The UFC’s ongoing problems with headlining matches are set to continue Saturday at UFC 223 in New York, where Max Holloway has stepped in as a last-minute injury replacement for an injured Tony Ferguson, in a main-event showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title. However, UFC President Dana White said Wednesday that major
White’s assertion that Lesnar would return to the UFC was the bigger surprise, although the longer McGregor goes without stepping back into the Octagon — his lucrative August boxing match against Floyd Mayweather has been his only competition since defeating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November 2016 — the more MMA fans have cause to wonder if he ever will.
Speaking with light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former middleweight champion Michael Bisping on Fox Sports’s “UFC Tonight,” White said that “Brock Lesnar’s coming back,” adding, “I don’t know when, but yes, he is.”
Lesnar has not fought for White’s company since the infamous UFC 200 in July 2016, when he defeated Mark Hunt but later failed a pair of drug tests, leading to a lawsuit from Hunt. McGregor was supposed to have headlined that card, in a rematch with Nate Diaz, but White pulled the fight after the Irishman refused to break training for some promotional appearances, while Cormier was set to square off with longtime nemesis Jon Jones, but the latter failed a test just days before the event, leaving fill-in Anderson Silva to lose to Cormier in a nontitle match.
A former UFC heavyweight champion and a major box-office draw, Lesnar had retired from MMA in 2011 and has been a pro-wrestling star with the WWE. Having retired again from MMA in February 2017, just weeks after receiving one-year bans from both the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Lesnar presumably would have to serve the remainder of his suspensions before being cleared to compete again for the UFC.
The contract between the 40-year-old Lesnar and the WWE is set to expire shortly after Sunday’s WrestleMania 34, at which he will take on Roman Reigns, and his recent flirtations with White have been viewed by some as simply attempts to gain leverage with the pro wrestling company. According to noted MMA reporter Ariel Helwani, though, a “deal is in place” with the UFC and both sides just need to “finalize” it.
As for McGregor, he had won the lightweight title by defeating Alvarez, but White said Wednesday that his belt would be awarded to the winner of Saturday’s match. During McGregor’s long layoff from the UFC, Ferguson had won an interim lightweight belt, but at a
“The interim belt that he had, those two [Nurmagomedov and Ferguson] were supposed to fight — doesn’t happen. One of these guys will be the champion,” said White, referring to Nurmagomedov and Holloway. “Tony is still the No. 1 contender.”
White insisted that “Conor is coming back this year, 100 percent,” adding, “We’ll see how this thing plays out [with the lightweight title], and we’ll go from there.”
White reiterated that stance on “UFC Tonight,” saying, “Conor does want to fight. Conor and I have been talking a lot. Conor does want to come back, he does want to fight, so he will fight this year.”
With the departure of Ronda Rousey, the inability of Jones to stay clean and McGregor’s lengthy absence, the UFC has lacked major star power over the past year and a half or so, although Georges St-Pierre’s long-awaited comeback has helped. The return of McGregor — especially if he can be matched up with St-Pierre — and Lesnar could be just what the doctor ordered for White and Co., but MMA fans will be forgiven for preferring to believe it when they see it.
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