje, whom the coach said reminds him a bit of Diaz. But Kavanagh said the next foe isn’t all that important to him in the grand scheme of things.

“Honestly, if it’s Conor excited and motivated and pushing himself hard, it doesn’t really matter all that much to me,” Kavanagh said. “Anybody in the UFC at the level Conor will be fighting are good opponents. You have different challenges.”

McGregor is still very interested in a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov, according to UFC president Dana White. Nurmagomedov beat McGregor by fourth-round submission at UFC 229 last October and the two were involved in a post-fight brawl. If that does end up being McGregor’s next fight, Kavanagh said he’d be “very confident.”

Kavanagh said that McGregor has been motivated since the beginning of this year and the only thing really standing in his way of returning to the cage is a hand injury he sustained in training in May. Kavanagh said the way McGregor is talking now about fighting “reminds me of his rise.”

McGregor, 30, is a former two-division champion in the UFC (lightweight and featherweight) and set records when he fought Floyd Mayweather in boxing two years ago. But he has not won a UFC fight since beating Eddie Alvarez to win the UFC lightweight title in November 2016.

Kavanagh said McGregor is rejuvenated, likely to return this year and the coach believes the Dublin native will once again be a UFC champion some day.

“I can’t imagine him not being [one].”

VanZant could leave UFC at end of ’19

Paige VanZant plans on testing MMA’s free-agent market.

The popular UFC flyweight fighter told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s Helwani Show that she has one fight left on her UFC contract and after that plans to find out her value to other promotions.

“For me, I want to prove my worth,” VanZant said.

VanZant, 25, is coming off a submission win over Rachael Ostovich at UFC Brooklyn in January. But the Oregon native has been saddled with lingering arm injuries. She just had her third surgery Thursday and will be out of training for the next 11 weeks.

The plan for right now, VanZant said, is to return around the end of 2019, with the desire to be on the UFC’s annual year-end show. VanZant admitted she wasn’t ready to fight Ostovich due to a broken arm that had not fully healed and had to go to four doctors until she found one that would clear her for the bout. The next week in sparring, she fractured her arm again, she said.

VanZant (8-4) has had ups and downs in the UFC and sports a 5-3 record in the promotion. But she has made a name for herself outside the Octagon as one of the UFC’s top crossover stars. VanZant was on Dancing With The Stars in 2016 and just appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. With her popularity, “12 Gauge” said she wants to test her value. She added that she does still expect to be in the UFC for the long term.

“I want to show, like hey, I’m a huge player in this division, I’m a huge player in the UFC,” VanZant said. “I think it’s gonna take one more fight to prove that. More than anything, I’m just focused on getting back in the cage. I don’t want to put any pressure on myself for any stress behind anything. I just want to fight.”

Justin Willis was 4-1 in the UFC and 8-2 as a professional. Elias Theodorou was 8-3 in the promotion and 16-3 overall. These types of records typically do not get you cut, but that’s exactly what happened last month for both fighters.

Willis and Theodorou, who have not signed with a different company at this moment, both appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show on Monday to explain what happened:

Willis: “I only wanted one fight. That fight is Tai Tuivasa. That’s one reason. [The No. 2] reason is I wanted to get my weight under control and come in fitter, a lot quicker. No. 3, I wanted a chance to go through my camp with [Daniel Cormier]. He fights August 14. My date that they originally gave me with Walt Harris — it’s not about the guy’s name necessarily, it’s more so of the date. The date [I wanted] was August. Somewhere around when DC fights, so I can go through a full camp with him as well.

“It really does not make sense at all,” Harris continued. “As soon as the news came out that the UFC was trying to cut me, I got offers upon offers that came in immediartely. That’s not really what I wanted. What I wanted was Tai Tuivasa’s head on my wall.

Theodorou: “Definitely surprised considering I was coming off of a three-fight win streak before that. There’s the old adage you’re only as good as your last performance. I lost my last one. But being with a company for five-plus years, you’d expect maybe another opportunity, especially considering I had recently gone through the process of renegotiating my contract leading up to it. The UFC has the right to fast track a promotional agreement, and that’s where I find myself.

“I’m really excited for the future. I was 8-3 in the UFC and 17-3 moving forward. I’m excited for the landscape. I’ve been in a committed relationship for five years in terms of MMA, and now I’m single and ready to mingle.”

Poirier on Khabib — on getting the fight and winning it

“I think he knows the type of fighter I am,” Dustin Poirier said of the cordial tone of last week’s London news conference with Khabib Nurmagomedov, whom he will challenge for the lightweight championship at UFC 242 on Sept. 7 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The respect the fighters showed for each other was a far cry from the venom that was spewed back and forth during the buildup to Nurmagomedov’s title defense against Conor McGregor last fall.

“He knows the way I push myself and how I would do anything for the victory,” Poirier said. “So he knows he’s got a test ahead of him.”

And so does Poirier, who would want things no other way. He earned the title shot by winning an interim belt with April’s victory over featherweight champ Max Holloway, and even before the bout was officially announced, he was not worried that a money fight would come along and steal his opportunity.

“I know this is a crazy sport and nothing is for sure until we’re punching each other and the cage is locked,” Poirier said. “But I also had faith in the [UFC] organization. That’s what interim belts mean. I’m next.”

Now that the fight is a real thing, how does he see it playing out?

“I just have a feeling I’m going to finish this guy,” he said. “I’m not only going to beat him, I’m going to stop him.”

One prospect on another prospect

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1:06

Dillon Danis tells Ariel Helwani he tore his LCL a week before Bellator 222 and explains why he fought through it.

“I feel bad for him because he’s young — he’s 22, 21 — and he’s been knocked out a couple of times now. And I think that’s the thing you have to worry about besides him losing. You shouldn’t be getting knocked out like that multiple times at a young age. Think about it. He’ll probably be fighting for 10, 15 years. It’s scary to see, with CTE and stuff like that. So he needs to calm it down, take time between fights. … He’s so young, and he’s probably getting crazy sparring in the gym — he looks like a guy who goes really hard in the gym. He’s doing a lot of damage to his brain. … I think that’s one thing he’s got to think about because he’s so good.”

— Bellator welterweight Dillon Danis (2-0) on Bellator featherweight Aaron Pico (4-3)

UFC’s Macy Chiasson: Crane accident was ‘one of the most random, crazy experiences that I’ve ever been in’

Undefeated UFC bantamweight and rising contender Macy Chiasson lost her home in a crane accident earlier this month. She is planning on filing a lawsuit against the apartment complex owners and the crane company. On Monday, she spoke with Ariel Helwani about that experience and how it’s affected her fighting career.

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