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Fightweets: Clock is ticking on UFC 230 main event

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The UFC sets up shop in Moscow on Russia on Saturday for what should be an interesting fight card, but it’s the shows down the road which are commanding the headlines. So without further ado, then, let’s get into another edition of Fightweets.

Who headlines at MSG?

@zachballew: When do you think we will know the Main Event of UFC 230? McGregor vs Khabib presser next Thursday?

Some variation of “what the hell is the main event of UFC 230” has been the second-most-asked question here at Fightweets in recent weeks, trailing only “Who will win Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor?” (That one, I’m not answering that until fight week)

And yet, here we are, seven weeks out from the annual November Madison Square Garden card which has quickly become one of the biggest dates on the UFC calendar, and we have no main event. We have a really strong card, for sure, from Dustin Poirier vs. Nate Diaz to Jacare Souza vs. David Branch to Derek Brunson vs. Israel Adesanya to Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman 2. That’s actually a strong card all on its own.

But of course, New Yorkers need something big and over-the-top to make it seem like a special event (and perhaps distract from the puny number of championships won by the building’s primary tenants, the Knicks and Rangers [six combined], as compared to the Celtics and Bruins at the other Garden a couple hundred miles up the road [23], but I digress).

So, with the event coming up on Nov. 3, where can the UFC find the star power to give MSG the main event it deserves? Daniel Cormier seems to be waiting on Brock Lesnar. Conor McGregor is fighting in three weeks. That only leaves us with so many options, so let’s here are my top three, in no particular order:

*Jon Jones vs. anyone: This is, of course, entirely contingent on the idea of Jones being cleared by USADA in time to compete, and then being re-licensed by the California State Athletic Commission. For all the good that’s come from comprehensive drug testing, there’s something undeniably Wizard of Oz “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”-esque about the haphazard-appearing way punishments are handed out. It took USADA a mere 3 1/2 months to adjudicate Fabricio Werdum’s case and hand him the two-year suspension which came down this week. Jones’ case, which dates back to this UFC 214 bout with with Cormier, is now in month 14 without a resolution, which is simply inexcusable, regardless your opinion of Jones.

All this adds up to it being highly unlikely Jones gets cleared in time to fight at MSG. He could still end up with a four-year suspension as a multiple-time offender. But on the odd chance everything lines up perfectly, including shockingly short suspension given the circumstances, Jones’ return, alone, would be enough to generate a buzz for this card. And hey, maybe he could go up to heavyweight and beat someone at 265 to build a trilogy fight at heavyweight with Cormier, which is going to be the only way to put a fresh spin on the final fight between the two. But don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

*Poirier vs. Diaz: I mean, this seems the simplest solution, doesn’t it? Diaz on his own is not a McGregor-level draw, but he’s undeniably a bigger star than he was for the bulk of his career after his two 2016 McGregor fights, and it’s been so long since we’ve seen a fight from either Nate or older brother Nick that the Diaz name alone should be enough to sell a respectable amount of PPVs. And, let’s put this aside talk of PPV buys for a second: Isn’t Poirier vs. Diaz simply a fight that deserves to be five rounds?

*Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk: Settle down, person who is getting ready to jump down into the comments section and point out that this fight has nowhere near the drawing power of the A-listers. No kidding. Here’s where I’m going with this: Let’s assume for a moment that none of the major names being thrown around are available, that one party or another in Poirier vs. Diaz is refusing to go five rounds for whatever reason, and that there simply isn’t going to be an mega-drawing main event, no matter how much we might wish for one. Isn’t the next-best option to go with the highest-quality fight you can make? Right now, that fight just might be a bout for the vacant strawweight belt between Shevchenko and Jedrzejcyzk. This matchup would be perhaps the finest on-paper women’s title fight ever staged. What better showcase for the progress of the sport than the world’s brightest spotlight?

But yeah, the UFC needs to figure this out soon, and as you say, Radio City Music Hall on Thursday sure seems like the place.

Valentina hater

@spacebawz: UFC really likes Shevchenko but she’s not knockin’ fools out. What up with that?

I mean, her biggest-name opponents seem to have this habit of not making it to fight night, so that would seem to have something to do with it, no?

Suarez’s rise

@chjobin: Tatiana Suarez looks like a legit killer. Who does she make you think of?

Khabib, maybe? Tatiana Suarez’s demolition of Carla Esparza at UFC 228 was one eye-opener of victory. We knew the TUF 23 winner was a legit prospect. We knew she was well on her way. Did anyone foresee Suarez taking a former UFC and Invicta champion and preventing her from landing a single significant strike in 14-plus minutes? (If you’re saying yes, I’ll be over in just a few minutes to administer a lie-detector test).

Tatiana Suarez saw to it that Carla Esparza had a bad time in Texas.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Suarez’s ongoing ascent marks the arrival of the next generation of women’s MMA stars, those who got in after Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche kicked down the doors to the UFC at UFC 157. That Nurmamagomedov-like mauling of Esparza is next-level stuff. I don’t know that I’d put her in the cage with Rose Namajunas just yet — if I was the matchmaker, I’d give Jessica Andrade the nod at this point — but at most she seems one fight off.

Eerie similarities

@TannerRuss2: Since people are comparing Woodley to GSP. Is Darren Till Tyron Woodley’s Dan Hardy?

Huh … that’s an interesting observation. The similarities are eerie. The UFC was trying to create a new British star out of Hardy when they got granted him a shot a Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight belt at UFC 111. Hardy was 4-0 in the UFC, three of those via split decision, when he got the nod. GSP, for his part was making his fourth defense in his second UFC title reign when they entered the cage at Prudential Center in Newark.

Till had also won four straight UFC fights when he got the shot at Woodley’s welterweight belt last week. He, too, was in part a product of the UFC’s attempt to create a U.K. star. Woodley’s fight with till was the fourth title defense of his reign.

Both Woodley and GSP are wrestlers. Both Till and Hardy are strikers. Both fights saw the former implement their wrestling on the latter. From there, Hardy somehow toughed out an absolutely nasty GSP Kimura and went the distance; Till tapped to a D’Arce.

Is there any grander significance to this? Nah, not really. Except that history has a habit of repeating itself, and well, Till best hope the string of coincidences stops here, because Hardy’s loss to GSP marked the start of a four-fight losing streak.

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