List some of the marquee main events to headline UFC cards at Madison Square Garden — Conor McGregor, Georges St-Pierre and Daniel Cormier are among the winners — and Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic could have topped them all.
The heavyweight championship clash instead got KO’d.
Jones, on the short list of great MMA fighters of all time, tore a pectoral tendon off the bone during training last month. The UFC heavyweight champ needed surgery and was off the card. So was Miocic. The two-time heavyweight champion did not get a replacement fight and will sit out Saturday’s UFC 295 show at Madison Square Garden.
Just as they do on Broadway, UFC called on the understudies.
Now, No. 2 heavyweight contender Sergei Pavlovich fights No. 4 Tom Aspinall for the interim heavyweight championship in a late add to the card. The fight for the vacant light heavyweight title between Jiri Procházka and Alex Pereira was bumped to the main event.
Former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade faces Mackenzie Dern in another key bout on the main card.
What the card lacks in star power just may be made up for in power, period.
Procházka (29-3-1) has 25 knockout wins and Aspinall (13-3) has 10. Pereira (8-2) is a former UFC light heavyweight champ and looks to become a two-division UFC champion in just his seventh fight for the promotion. Pereira fought in the main event of UFC 281 last November at MSG and defeated Israel Adesanya to claim the 185-pound championship. The Brazilian knockout artist lost the title back to Adesanya in April.
UFC cranked the hype machine to get fans pumped for Saturday in the wake of late shuffle, noting it marked “four of the most thrilling fighters in the planet competing for UFC gold.”
Yet even the fighters are trying to find the thrill in competing at MSG. “At the end of the day, mate, it’s another arena,” Aspinall said.
As for the original main event, the bout could be rescheduled for as early as next summer, depending on Jones’ health.
Jones ended a three-year sabbatical from the UFC in March and moved up to its highest weight class to choke out Ciryl Gane and win the vacant championship in the main event of UFC 285. Jones said after that fight he wanted Miocic. UFC President Dana White said it would have been “complete disrespect” to offer Miocic an interim title fight. So Aspinall and Pavlovich will slug it out to find out who really is the baddest heavyweight in UFC. Well, you know, except for those other two guys.
Here’s a look at the two major fights main card, and the betting lines for each fight, per FanDuel SportsBook.
Procházka vs. Pereira, 205-pound title fight.
Pereira took his time getting to UFC after a successful kickboxing career. The 36-year-old fighter didn’t make his UFC debut until November 2021 and earned the championship match against Adesanya in just his fourth fight. Three matches later, he is back for another title shot and — with a win — would suddenly find himself in the company of the great Brazilian fighters in MMA history.
“I don’t know the criteria for calling someone the greatest,” he said through a translator. “I don’t think about it too much. I just do my job.”
He has done it very well.
Procházka won the UFC light heavyweight crown when he submitted Glover Teixeira in June 2022. Procházka later suffered a shoulder injury that wiped out a scheduled championship rematch and forced him to surrender the title.
“It was the right choice,” Procházka said. “The show must go on. The division must still grow.”
Procházka not only hasn’t fought since last year — he hasn’t lost a fight anywhere since 2015, a span that includes three straight UFC wins.
Pavlovich vs Aspinall, interim heavyweight bout.
Pavlovich (18-1) is on a six-fight win streak and Aspinall is 6-1 overall in UFC. Unlike Miocic, both heavyweights are in their prime and this one could a slugfest between two fighters getting an unexpected shot at an interim belt.
Just don’t take a bathroom break during this one.
Pavlovich has had all seven UFC fights (including a loss) end in the first round. Aspinall has made it to the second round just once in his seven UFC fights.
Even if they are just keeping the top of the division warm until Jones returns, this is a chance for each fighter to get on the map and be more than a footnote on the card.
“I’m not the type of guy who is going to fly across the world, sign a contract and show up if I don’t think I’m going to win,” said Aspinall, a British fighter.
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