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.

Rafael dos Anjos cut vacation short after he accepted UFC on ESPN 4 headliner

SAN ANTONIO – Rafael dos Anjos was enjoying a relaxing family camping trip with his son when UFC president Dana White called to offer him the UFC on ESPN 4 headliner against Leon Edwards.

Less than 48 hours later, dos Anjos (29-11 MMA, 18-9 UFC) and his son packed their bags early and headed 800 miles back home in the car, so the former champion could begin training.

“When Dana called me, I said, ‘Hey, Dana, let me digest,’” dos Anjos told MMA Junkie at a pre-fight media day Thursday. “I was on the campsite in the middle of nowhere. I said, ‘OK.’ And I told my boy, ‘Let’s drive back home.’ And then we drove 800 miles, and I started my fight camp.”

He added, “As long as I’m healthy and motivated. When I got this call, I was 800 miles away from home. I was in Utah camping with my son. … I was there for five days already. I still had two more nights. We had one more night, and we left. I got the call Friday, and I slept there Friday (and) Saturday. Then (we) drove back Sunday.”

While the departure was premature in comparison to their original plans, dos Anjos said his son understood what his father needed to do and handled it accordingly. As a result, “RDA” said another family vacation is already in the works for the end of the summer.

“He said, ‘Let’s go,’ because we had a good time,” dos Anjos said of his son. “We were already there for like five days. I explained to him I don’t put work in front of my family. My family comes first. I told him, ‘So, Dad is going to fight on July 20. I’m going to be busy now (during) fight camp. And after that, before (you’re) going to back to school, we’re going to do another nice, fun trip.’ So, he goes back to school in August or September, I think. So we’re still going to have time to have one more good break.”

As for a location for their upcoming trip, dos Anjos is eyeing his native land of Brazil – a place he has not leisured in over two years.

“Maybe we’ll go to Brazil,” dos Anjos said. “My last time there was March last year. But my family hasn’t been there in two years. I miss Brazil, too. Have a good time by the beach, eat some Brazilian food.”

Saturday night, dos Anjos will face off against rising contender Leon Edwards (17-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) in the UFC on ESPN 4 headliner at AT&T Center. The main card and prelims will air live on ESPN.

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

Gegard Mousasi on Rafael Lovato Jr. doping allegations: ‘People say I’m a bad loser. Whatever.’

BURBANK, Calif – Less than one month after he lost the Bellator middleweight title to Rafael Lovato Jr., Gegard Mousasi is already rebooked.

At a Bellator 228 media day held Wednesday, Mousasi (45-7-2 MMA, 3-1 BMMA) told MMA Junkie he had no reason not to come back on short notice to face Lyoto Machida.

“They gave me money,” Mousasi said. “They said ‘come fight.’ It’s not rocket science. I’m a fighter. If they’re paying me, I fight. (Lyoto) Machida is a big name anyways. I’m going to face him now or later. Lovato is injured. That’s what I’ve heard, so we’re just going to move on,”

Because he walked away from the five-round bout relatively unscathed, Mousasi wanted to get back on track as soon as possible. His palate is still dirty with the taste of his recent loss, and he made it clear Wednesday he wants to begin the ascent back into a championship fight.

“It still hurts, but I’m healthy,” Mousasi said. “I’m not injured. When you’re injured, you’re out for eight months or nine months sometimes. Now, I can come back and set everything right in three months, get a title shot again. It hurts, but nothing to do but to look at what we did wrong and come back.”

Shortly after the loss, Mousasi accused Lovato of doping. Mousasi did not back down from his comments but did say much of his vintage post-loss trash talk is from being a sore loser.

“I’ve done always comments about losing to certain opponents,” Mousasi said. “I cry a little bit always. I’m a crybaby sometimes. Like Uriah Hall, I said ‘lucky.’ It was not lucky, but it got me the rematch. Machida, I said he cheated. I felt like he did. You can be honest about certain people. It is what it is. Machida, I lost because he was better. I’m a realistic guy. Lovato, I said it before. I don’t think I need to repeat it. People say I’m a bad loser. Whatever.”

Mousasi added, “You need to be a bad loser. Listen, if you lose a fight, you always try to blame on certain things. I get it. I’m not an idiot. I blame the loss (on) me because I (expletive) up. There are other certain things that I’m like, ‘Okay. What did go wrong about Lovato’s side?’ It is what it is. I’m not going to repeat it, but everyone knows what I said before.”

On Sept. 28, Mousasi will take on Lyoto Machida in the middleweight co-main event of Bellator 228 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The bout with Machida (26-8 MMA, 2-0 BMMA) will be a rematch of their Feb. 2014 clash at UFC Fight Night 36.

“He was a lot better than me, but I learned,” Mousasi said. “Sometimes with me, when I’m mentally there, I put flawless victories like ‘Mortal Kombat.’ I look really good. I look unbeatable. Like Rory (MacDonald), (Rafael) Carvalho, I beat them easy. We won Round 1 in a couple minutes. Machida, had a difficult fight with him.

“I know when I’m not in it, I (expletive) it up. This fight I’m in it. We’re going to go, and we’re going to fight him. We’re going to leave it all out there. If he’s better, he wins. I’m not going to cry about it. I’m going to go out and give it all.”

For more from Mousasi, watch the video above.

For more on Bellator 228, check out the MMA schedule.