(Reuters) - After a series of plot twists befitting a Broadway theater, the UFC had hoped to finally bring clarity to its chaotic lightweight division with Saturday’s UFC 223 fight card in Brooklyn, but it will be overshadowed by the one man not on it - Conor McGregor.
The Irish fighter gate-crashed a media day on Thursday and caused chaos in the venue’s loading bay that saw several fighters injured before later surrendering in to the police.
Fighters Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg have been pulled from the card by the New York State Athletic Commission after sustaining injuries, and McGregor’s team mate Artem Lobov was kicked off the card for his part in the chaos.
Ever since the 29-year-old McGregor made history by becoming the first UFC fighter to hold two belts simultaneously, the UFC has struggled to get its hugely popular ‘bad boy’ to follow the rules.
By the time Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov and Hawaiian Max Holloway face off across the Octagon in Brooklyn, 511 days will have passed since McGregor won the title from Eddie Alvarez across the bridge at the Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in November 2016.
However, he was quickly stripped of the featherweight title and has never defended his lightweight crown.
Instead, he took up professional boxing and fought Floyd Mayweather for a huge payday, with American Tony Ferguson stepping in and winning the interim lightweight belt by submitting Kevin Lee.
Ferguson was originally supposed to face Nurmagomedov in a much-anticipated but ill-fated match that had to be canceled for a fourth time when Ferguson suffer a freak knee injury last week.
This paved the way for reigning featherweight champ Holloway to step up and try to secure a second belt in a heavier division, thus emulating McGregor.
With his ability to smother opponents with his powerful wrestling, Nurmagomedov is now the promotion’s rising star, but he will have to be wary of Holloway’s superb striking which has him on a 12-fight win streak.
Also down for decision on Saturday is a women’s strawweight title rematch between American champ Rose Namajunas and Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk, whom she knocked out in stunning fashion in the first round to win the belt in November last year.
However, anyone expecting to grab any of the limelight from McGregor is mistaken.
Emboldened by his money from the Mayweather fight, he has become a law unto himself, but his latest misstep has tested the patience of UFC president Dana White, who has excused plenty of bad behavior in the past.
The winner of the main event between Nurmagomedov and Holloway was expected to face McGregor in what could have been an epic comeback fight.
But with the promotion quickly tiring of his antics, the once hugely-popular Irishman may find that while he might well be able to win back the belt in the future, winning back the fans and his fellow fighters may prove a lot more difficult.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Sudipto Ganguly