Daily Debate results: Who should Conor McGregor fight when he returns to UFC?

There’s no telling when Conor McGregor will return to the cage, but UFC president Dana White is confident that he will.

Not that White knows whom McGregor will face, but he apparently has ruled out two options for the former UFC two-division champ.

On Wednesday, white told TMZ that McGregor (21-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) will not be facing either the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier or Jorge Masvidal, who has called for an “easy” payday by fighting McGregor.

And so, if that’s truly the case, and those options are off the table, then who should McGregor fight when he returns? That was the question we asked for our latest Daily Debate.

The results (via Twitter), which were super close:

It should be noted that our question went out before news broke of Donald Cerrone being booked to fight Justin Gaethje in September.

To hear the MMA Junkie Radio crew weigh in, watch the video above.

For more on upcoming UFC events, check out the UFC schedule.

MMA Junkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio. You can also check out www.siriusxm.com/siriusxmfightnation.

Alexander Hernandez thinks toughest opponent is himself: ‘It’s me vs. me, featuring whoever’

SAN ANTONIO – The last time Alexander Hernandez was in the octagon, he had just been knocked out by Donald Cerrone.

About seven months later, Hernandez (10-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) is slated to return to action  against Brazil’s Francisco Trinaldo (23-6 MMA, 13-5 UFC) at UFC on ESPN 4 on Saturday night.

Hernandez, an assertive 26-year-old lightweight, has used the loss and subsequent time away to improve his mental approach to MMA as a whole. At a UFC on ESPN 4 media day held Thursday, Hernandez spoke with reporters and addressed the initial devastation of the loss and what knowledge he acquired as a result.

“It (bothered me) for a long time,” Hernandez told reporters, including MMA Junkie. “Especially (because) I see myself as the best. It’s not like I handle losses well. It’s not like I can go out and grab a beer afterwards and say, ‘Hey, good job, guys.’ It was a devastating loss. I don’t prepare myself ever expecting to lose. It was something I definitely had to go through a dark place to come out and see the light and grow from.

“No, I don’t dwell on that (expletive) at all anymore. I took everything I need to take from it. I think it probably happened at the best time of my career to have it happen – and against a worthy adversary. He taught me a lot in that fight. I learned a lot about myself. Every single time I step into the cage it’s ‘Me versus me, featuring whoever.’”

Saturday night, Trinaldo will serve as the “whoever” in Hernandez’s equation. In order to prevent transforming a loss into a losing streak, Hernandez said his biggest mental betterment has taking a calmer, more calculated approach.

“I have all the same skills,” Hernandez said. “They’ve just been refined, fine-tuned, and improved. But the way that I’m displaying them now at this cadence, rather than this blow-out pace of 120% out the gate. Having a professional pace to me, it changes absolutely everything. I’m in a much better place… I feel fantastic and it’s all putting the mental and physical together in a new approach to my fighting style. I really am in the best place I’ve ever been.”

Many viewers deemed the bout against Cerrone his breakthrough performance in the trash talk department, but Hernandez doesn’t see it that way. Trash talk or not, Hernandez said he’s being true to himself – and you shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

“I didn’t lose an ounce of confidence from that last fight,” Hernandez said. “I bring that heat, because that’s who I am. I’m not trying to be a good guy, a bad guy, I’m just trying to be me. You can interpret that however the (expletive) you can interpret that, am I right?

“… But I can say confidently every single time somebody asks me how I’m going to do, I’m going to kill it. I’m going to murk this guy out and I’m going to do what I do best. That’s the thing about my, ‘trash talk.’ I’m not calling people out from left field (or) right field. You’re in my lane. You’re in my scope of business. I’m going to tell you how I handle my business. That’s all it is.”

UFC on ESPN 4 takes place Saturday at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. The card airs on ESPN.

For more on UFC on ESPN 4, check out the MMA Schedule.

Ben Rothwell opens up on ‘dark time’ after USADA suspension

SAN ANTONIO – The last time Ben Rothwell met with the media, he was in no mood to talk.

Three months later, Rothwell (36-11 MMA, 6-5 UFC) can hardly contain himself as he approaches the first rematch of his 50-fight career, a second go-around with ex-UFC champ Andrei Arlovski (27-18 MMA, 16-12 UFC) at UFC on ESPN 4.

“It’s just the whole (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) thing bothered me so much,” Rothwell told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at a media day for Saturday’s event at AT&T Center. “It was just such a dark time for me, the whole situation.”

What Rothwell is referring to is a two-year suspension he served when an out-of-competition drug test revealed an “anabolic androgenic steroid of exogenous origin.” He took the punishment and returned to face former WSOF and Bellator champ Blagoi Ivanov. But Rothwell seethed at the way he and others had been treated by the UFC’s anti-doping partner.

“It was what happened after the fact with other fighters, this whole leniency and inconsistency that bothered me,” Rothwell said. “I feel most for guys like Tom Lawlor and Lyoto Machida and Josh Barnett. These guys had years taken off (their careers), and now you see other people having the same issues getting six-month suspensions. It’s just not right.”

Lawlor, Machida and Barnett all ran afoul of USADA for violating the UFC’s anti-doping program. Although their cases were all different, and Barnett managed to avoid a suspension, Rothwell believes they were treated unfairly.

On his own case, Rothwell faults USADA for not looking at the full picture. He maintains he took testosterone as part of a legitimate treatment for hypogonadism following a car accident in 1999. He received an exemption for testosterone-replacement therapy in connection with a 2013 fight, but was later suspended by the UFC for elevated levels of the hormone.

“USADA could have come out and said, ‘This is an unfortunate situation. This is what happened. But this is our regulations, and this has to be it.’ Just at least notify that hey, Ben wasn’t cheating.

“Everything changed when they started talking about levels of things. When they started saying, ‘Oh, the levels were low, it didn’t matter for these other people.’ Well, then mine should have been part of it, because there was no cheating. Everything was regulated. All the testing was done by my doctors. Everything was shown where they’re at, why they’re doing it, why the therapist couldn’t treat me, because I had physical conditions and then when that was fixed, my therapist could treat me. But by that time, USADA had already done everything.

“One of the greatest challenges of my life was getting through this. And I did. I did get through it, and I can honestly say I feel stronger than I ever had in my life.”

Now 20 years into his career as a mixed martial artist, Rothwell said he’s still learning and is in better condition than ever. Despite his challenges, he’s grateful for the UFC and all he’s been through in the sport. Even feeling like his back is against the wall, he’s more determined to show he can prevail.

Participating in a worldwide sport has given Rothwell a purpose. Without that, he said, he’d be dead or working in a factory. And he is convinced he hasn’t given his best.

“MMA saved my life, and I feel like God has given me a purpose, and I have to see it through,” he said. “And I’m not done yet. For me, it’s now or never. Back’s against the wall. You guys have seen me down and out before, but this is different.”

For more on UFC on ESPN 4, check out the UFC schedule.

Yeah, Andrei Arlovski is aiming for a UFC heavyweight title run: ‘I think so, why not?’

SAN ANTONIO – Saturday night at UFC on ESPN 4, Andrei Arlovski will compete in his 30th UFC bout, the most of any heavyweight in the promotion’s history.

At age 40, many people believe Arlovski (27-18 MMA, 16-12 UFC) is approaching the end of his career, but not “The Pitbull.” The former UFC heavyweight champion believes he’s got years left and that he will one day hold championship gold once again.

“It’s just beginning,” Arlovski told MMA Junkie at a media day Thursday. “I got at least four or five more years, so we’ll see. I think so, why not? I’m in a good life right now. I have good coaches (and) team. The most important thing is my wife lets me do what I love to do, so I’m good.”

He later added, “First of all, it may sound stupid or not, but I want to be champion again. That’s why I’m in camp every day. (I) wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning. I stick to my gameplan, stick with my schedule, and do what I love to do.”

Even after 20 years of competing as a professional mixed martial artist, Arlovski doesn’t view MMA as a job. He explained that his deep passion for the sport is the sole reason he’s been able to continue when others have grown weary.

“Of course, it’s not a job,” Arlovski said.” It’s my passion. My first Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach told me, ‘Discipline is remembering what you want.’ So every morning, I remember what I want (and) why I’m doing this.”

The Belarusian is not naïve. He understands that making a title run at 40 will attract his fair share of naysayers and doubters. Arlovski said he has the belief of the one whose opinion matters most – himself.

“They might say, ‘He’s old. There’s no (expletive) way he’ll be champion again,’” Arlovski said. “But trust me, I’ll do everything possible to reach my goal. I’m one of the oldest ones, but listen, definitely I have fire in my eyes and the power to push myself every day in what I love to do.”

On Saturday, Arlovski will take on Ben Rothwell (36-11 MMA, 6-5 UFC) on the main card of UFC on ESPN 4 at AT&T Center. The entire card will air live on ESPN.

The pair of heavyweights squared off in July 2008 at Affliction 1. The first meeting saw Arlovski score a third-round TKO via punches.

For more on UFC on ESPN 4, check out the MMA schedule.

UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway won’t rule out return to lightweight

LOS ANGELES – When UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway moved up to lightweight and lost to Dustin Poirier in an interim title fight at UFC 236, some considered it a sign Holloway should go back to 145 pounds and stay there.

Poirier looked much larger than Holloway (20-4 MMA, 16-4 UFC) after all. And while Holloway showed tenacity in going the distance, the fight wasn’t close as Holloway saw a 13-fight winning streak come to a close. 

But Holloway is not one of those who sized up the Poirier fight and came to the conclusion he should no longer fight at lightweight. Sure, he’s defending his 145-pound belt against former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 240 next week, but he’s not ruling out the idea of making another run one weight class up.

“(Lightweight) ain’t far off,” Holloway told reporters during a media luncheon Thursday. “That’s only 10 pounds, that’s all it is, is 10 pounds. We’ll get back there when we get back there. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later, and we’ll see what happens. If it takes a 10-fight win streak to fight for another belt up there, become the double champ, it takes a 10-fight streak. That’s what it is. I ain’t scared of no work, and you guys all know that. Put my nose down and get to work I guess.”

Holloway wants to remind folks that he accepted the bout with Poirier on relatively short notice. If he was given the benefit of a full camp, Holloway believes he’d have had the time to properly prepare for the jump up.

“That was seven weeks to fight day, so I only had six weeks. We were still coming off of the December thing and was figuring stuff out,” Holloway said. “We’ll see what happens when I make the move and decide to put on more muscle and this and that. There’s always a narrative that people try to explore like, ‘He had to be there. He had to weigh this and that.’ There’s no difference.”

With that in mind, Holloway says that, should he dispatch Edgar (23-6-1 MMA; 17-6-1 UFC) next week, he’ll fight at whatever weight class he feels most comfortable next.

“After this fight, if they call me out for August to fight (Daniel Cormier), guess what: I’m weighing around 210, 220 pounds, I’ll make that walk, and I’ll fight him. You know what I mean?” Holloway said. “There’s no time in this. If you want to be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, I don’t think you should use weight as an excuse or anything really as an excuse. You just show up to fight.”

But he’s never going to take his eyes off defending what he’s already earned.

“And I always said, champ is a champ, and a king is a king of someone who defends their land, who defends their belt,” Holloway said. “That’s what true kings are, that’s what true kings do, and I wanted to come back down.”

For more on UFC 240, check out our MMA schedule page.

How the quiet man of British MMA is starting to make noise

A glance back through UFC history shows how fighters have followed a well-trodden path to the top, through big performances and strong personalities, with a healthy dose of trash talk and outspokenness thrown in for good measure.

But this weekend in Texas, Brit Leon Edwards is looking to buck that trend as he takes center stage in a bid to prove that you can make it to the top of the UFC just by being a good fighter.

Edwards has quietly gone about his business on his journey from prospect to contender, with his achievements in the octagon flying under the radar to those outside of “Rocky’s” homeland the last few years. That’s because flying under the radar has almost been Edwards’ M.O. during his career.

On the domestic scene, he captured the BAMMA welterweight title, then successfully defended it, but never got the recognition or fan response afforded to his contemporary, the gorilla mask-wearing crowd-pleaser Tom “Kong” Watson.

When he exploded onto the European scene in his second UFC fight with a seven-second knockout of Seth Baczynski in Krakow, sure, he got some decent press. But it still didn’t get him over with fans.

And when he lost a decision to future welterweight champ Kamaru Usman in Orlando in 2015, some suggested Edwards had found his level. But the “Brits can’t wrestle” brigade on social media would later be silenced, as Edwards ignored the calls to move his training to the U.S. and instead went back to his hometown of Birmingham, went back to the drawing board and came back better, and more well rounded than ever. And he’s proud to have done it all at home.

“Growing up in the U.K. we were taught that you had to up and leave and go to America to get better training,” Edwards explained at UFC on ESPN 4 open workouts this week. “At one point I was believing it. But now I believe in my surroundings, believe in my hometown, believe in my coaches. And I’ve not lost since.”

Edwards’ decision win over Dominic Waters in Rotterdam showed a new willingness to not just go to the ground, but attack while he’s down there. And his evolving ground game was perfectly showcased when he submitted the dangerous Albert Tumenov at UFC 204 in Manchester.

Edwards then mixed up his game superbly to defeat another dangerous rising contender in the division – Brazilian Vicente Luque – in London, then returned to Rotterdam and proved that he had the fire in his belly and a gas tank to match as he defeated notorious prospect-killer Bryan Barberena.

A last-second finish of Peter Sobotta in London took his post-Usman win streak to five in a row, and earned him a main event clash with UFC royalty in Singapore. But still the doubters remained, and many believed that Donald Cerrone would prove a bridge too far. But, once again, the Brit surprised the uninitiated by defeating “Cowboy” over the full five-round duration.

And when he defeated Gunnar Nelson in London earlier this year willingly going to the mat to scramble with the Icelandic submission ace – it seemed as if Edwards’ performances were finally beginning to earn him some attention.

But what put him in the headlines, over and above anything he’s done in the cage to date, was the moment he interrupted Jorge Masvidal’s post-fight interview with Laura Sanko after UFC London. Masvidal delivered the now-infamous “three-piece and a soda,” and Edwards became the unwitting recipient of a piece of MMA folklore.

Ironically, that moment came immediately after Edwards did something he’s tended to shy away from so far in his career: He spoke up. Edwards isn’t confrontational, he isn’t disrespectful, and he certainly isn’t a natural trash talker. Those qualities, while admirable in someone you’d meet in everyday life, unfortunately don’t always help you as a prizefighter. You need people to care about your fights and unfortunately, despite his performances, not enough people have cared about Edwards.

However, the 27-year-old has kept plugging away, improving his game and producing increasingly impressive performances against increasingly difficult opposition. He’s also grown more comfortable in front of the cameras and has started to speak his mind a lot more. He made clear his annoyance at Masvidal getting the Darren Till fight in London, and he’s made clear his belief that he is good enough to earn his spot in a title fight and a rematch with the last man to defeat him.

“The story is already made for me and Usman,” Edwards said. “He’s the last guy to beat me three or four years ago. It’s a perfect story to go undefeated since that, win everything, beat everybody, then get a rematch and beat him for the world title. That’s like a perfect fairytale story, so why not?”

All the stars appear to be aligning for Edwards to finally get the exposure and respect his abilities and performances deserve. Thanks to Masvidal he now has a name people are starting to recognize. Thanks to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby he now has an opponent who is as legitimate as they come at 170 pounds in Rafael dos Anjos. And thanks to ESPN he now has a platform on which to show the world just how good he is. The task at hand for Edwards is clear: Defeat dos Anjos, then call his shot – either a title fight with Usman or a No. 1 contender grudge match with Masvidal.

“This is a fight to prove my case, that I’m one of the best fighters in the world,” Edwards said. “He’s a former world champion – ranked third in the world – and to go out there and put on the performance that I’m thinking of putting on, I’ll deserve a title shot or at least a No. 1 contender (fight).”

It’s taken him four years to fine-tune his skills and build up momentum, but the quiet man of British MMA is now beginning to make some noise. Victory on Saturday night will go a long way to ensure that the MMA world finally starts to take notice.

For more on upcoming UFC on ESPN 4, check out the UFC schedule.