It didn’t take Conor McGregor long to pick up a win in his return to The Octagon at UFC 246. McGregor made quick work of Donald Cerrone on Jan. 18 in Las Vegas, coming out on top via TKO 40 seconds into the opening round of the fight. Now, McGregor’s name is popping back up for some potentially gigantic fights, although we may have to wait to find out what happens between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson to see what’s next for him.
While it’s been a week, a moment after the fight has led to two personalities in the world of sports trading verbal barbs. The fight took place on ESPN+, and in its aftermath, longtime UFC commenter Joe Rogan joined ESPN’s Michael Eaves and Stephen A. Smith to provide analysis. The perpetually bombastic Smith didn’t mince his words on the fight, saying that he was “quite disgusted” and that the “in over his head” Cerrone put forth an “atrocious performance.”
Rogan had a problem with all of this. On Friday’s edition of his podcast, he launched a lengthy critique of both Smith and ESPN. Rogan argued that the fight was not an indictment against Cerrone as much as it was an example of “how phenomenal Conor performed,” then went onto talk about how “respect” is necessary in MMA analysis and that “this sport demands a different perspective” than what Smith is used to giving elsewhere.
“There’s a lot of currency in being Stephen A. Smith,” Rogan said, per MMA Junkie. “He’s really entertaining. That (expletive)-talking that he does, he’s a guy that’s fun to watch. He talks a lot of (expletive) and he gets real loud and everyone disagrees with him. Look, it’s made him a fantastic career. He carries that over to MMA — I think it’s a bad idea.”
Rogan’s criticism included the comment, “It’s a bad look for ESPN, it’s a bad look for him, it’s a bad look for the sport. There’s other people that can do this. … We have plenty of people out there who understand the sport.” None of this, as you can imagine, sat well with Smith, who said he was going to respond on Saturday and eventually posted a video onto Twitter addressed to Rogan.
“Me, Stephen A. Smith, me being at the Conor McGregor fight against Cowboy Cerrone, saying what I said, that he didn’t show us much in 40 seconds?” Smith said. “That warrants it’s not good for the sport, it’s not good for me, it’s not good for ESPN?”
Smith went on to argue that it because of folks like himself, Rogan, and others, the fight did excellent numbers for ESPN across all platforms, then defended the analysis that he gave after the fight. He argued that he didn’t see nearly enough out of McGregor — because of how quick the fight ended — to say with any sort of confidence that he can take on someone higher up the food chain than Cerrone.
“It doesn’t take much to look at the fight and say, ‘Excuse me, I didn’t see enough to convince me that Conor in a rematch against Nurmagomedov, that wouldn’t cut it, or in a fight against Masvidal, that wouldn’t cut it,’” Smith said.
Now to be clear, it does not seem like this is the point to which Rogan objects. Going back to what he said on his podcast, Rogan’s main issue was more with how Smith discussed Cerrone’s effort.
“There’s a culture in sports broadcasting, whether it’s radio or television – just this diminishing of people,” Rogan said, per MMA fighting. “This (expletive)-talking that goes with sports. ‘He always falls apart. That mother(expletive) should give us his money back. He sucks.’ Then the other guy is like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe he’s saying that.’ They do that in sports radio. People love it. Because if you’re on the job site (expletive) hammering nails, you’re like, ‘You’re right, he does suck.’ There’s a mentality that goes along with that kind of sports guy mentality, sports radio talk. I hate that (expletive).”
Rogan has a gigantic podcast following and Smith has a gigantic audience via his myriad of ESPN appearances, so it’s hard to imagine that we won’t get a few more rounds of verbal sparring between the two.