Usman tops Masvidal, UFC 261 returns sports world to normal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A packed house. A raucous crowd. Celebrity sightings. Stunning upsets. Spectacular finishes. Broken bones. Blood, sweat and tears.

UFC 261 returned a sense of normalcy to the sports world Saturday night with one of its craziest events in years. Billed as the first full-fledged sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic altered the world more than a year ago, it delivered more than even its staunchest promoter imagined.

“I don’t think it gets any better than tonight,” UFC President Dana White said. “You couldn’t have a better night. … It was amazing. The crowd was amazing. The fights were amazing. … There’s just a different energy you get when people are here. It was insane.”

Kamaru Usman ended the event by winning his 18th straight bout and retaining his welterweight belt. Usman knocked out Jorge Masvidal with a right punch to the jaw early in the second round, silencing a pro-Masvidal crowd.

Usman’s knockout victory was his third in his last four fights, further showcasing his impressive versatility and an ability to adjust tactics during bouts. The former NCAA Division II wrestler had only one knockout victory in his first 10 UFC fights before he stopped Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Masvidal with punches in the past 18 months.

“Jacksonville, Florida, you said you wanted violence. You’re welcome,” Usman said.

Usman’s 18 consecutive MMA victories include 14 straight wins since joining the UFC in 2015. Only Anderson Silva’s streak of 16 straight UFC wins is longer in the promotion’s history.

“He’s one of the best ever. He’s an absolute stud,” White said. “You’re an idiot if you think this guy is boring.”

Usman (19-1) thanked Masvidal (35-15) for scaring him and pushing him, saying it’s been a long time since he felt nervous before a bout.

This one was a rematch from their short-notice fight in July. The 33-year-old Usman beat Masvidal at Fight Island, winning a unanimous decision at UFC 251. Masvidal stepped in on six days’ notice, flying halfway around the world to fill in for No. 1 title contender Gilbert Burns after Burns tested positive for COVID-19.

Masvidal held his own and went five rounds against the champ, whose strategy including stomping on Masvidal’s feet every time they were locked up.

Some thought Masvidal would have a better chance with a full training session. Not really.

Still, Masvidal had the crowd behind him. They cheered wildly for the 36-year-old Miami native, breaking into “Ole, Ole, Ole” and “Let’s go Jorge” chants, and booed Usman whenever possible.

“He’s got my number, man,” Masvidal said.

It was the last of three title bouts, but hardly the most surprising.

Rose “Thug” Namajunas (11-4) stunned Zhang Weili (21-2) to take the strawweight belt. Namajunas sent Zhang to the canvas with a left foot to the face, and the bout was stopped at the 1:18 mark of the opening round.

Namajunas broke down in tears in the octagon as she became the first woman in UFC history to recapture a championship belt. Three previous champions failed to reclaim belts they had lost, including Ronda Rousey.

Zhang erupted in anger, clearly upset with the referee’s decision to stop the fight. Replays showed how vicious the kick was, but Zhang insisted she never lost consciousness.

Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) totally dominated Jessica Andrade (21-9) to retain her belt, slamming Andrade to the canvas three times in two rounds. She eventually won a TKO after a series of bludgeoning blows to Andrade’s head and ear. Shevchenko danced in the octagon after the grappling victory and exclaimed, “I can do everything.”

The sold-out event drew a star-studded crowd. There was no social distancing inside the 15,000-plus-seat arena and few masks in any direction. It was a clear sign that at least some fans are ready to return to normal after more than a year of dealing with COVID-19 changes to their routines.

“I’ve pictured this moment a million times over, so it was everything I expected it to be,” said Jeff Molina, who beat Qileng Aori in an undercard bout. “Having fans back is awesome. … I stepped in there, I turned and looked at the crowd, raised my hand and definitely caught some good energy, good vibes from the crowd.”

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady was sitting cage-side along with Tampa Bay teammates Mike Evans, Blaine Gabbert and Josh Wells.

Florida legend and Jacksonville native Tim Tebow was on hand with his wife. And Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew and linebacker Myles Jack were in the first few rows.

Former Bucs receiver Antonio Brown dipped into a large bucket of popcorn as he sat next to YouTube sensation and celebrity boxer Jake Paul, who got into a nose-to-nose argument with former UFC fighter and current commentator Daniel Cormier before the main card. The packed house taunted Paul several times during breaks and at least twice during fights.

The main card’s first two fights ended with significant leg injuries, the second more gruesome than the first.

Chris “The All-American” Weidman snapped his right leg kicking Uriah Hall in the opening seconds of the bout. Weidman seemingly made it worse when he tried to stand on his broken bone. He crumpled to the canvas in pain and probably shock.

Medical personnel rushed to put his leg in an air cast as Hall struggled to maintain his composure on the other side of the octagon. Weidman, who was fighting UFC legend Anderson Silva when Silva broke his shin with a kick, was eventually carried out of the cage on a stretcher. He is scheduled to have surgery Sunday.

“I’ve got nothing but respect for Weidman,” Hall said. “He’s truly one of the best. … It’s the sucky part of the sport. It’s a hurt business.”

Minutes earlier, Anthony Smith connected with Jim Crute’s left leg and left him struggling to stand. Crute hobbled to his corner between rounds and tried to come back out for the second, but doctors stopped the fight after preliminary diagnosing it as a torn knee ligament.

“I couldn’t feel my leg,” Crute said. “I couldn’t stand on it.”

White brought his mixed martial arts behemoth back to Florida 11 months after the Sunshine State allowed him to host an event following a two-month shutdown.

Jacksonville hosted UFC 249 in May, and White vowed a return trip when the state fully reopened.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a reopening plan last year that allowed large sporting events to resume in late September, although reduced capacity and limited social distancing were recommended. But until UFC’s return trip, no one had allowed full capacity indoors.

UFC hadn’t hosted fans in the United States in more than a year. There was a limited crowd for the last event at Fight Island in January.

“It’s time to get back to normal,” White said while announcing a $3.3 million gate, just a small portion of the total take after pay-per-view sales are tallied.

“If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t wear a mask,” White said. “Everybody’s just doing their thing, and you know what, people seem like they’re a lot happier down here in Florida than they are in some of these other (freaking) states. You know what I mean?

“Everybody is doing their thing down here and living their life. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It felt good to be here.”

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UFC 260: Francis Ngannou stops Miocic, claims UFC heavyweight title

  • Francis Ngannou of Cameroon punches Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • Francis Ngannou of Cameroon reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • Stipe Miocic punches Francis Ngannou of Cameroon in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • Francis Ngannou of Cameroon kicks Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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Francis Ngannou has been the next big thing in the UFC heavyweight division for several years. Just about everyone believed greatness was within the powerful Cameroonian challenger’s reach if he could ever put his prodigious talents together.

All that potential was realized in six sensational minutes Saturday night when Ngannou took the belt away from the most accomplished fighter in the division’s history.

Ngannou stopped Stipe Miocic with ferocious punches early in the second round to claim the heavyweight title at UFC 260.

Ngannou (11-2) avenged his blowout loss to Miocic in 2018 by demonstrating everything he has learned in the ensuing three years. The first UFC heavyweight champion from Africa flattened Miocic (21-3) twice early in the second, finally buckling the champ’s knees and ending the bout 52 seconds into the round.

“Man, it’s amazing,” Ngannou said. “The feeling of it is just great. Imagine something you’ve been waiting for your entire life, and struggling to have it. Sometimes I felt like I was drowning and I had to struggle back, but now we’re here.”

Ngannou won a fairly quiet first round with superior striking and ground work, but there was nothing quiet about the finish.

Ngannou knocked down Miocic 22 seconds into the second round with a crisp left hand to Miocic’s face, but the champion ate several punches to get up. Miocic backpedaled away and even landed a right hand that stung Ngannou, but the challenger loaded up a picture-perfect left hook that bent Miocic’s legs at a gruesome angle and put him on the canvas again, where Ngannou landed one finishing hammer fist.

“When the journey is longer, the reward is always more appreciated,” Ngannou said. “I’m sure I would have been happy three years ago, but I think now, I have a different perspective about it, being happy about my improvement.”

The violence was exactly what Ngannou’s fans and coaches expected when the long-anticipated changing of the guard atop the heavyweight division finally happened in this rematch of two highly likable fighters.

Ngannou tried to call his mother in Cameroon immediately after the fight, but said he couldn’t get through to her because everyone was “going crazy” celebrating his win.

“I can’t talk to anybody in Cameroon right now,” he said. “It’s a good craziness, for a good reason.”

The 34-year-old Ngannou is a former aspiring boxer who discovered mixed martial arts after he left Cameroon for France in his mid-20s. He rose rapidly through his new sport with his fearsome power and growing all-around skill, but Miocic interrupted his ascent by winning every round of their first bout in Boston.

The loss staggered the confidence of a once-dynamic fighter. He barely threw a punch in his next bout, an embarrassing loss to Derrick Lewis.

But Ngannou impressively regained his confidence later in 2018 and kicked off a run of four consecutive knockout victories against veteran heavyweights, putting him back in line for Miocic.

“He was a completely different fighter tonight,” UFC President Dana White said of Ngannou. “We saw things from him we never saw before. He took his time, and even ate that big right hand from Stipe. He looked perfect tonight.”

In the Vegas cage, Ngannou was far too much for Miocic, the firefighter from Cleveland who has been on top of the division for four of the last five years. Miocic’s heavyweight reign has been the best in the history of a notoriously tumultuous UFC division, and he most recently won the final two fights of his trilogy with Daniel Cormier to cement his heavyweight supremacy.

In the co-main event of this pay-per-view show at the UFC Apex gym on the promotion’s corporate campus, former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley lost his fourth consecutive fight when Vicente Luque submitted him with a D’Arce choke late in the first round.

Woodley (19-7-1), who reigned over the 170-pound division for nearly three years until Kamaru Usman took his belt in March 2019, looked sharp early and landed some strong shots before he was staggered and finished by Luque (20-7-1), who has won 13 of his last 15 fights.

Earlier, bantamweight Sugar Sean O’Malley overcame an enormous early mental mistake for a vicious third-round finish of Thomas Almeida.

O’Malley, the thrilling fighter with rainbow-dyed hair, floored Almeida in the first round with a head kick and a big punch — but instead of finishing his opponent on the ground, O’Malley anticipated a stoppage and walked away before realizing the fight hadn’t been stopped.

When he floored Almeida again in the third, O’Malley briefly tried to walk away again before pouncing and throwing a final punch that bounced Almeida’s head off the canvas.

The UFC is headed to Jacksonville for its next pay-per-view show next month because Florida officials will allow White to sell every seat in an arena, but the promotion still welcomed a few dozen fans to the Apex.

The crowd included Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Megan Fox, Kourtney Kardashian, Travis Barker and former UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.

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UFC 257: Dustin Poirier knocks out Conor McGregor in 2nd round

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (L-R) Conor McGregor of Ireland punches Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, Dustin Poirier reacts after his knockout victory over Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Joanne Calderwood of Scotland punches Jessica Eye in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Michael Chandler punches Dan Hooker of New Zealand in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amanda Ribas of Brazil punches Marina Rodriguez of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Andrew Sanchez punches Makhmud Muradov of Uzbekistan in a middleweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Arman Tsarukyan of Armenia punches Matt Frevola in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Khalil Rountree kicks Marcin Prachnio of Poland in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Sara McMann punches Julianna Pena in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amir Albazi of Iraq punches Zhalgas Zhumagulov of Kazakhstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Dustin Poirier stopped Conor McGregor with a flurry of punches midway through the second round Sunday (late Saturday night PST), avenging his loss to the Irish superstar with a knockout victory at UFC 257.

Poirier (26-7) caught McGregor with a series of shots to the head before buckling his knees with two left hands. Poirier then sent McGregor to the canvas with a short right hand and finished it swiftly, setting off stunned excitement among the few thousand screaming fans allowed inside the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.

In his first fight in a year, McGregor (22-5) had a strong first round before he was stopped by punches for the first time in his mixed martial arts career.

McGregor, whose previous four losses all came by submission, stayed on the canvas for several moments afterward, gathering himself after his second loss in three fights since 2016.

“You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who hadn’t fought since beating Donald Cerrone last January. “I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, but Dustin is some fighter. If you put in the time, you’re going to get cozy in here. I have to dust it off and come back, and that’s what I will do. … I’ll take my licks, but I’m gutted.”

McGregor and Poirier met for the first time in September 2014 as featherweights, and McGregor won by knockout in just 106 seconds during his incredible early-career success. McGregor became the featherweight champion 15 months later, while Poirier rebuilt his career with just one loss in his next 11 fights.

With a second chance to derail McGregor while boosting his own hopes of regaining the lightweight title, Poirier didn’t miss.

Sporting a shaved head and a beard, McGregor pushed the action early against Poirier, who landed an early takedown before getting backed against the cage for stretches of the first round. In the second, Poirier bothered McGregor with leg kicks before throwing the punches that ended it.

In the co-main event at UFC 257, three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a stunning UFC debut with a violent knockout of New Zealand’s Dan Hooker midway through the first round.

Chandler could be the next matchup for Poirier in a fight for the lightweight title apparently vacated by long-reigning 155-pound champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement after his final victory last fall.

UFC President Dana White so far has been unable to persuade Nurmagomedov to go back on his vow to his mother to quit the sport after his father’s death, not even for a wildly lucrative rematch with McGregor, who repeatedly vowed to fight on after this loss to Poirier.

McGregor has not fought regularly in recent years, but his popularity was undiminished: UFC 257 is expected to be one of the most popular pay-per-view events in the promotion’s history, according to White, and distribution problems in the U.S. early in the PPV portion of the card led fans to bombard social media and ESPN with complaints.

Chandler’s long-anticipated UFC arrival was worth the wait for his 27th professional fight in a career that began in 2009.

After a deliberate start, Chandler (22-5) jabbed to the body as he lunged forward and caught Hooker with a left hand to the face that crumpled his opponent. Chandler finished a dazed Hooker with punches on the ground before climbing atop the cage and doing a full standing backflip into the octagon from atop the fence.

And Chandler was still fired up in his post-fight interview, calling the bout “the greatest moment of my professional life.”

“Conor McGregor! Surprise, surprise, there’s a new king in the lightweight division,” Chandler added. “Dustin Poirier, your time is coming. And Khabib, if you ever do see fit to grace us with your presence back here in the UFC octagon in your quest for 30 (victories), you know you’ve got to beat somebody, so beat me — if you can!”

Marina Rodriguez opened the pay-per-view portion of UFC 257 by upsetting fellow Brazilian strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Rodriguez got a second-round stoppage with a flurry of punches and a knee in the opening minute.

UFC 257 concluded a run of three shows in eight days with a few thousand fans allowed inside the promotion’s coronavirus bubble in the Middle East. The promotion hadn’t held shows with fans since before the pandemic began last March.

The UFC returns to Las Vegas in two weeks for another run of shows at the fan-free Apex gym on its corporate campus.

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UFC 253: Israel Adesanya defends belt, Jan Błachowicz wins title

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Unbeaten Israel Adesanya defended his middleweight title in style with a dominant second-round stoppage of Paulo Costa at UFC 253 on Sunday

Poland’s Jan Błachowicz also stopped Dominick Reyes late in the second round on Fight Island, the mixed martial arts promotion’s bubble performance venue in the Middle East, to claim the light heavyweight title vacated by Jon Jones.

Adesanya (20-0) carved up his previously unbeaten Brazilian opponent with flair and ease, battering Costa with leg kicks before ending it late in the second round. Adesanya crumpled Costa with a combination at the center of the octagon, and the champion finished on the ground with 61 seconds left in the round.

“I told you guys that it was going to be violent, and it was going to end fast,” Adesanya said. “That’s what I did. It was a little bit sloppy, but I’m a dog, so I do what I do.”

The win was the ninth straight in the UFC for Adesanya, the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-based phenomenon who has soared to prominence in mixed martial arts over the past three years.

In UFC 253′s co-main event, the 37-year-old Błachowicz (27-8) capped his late-career surge by winning his first UFC title.

After controlling most of the action in a slow first round, Błachowicz apparently broke Reyes’ nose during the second round, and he abruptly ended it when he landed a high left hook to the side of Reyes’ head. Reyes wobbled, stumbled and fell, and Błachowicz promptly finished him on the ground with 24 seconds left in the round.

“I still don’t believe it, but it’s here,” Błachowicz said. “It’s not a dream, right? It happened. I have the legendary Polish power, I proved it one more time. … Even a pandemic can’t stop me right now.”

Unheralded flyweight Brandon Royval also had a highlight-reel win on Fight Island, stopping Kai Kara-France with a guillotine choke in the second round.

Adesanya won his title last year by beating Robert Whittaker, but he was in need of a redemptive performance after defending his belt last March with a stupendously boring decision over Yoel Romero in Las Vegas.

The champion known as “The Last Stylebender” reminded the UFC just what he can do while dispatching Costa with ease

The heavily muscled Costa opened the fight with a cocky swagger, daring Adesanya to kick his lead leg by putting his hands behind his back. Adesanya preened back at Costa, but largely kept his distance and tagged Costa with kicks, while Costa’s own kicks were less successful.

Costa’s striking game never got going, and Adesanya wore him down before finishing the fight.

“I built a beachfront condo inside his head from the first time we met,” Adesanya said. “The way he was fighting, you just want me to stand there so you can punch me. I’m not stupid, dummy.”

While Adesanya was a favorite, Błachowicz’s victory was a surprise. He is the first fighter other than Jones or Daniel Cormier to hold the UFC light heavyweight title since 2011, when Jones began his rocky reign.

Jones vacated his belt three times during the ensuing nine years for doping offenses and criminal misbehaviors, but always reclaimed it. But he voluntarily relinquished the title earlier this year after lengthy negotiations over the future of his career with the UFC, apparently receiving the financial incentive to move to heavyweight.

But Jones doesn’t have a fight booked at heavyweight, and Błachowicz isn’t buying the move.

“Only one man is in my mind,” Błachowicz said. “Jon Jones, where are you? Don’t be a quitter. This is how we do it in Poland. I’m waiting for you.”

UFC President Dana White said he wouldn’t stop Jones if the former champion wanted to fight Błachowicz, a six-year UFC veteran. He earned this title shot with three straight wins, including stoppages of former champion Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson.

Reyes is a former college football player from Southern California who only recently devoted himself to the sport full-time, but his 12-0 start to his career landed him a title shot at Jones in February. Jones won their matchup by decision, but most observers thought Reyes had nearly pulled off the monumental upset, keeping him first in line for a second title shot when Jones vacated.

Adesanya also said he wants to fight Jones soon, and he would be willing to move up to do it.

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UFC 249 ushers in fan-free, mask-filled era of sports

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kicks, punches and grunts echoed through the empty arena. Coaches, commentators and camera clicks resonated like never before. Blood, sweat, swollen eyelids and face masks signaled the return of UFC, the first major sporting event to resume since the coronavirus shuttered much of the country for nearly two months.

UFC 249 ushered in a new look for sports, too. One without fans and amid several safety precautions.

It was definitely different — two fighters adjusted their approaches because of what they heard announcers say — and a welcome reprieve for a sports-craved country that went nearly eight weeks with few live events.

“We did this for you, to bring sports back,” fighter Tony Ferguson told fans following his loss in the main event.

Five hours after President Trump congratulated UFC for restarting the sports world, Justin Gaethje stunned heavily favored Ferguson (26-4) in the finale. Gaethje earned a TKO in the fifth and final round of the headliner that was deemed an interim lightweight title bout. It essentially gives Gaethje (22-2) the right to fight titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov next. Nurmagomedov was unable to fight this weekend because of travel restrictions.

Gaethje flipped over the top of the cage and back in following the biggest victory of his career. He then screamed repeatedly.

“I want the real one,” he said as he threw down the interim belt. “There’s no other fight I want right now.”

The stacked card saw 33-year-old Henry Cejudo, with blood gushing from his forehead and running down his chest, defend his bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz and then announce his retirement in the middle of the octagon.

“I really do want to walk away, but money talks,” said Cejudo, an Olympic gold medalist in 2008. “It gets stagnant. I want to leave on top.”

The event also included heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou pummeling another opponent, former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy winning for the sixth time in eight fights and former welterweight champion and fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone losing his fourth straight.

Trump grabbed the spotlight early. His taped message was played during ESPN’s broadcast of the undercard.

“I want to congratulate (UFC President) Dana White and the UFC,” Trump said. “They’re going to have a big match. We love it. We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. Do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. We need sports. We want our sports back.”

UFC 249 was originally scheduled for April 18 in New York, but was postponed in hopes of helping slow the spread of COVID-19.

The mixed martial arts behemoth will hold three shows in eight days in Jacksonville, where state officials deemed professional sports with a national audience exempt from a stay-at-home order as long as the location is closed to the public.

The UFC came up with a 25-page document to address health and safety protocols, procedures that led to Jacaré Souza testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday. His middleweight bout against Uriah Hall was canceled that night. Souza’s two cornermen also tested as positive, the UFC said.

All three men left the host hotel to self-isolate elsewhere, where UFC’s medical team will monitor their conditions remotely and provide assistance with necessary treatments.

The positive results surely increased the focus on the event. Every other sport is watching closely to see how it plays out.

White didn’t want to postpone any fights. He tried to host the event on tribal land in California and still hopes to create a “Fight Island” for future cards.

He settled for Jacksonville for at least a week — without fans and with social-distancing rules in place.

Judges and broadcasters worked from separate tables. Fighters, trainers, referees, judges, UFC staff and even outside media had to undergo COVID-19 testing to get inside Veterans Memorial Arena.

Many of those in attendance Saturday wore masks and gloves, although several were seemingly exempt from the mandate. Referees, ring announcer Bruce Buffer, other officials inside the octagon and the ring girl were unmasked. Play-by-play commentator Joe Rogan, who initially was supposed to interview winners remotely, ended up doing them inside the octagon.

The cage floor was disinfected between bouts, and the padded parts of the octagon were wiped down between rounds.

Without fans, though, sounds that usually would be muted or completely drowned out filled the desolate arena. Fighters said it affected their bouts. Hardy and Carla Esparza said they altered their approach after hearing commentators during early rounds.

“It’s hard to assess without the crowd,” Anthony Pettis said after beating Cerrone in a wild welterweight fight. “When I land stuff, I hear the crowd and know it was a good one. This time, there was no crowd. I saw his head pop, but there was nothing behind it, so it’s hard to tell.”

Also on the card:

— Cejudo (16-2) caught Cruz (22-3) with a right knee to the face that sent him reeling to the canvas. Cejudo then delivered nearly a dozen unanswered blows before the referee stopped it. Cruz argued it never should have been called because he was working to get back on his feet. Cejudo surprisingly ended his career a few minutes later, saying he wants to spend more time with his family.

— Ngannou knocked out fellow heavyweight Jairzinho Rozenstruik in 20 seconds. Ngannou rushed Rozenstruik and delivered a flurry of blows that left Rozenstruik so woozy he had trouble getting into his slides long after the fight ended. It was Ngannou’s fourth consecutive victory totaling less than 3 minutes in the octagon.

— Calvin Kattar (21-4) stopped Jeremy Stephens (28-18) in the second round after consecutive elbow blows, one standing and another on the ground.

— Hardy (6-2) celebrated a unanimous decision over Yorgan De Castro (6-1) in a heavyweight bout.

— “Showtime” Pettis (23-10) beat Cerrone (36-15) in an unanimous decision. Pettis and Cerrone last fought in 2013. Pettis won that one as well. Cerrone has dropped four in a row, including losses to Conor McGregor, Gaethje and Ferguson.

— Aleksei “The Boa Constrictor” Oleinik (59-13-1) beat Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) in a heavyweight bout featuring a pair of 42-year-olds. It was a split decision that included more toe-to-toe blows than ground grappling.

— Carla Esparza (16-6) edged Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson (17-8) in a split decision. It was Esparza’s third straight victory in the straw-weight division.

— Vicente Luque (18-7-1) won for the seventh time in eight fights when he beat Niko Price (14-4) in a bloodbath. The fight was ruled a TKO in the third round after Price developed a nasty cut above his right eye. Luque was ahead on all three cards when it was called.

— Featherweight Bryce Mitchell (13-1) defeated fellow grappler Charles Rosa (12-4) in a unanimous decision.

— Spann (18-5) extended his winning streak to eight by beating veteran Sam Alvey (33-14) in a split decision.

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Jacaré Souza out of UFC 249 after testing positive for COVID-19

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — UFC President Dana White still wants “Fight Island.”

He’s temporarily settling for a peninsula — and had to call off a bout after a fighter tested positive for the coronavirus.

UFC 249 will serve as the first major sporting event to take place since the pandemic shut down much of the country nearly two months ago. The bouts Saturday night in Jacksonville — the main event is set for pay-per-view — are expected to draw a large viewing audience considering the sports-craved nation has seemingly grown tired of replays and video game events.

There’s nothing virtual about the reality of getting punched in the face.

“Right now there is no Olympics. There is no Wimbledon. There is no NBA drafts. No NFL drafts,” said lightweight contender Tony Ferguson. “There is no (expletive) tennis. There is no soccer, hockey. There is no baseball. This what we bring to the table man and we are going out there and do our best and we are going to keep sports alive.”

More like bring sports back to life.

Ferguson (25-3) and fellow lightweight contender Justin Gaethje (21-2) will headline the mixed martial arts card behind closed doors at Veterans Memorial Arena.

“This is going to bring a sense of normalcy to people,” Gaethje said. “Proud to be a part of it, you know the opportunity to inspire. People need to be inspired right now. They need to not let themselves become depressed, emotional because they can’t control what is going on right now.

“We have got to ride it through, and they need to be inspired in a way and we can do that. We have the opportunity.”

Jacaré Souza, tested positive Friday. His middleweight bout against Uriah Hall was called off. Souza’s two cornermen also tested as positive, the UFC said in a statement.

“All three men have left the host hotel and will be self-isolating off premises, where UFC’s medical team will monitor their conditions remotely and will provide assistance with any necessary treatment,” the UFC said.

The UFC is returning after an involuntary eight-week break that upended White’s desire to keep fighting amid the COVID-19 health crisis. The series is holding three shows in eight days in a fan-free arena in Florida, where state officials deemed professional sports with a national audience exempt from a stay-at-home order as long as “the location is closed to the general public.”

The UFC came up with a 25-page document to address health and safety protocols. UFC executives and physicians consulted regulatory officials and outside experts to develop its procedures, which include testing everyone working the event.

Those in attendance, perhaps even referees, will have to wear masks and gloves. The cage floor, inevitably sprinkled with sweat and blood, will be disinfected regularly.

“It is going to be much more of an intimate situation, as weird as that sounds,” Gaethje said. “The fans are going to get to hear the shots when we land our shots. They are going to hear the breathing. They are going to hear the talking from the coaches. … I can’t wait to watch this fight when it is over because I know that it cannot disappoint.”

The undercard will be broadcast on ESPN, whose most recent live sports have been reduced to Korean baseball and cornhole.

Other fights on the card include:

—Henry Cejudo (15-2) will defend his UFC bantamweight champion against former titleholder Dominick Cruz (22-2).

—Francis Ngannou (14-3) fights undefeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0) in a heavyweight bout.

—Jeremy Stephens (28-17) and Calvin Kattar (20-4) in a matchup of featherweight contenders.

—Former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy (6-2) against unbeaten Yorgan De Castro (5-0) in another heavyweight bout.

—And Donald Cerrone (36-14) takes on Anthony Pettis (22-10) in a welterweight fight.

UFC 249 was originally scheduled for April 18 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The next two major events — UFC 250 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and UFC 251 in Perth, Australia — already have been postponed because of the global pandemic.

White, meanwhile, continues to work to try to stage international bouts on a private island.

Unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov initially was slated to fight Ferguson for the lightweight title, but travel restrictions forced Nurmagomedov to be replaced by Gaethje.

Ferguson and Gaethje will vie for the title of “interim lightweight champion.”

“You will be recognized as the No. 2 man in the world,” Ferguson said. “Khabib can’t fight right now, so these are the two baddest men on the planet in this weight class fighting this weekend for the right to call themselves the best and then ultimately challenge Khabib.

“I think we are fighting for the opportunity to represent America against Khabib and that is what I am fighting for.”

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Fighters see UFC 249 as chance to spread hope, inspiration

When the UFC leads North America’s major sports back into action Saturday night with a pay-per-view show in Florida, Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje know they can’t do anything tentatively.

“We’ve got to go out there and keep sports alive,” Ferguson said Tuesday after he flew into Jacksonville and was quickly tested for COVID-19.

The 24 fighters at UFC 249 all realize they added another risk to their already hazardous professions when they agreed to compete amid the growing coronavirus pandemic. While the UFC has strict safety protocols in place, no one can be certain of the dangers involved when the mixed martial arts promotion returns from an eight-week break with three shows in eight days in Jacksonville.

Ferguson and Gaethje both believe their risks are outweighed by the sporting rewards they will reap and the example they will provide when they fight for the interim UFC lightweight title in a fan-free arena.

“We’re going to bring a sense of normalcy to people,” Gaethje said in a phone interview. “I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s the opportunity to inspire. People need to be inspired right now. They need to not let themselves become depressed (or) emotional because they can’t control what’s going on right now. We’ve got to ride it through. They need to be inspired, and we can do that.”

“I honestly had no reservations,” Ferguson added. “Fighting is very dangerous, so I think we’ll be just fine.”

The UFC never wanted to stop competition while the pandemic grew, and president Dana White was never short of fighters willing to compete while he scrambled desperately to keep holding fight cards amid the unprecedented public health crisis. Now that White has found a state and an athletic commission willing to host him, UFC 249 will be followed by additional shows on May 13, May 16 and probably May 23 from Jacksonville.

“There’s not very often you’re going to get to fight for a world title, much less during a pandemic when there’s zero sports going on and you’re going to be the only one on TV,” Gaethje said. “You have to face your fears. You’ve got to go out there and take the chances when they’re presented. … We get to put paychecks in our own pocket, and we get to put a paycheck in every UFC employee’s pocket that’s going to work this event, and we get to inspire people to not give up right now.”

While many athletes around the world have voiced concerns about being compelled to play their sports in such uncertain times, the UFC’s fighters — who typically don’t get paid unless they compete — have been almost unanimously eager to return.

Even seasoned veterans like ex-champion Dominick Cruz have jumped at the opportunity despite being well aware of the health risks involved. Like Gaethje, Cruz sees UFC 249 as an opportunity to overcome fear.

“Realistically, anybody can contract this virus,” said Cruz, who will return from a three-year cage absence to fight bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo on Saturday. “I think that’s partially the point, is understanding that anybody out there can get this, but you can’t just freeze up when you see something that’s scary. You’ve got to take the precautions, be as safe as possible, but live your life. That’s what I’m doing.”

Some MMA fighters prefer to train in busy gyms with several teammates, while others work out with only their coaches and sparring partners. The necessary changes over the past two months haven’t bothered Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler and champion of two UFC divisions.

“I really don’t know the difference between the COVID-19 quarantine and me in my training camp,” Cejudo said. “I’m a professional. I train each and every day. I try to do everything right. This whole quarantine, I think by the time the U.S. comes back together, I’m just not going to know the difference.”

Cruz feels particularly strongly about the symbolic importance of the UFC’s return to competition. The former 135-pound champion wants to reclaim the belt to use it as an instrument for social change, even citing Muhammad Ali’s activism against the Vietnam War as his inspiration.

“What’s the value of championship belts or Olympic gold medals when there’s 33 million Americans that just filed for unemployment benefits, that can’t see their families since mid-March?” Cruz said. “There’s no vaccine for COVID-19 coming, probably no end in sight. So I’ve been (contemplating) the question of what’s the value of belts or even Olympic gold medals unless you use it to make a difference in the lives and the service of humanity?”

But after listening to Cruz’s passionate thoughts about the state of the world during their joint phone interview, Cejudo brought the discussion back to usual MMA levels of discourse.

“You’d better sign up for those unemployment checks, because I’m taking you out,” Cejudo said. “Dominick, you sound like Miss Universe.”

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UFC 240: Max Holloway retains featherweight title; Cris Cyborg dominates

  • Max Holloway, left, fights Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway is hit by Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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  • Max Holloway, left, and Frankie Edgar connect on each other during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway punches Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway, right, punches Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway, left, blocks a kick from Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway celebrates the win over Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg celebrates the win over Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg, left, is punched by Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg, left, punches Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Geoff Neal gets on top of Niko Price during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg, left, hits Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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EDMONTON, Alberta — Reigning featherweight champ Max Holloway defended his belt Saturday, overwhelming former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar at UFC 240.

Holloway (21-4-0) won a unanimous five-round decision.

The 27-year-old Hawaiian kept Edgar at a distance throughout the fight, stinging him with jabs and uppercuts in the first round and bloodying his nose in the second.

Holloway resisted all but one attempt by Edgar (22-7-1) to take him down, and said he was proud to be able to go the distance.

“Everybody said I wouldn’t be able to stay with this pace. I wanted to be able to stay for five rounds,” Holloway said.

Holloway has never lost in the featherweight category. He was coming off a lightweight division loss to Dustin Poirier in April, his first loss in five years.

It was one of two headline fights.

In the other headline bout, Brazilian MMA legend Cris Cyborg pummeled Montreal’s Felicia Spencer with punches, leg kicks and knee shots to win a unanimous decision.

Cyborg (21-2, 1 NC), with blood spilling down her face from taking an elbow in the first round, pounded Spencer and deflected multiple attacks to put her in a clinch or take her down in the women’s featherweight fight.

Spencer (7-1) had the crowd cheering as she withstood the assault and launched a few counterstrikes, her white shirt stained red with Cyborg’s blood.

“I trained really hard. Thanks to Felicia for giving me my first cut. I’m happy. I just want to come back and do my job. Thank you, God. I feel very blessed to be here,” Cyborg said.

The 34-yar-old Cyborg is trying to rebuild her brand after coming off a loss to Amanda Nunes in a featherweight championship fight in December, Cyborg’s first defeat in 13 years.

This was the last fight on her UFC contract.

In other bouts, American welterweights Geoff Neal and Niko Price put on a back-and-forth brawl that had the crowd cheering. Neal won a TKO when he pinned Price to the canvas in the middle of the second round and pounded him until Price’s arms went limp.

Marc-Andre Barriault (11-3) lost a split decision to Poland’s Krzysztof Jotko in a middleweight bout, and Olivier Aubin-Mercier (12-5) lost a unanimous-decision to 22-year-old Arman Tsarukyan of Armenia in a lightweight fight.

Gavin Tucker won by submission over South Korean striker Seungwoo Choi in the third round of their featherweight fight.

It was the first MMA fight for Tucker (11-1) since UFC 215 in Edmonton almost two years ago, when he was beaten so badly by Rick Glenn he was hospitalized with a fractured jaw and broken bones to his face.

Gillian Robertson (7-3 in MMA) defeated Brazil’s Sarah Frota in a women’s flyweight fight.

In a featherweight fight, Hakeem Dawodu dominated Japanese fighter Yoshniori Hori, ending in a third round TKO at 4:09. Alexis Davis lost a unanimous women’s flyweight decision to Brazil’s Viviane Araujo.

In a spirited flyweight battle of Brazilians, Alexandre Pantoja and Deiveson Figueiredo stayed on their feet for three rounds, trading flurries of jabs and uppercuts that left Pantoja’s face streaked with blood. Figueiredo won a unanimous decision.

Erik Koch took fellow American Kyle Stewart down four times to win a unanimous decision in their welterweight bout.

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UFC 238: Tony Ferguson beat Donald Cerrone by TKO in lightweight fight

  • Tony Ferguson, right, punches Donald Cerrone, left, during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

  • Donald Cerrone, his right eye swollen shut, is unable to fight Tony Ferguson during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

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  • Donald Cerrone, left, kicks Tony Ferguson during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

  • Donald Cerrone, right, lands a punch against Tony Ferguson during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

  • Donald Cerrone, right, looks to hit Tony Ferguson during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

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CHICAGO — Tony Ferguson’s path to the lightweight title is becoming clear.

Ferguson won by technical knockout after a medical stoppage in a lightweight fight against Donald Cerrone at UFC 238 on Saturday night.

Ferguson (26-3) won his 12th straight fight, the longest active streak in the UFC, after a doctor stopped the fight after the second round after checking on the swelling of Cerrone’s right eye.

Cerrone was taken to a hospital with an orbital fracture.

With the win, Ferguson moved into a position to face the winner of the lightweight unification title fight between champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champ Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 in September.

“If me and Cowboy (Cerrone) don’t fight again, I want that title shot. I’ve had that title, I feel that’s why it’s such an emotional roller-coaster. I’ve increased my value after this fight tonight. If Poirier cannot do it, I’ll go to Abu Dhabi (UFC 242) and do it myself, and if (Conor) McGregor wants to dance, I have a tune for him too, so regardless I’ll be ready,” Ferguson said.

With the crowd and Cerrone wanting more, and Ferguson getting a late hit in, Ferguson wished the bout didn’t end the way it did.

“It’s not the way I wanted to win. It’s been a big journey, I don’t think anyone had to go through the kind of stuff I had to,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson was back in the cage after a layoff because of personal issues.

Ferguson beat Anthony Pettis in October.

Saturday’s main card also featured two title fights.

In the main event, flyweight champ Henry Cejudo (15-2) finished Marlon Moraes (22-6-1) in the third round for the vacated bantamweight championship.

Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal wrestler, showed off his striking game in the second round, delivering a series of uppercuts and knees to the face of Moraes.

Cejudo carried the momentum to the third round, taking Moraes to the ground and delivering a series of punches before the fight was stopped just before the third round ended.

Cejudo defended his flyweight belt against former bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw with a first-round knockout in January. Dillashaw went down to flyweight to chase his second belt, but he was stopped by Cejudo in just over 30 seconds and had his belt stripped after he failed pre- and post-fight drug tests.

Cejudo became the fourth fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight divisions.

“I’m not a double champion, I’m a triple champion: Olympic champion, flyweight champion and now bantamweight champion of the UFC,” Cejudo said. “I’m the only person in the world who has all these titles, nobody else. Whether you hate me or you love me, I’m the pound-for-pound king.”

In a women’s flyweight title fight, Valentina Shevchenko (17-3) defended her belt by landing a vicious left kick to the head of Jessica Eye (14-7) early in the second round. Eye was knocked out cold, but she was able to recover and walk off on her own power.

The fight between Ferguson and Cerrone was the highlight of the card. They had the attention of the crowd, which was equally split between the fighters.

The two exchanged blows in the first round. Cerrone landed a jab that put a cut above Ferguson’s right eye, bloodying Ferguson’s face.

In the second round, Ferguson went to work on Cerrone’s face, landing a series jabs and kicks, continuing to bloody Cerrone’s face and pounding his right eye.

Cerrone (36-12) took down Ferguson with two minutes left in the round, but Ferguson recovered quickly and continued to pound Cerrone’s face.

Ferguson delivered a punch just after the bell. It wasn’t immediately clear if Ferguson was penalized.

“In the second round, I saw his hands started to drop, my left hand started to land a lot more, he didn’t have too many answers to the kicks, I saw his confidence starting to decrease. And in the end of that round, going through a lot of emotions, just trying to get into it, I let a punch go at the buzzer, I thought I hit him at the buzz, it was on the other side of his face, not the side that was swollen,” Ferguson said.

Cerrone, who was alert and ready to begin the third round, was checked by a doctor who immediately put a stop to fight after checking on the swelling of Cerrone’s right eye.

Ferguson’s road to the lightweight title might not be that simple. Potential scheduling conflicts could affect the coveted title shot for Ferguson. Nurmagomedov’s agent has plans for his client to face Georges St-Pierre at some point, and Conor McGregor, the No. 3 contender, is holding out for a rematch against Nurmagomedov after he lost to him at UFC 229.

Ferguson had the interim title stripped when he wasn’t able to face Nurmagomedov in April of 2018.

Saturday’s fight against Ferguson was finalized just one week after Cerrone beat Al Iaquinta on May 4, giving Cerrone less than a month to prepare for Ferguson.

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Conor McGregor announces retirement from MMA

  • Conor McGregor during the UFC 202 ceremonial weigh-ins at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV., Friday, August 19, 2016. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov, red, chokes Conor McGregor to win via submission during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Conor McGregor during the UFC 229 official weigh-ins at the Park MGM in Las Vegas, Nev. Thursday, Oct. 5, 2018. . (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Conor McGregor is taken to the locker room after being defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Conor McGregor during the UFC 229 official weigh-ins at the Park MGM in Las Vegas, Nev. Thursday, Oct. 5, 2018. . (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • No. 1 UFC lightweight Conor McGregor during UFC 229 open workouts at the Park Theater Wednesday, October 3, 2018, in Las Vegas Nev. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • No. 1 UFC lightweight Conor McGregor during the UFC 229 press conference at the Park Theater in Las Vegas Nev. Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • No. 1 UFC lightweight Conor McGregor during UFC 229 open workouts at the Park Theater Wednesday, October 3, 2018, in Las Vegas Nev. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • No. 1 UFC lightweight Conor McGregor during UFC 229 open workouts at the Park Theater Wednesday, October 3, 2018, in Las Vegas Nev. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • No. 1 UFC lightweight Conor McGregor during UFC 229 open workouts at the Park Theater Wednesday, October 3, 2018, in Las Vegas Nev. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov submits Conor McGregor to retain the title during UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Friday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Photos by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Superstar UFC fighter Conor McGregor has announced on social media that he is retiring from mixed martial arts.

McGregor’s verified Twitter account had a post early Tuesday that said the former featherweight and lightweight UFC champion was making a “quick announcement.”

The tweet says: ” I’ve decided to retire from the sport formally known as “Mixed Martial Art” today.” The note wishes his colleagues well going forward and said that he would “join my former partners on this venture, already in retirement. Proper Pina Coladas on me fellas!”

The 30-year-old McGregor also announced retirement on Twitter in April 2016, saying he decided to retire young, though he quickly reversed that amid a dispute with his promoters about how much he should be obligated to tout a fight scheduled with Nate Diaz that was postponed.

Earlier this month, McGregor was arrested in South Florida for stealing the cellphone of someone who was trying to take his photo, authorities said. McGregor was charged with robbery and criminal mischief. His attorney described the altercation as minor.

McGregor, who’s from Ireland, returned to UFC last fall after a hiatus during which he made his boxing debut, a loss to Floyd Mayweather. He was suspended from UFC for six months and fined $50,000 for a brawl after his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October.

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