On November 12, the UFC will make its long-awaited debut in New York City’s hallowed Madison Square Garden. The event, titled UFC 205, will mark the culmination of an arduous bureaucratic battle to legalize mixed martial arts in the state of New York.
In celebration of New York opening its doors to MMA, the UFC sought to pack the UFC 205 lineup with as many New York based fighters as possible—and for a time, it looked as though they’d be successful in this attempt. Unfortunately, however, UFC 205 seems to have sprung a leak. It’s hemorrhaging New York fighters faster than it can book them.
The first New Yorker to drop off the card was Al Iaquinta, who was briefly scheduled to welcome former welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves to the lightweight division. Unfortunately, Iaquinta withdrew from the card after a contract dispute with the UFC, and has since been replaced by New Jersey’s Jim Miller. Then, on Wednesday of this week, it was announced that New York’s Gian Villante had suffered a minor injury, and had been forced to withdraw from his light heavyweight bout with Marcos Rogerio de Lima as a result. There’s no word yet on whether a replacement opponent will be found for de Lima.
Now, if you can count, you’ll notice that that’s only two New York fighters to withdraw from the card thus far, which is perhaps not very many. The problem, however, is that there’s now only one New York native left on the card: Rashad Evans. The former light heavyweight champion, who was born in Niagara Falls, NY, is scheduled for a drop to middleweight against Tim Kennedy at the event.
Of course, many of you will recall headlines suggesting that New York born former middleweight champ Chris Weidman is expected to fight Yoel Romero at UFC 205. Regrettably the keyword in that last sentence is “expected.” While this bout is still apparently in the works, Weidman was yet to sign his contract when this article was written. So, the New Yorker count on the official UFC 205 lineup is just one: Evans.
Then there are the other high-profile, New York based fighters on the UFC roster: Jon Jones, Aljamain Sterling, Dennis Bermudez, Ryan LaFlare…At the moment, none of these fighters are booked to compete at this anticipated event, and as of now, there doesn’t appear to be any planning to the contrary. What the UFC suddenly has on their hands then, is a New York City debut almost entirely devoid of New York fighters.
This of course, is not an especially good look for UFC 205. Imagine, for example, if after the Canadian province of Ontario legalized MMA, the UFC made their long-awaited debut in Toronto with a card nearly empty of Canadian fighters. The throngs of Ontario fans in attendance would not have been thrilled.
To make matters worse, the UFC is still scrambling to assemble a main event for this anticipated card.
For a time, it sounded as though that main event would see lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez defend his title against featherweight champion and international superstar Conor McGregor. On Tuesday night, however, a Twitter tag-team of UFC president Dana White and top lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov threw a wrench in these plans, stating that it would be Nurmagomedov that fought Alvarez at UFC 205, rather than McGregor.
Only hours thereafter, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto then cast doubt on these claims, stating that he’d been told by a UFC official that no new plans had been made in terms of UFC 205’s elusive main event. Okamoto also claimed that Alvarez still planned on fighting McGregor at UFC 205—not Nurmagomedov, as White suggested.
Granted, even at this stage, UFC 205 has some real strong points. We’ll get to see Tyron Woodley attempt to defend his welterweight title against streaking karate specialist Stephen Thompson. We’ll get to watch fan favorite gunslinger Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone try to move to 4-0 as a welterweight opposite recent TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum. We’ll see New Jersey’s Frankie Edgar return to action opposite Jeremy Stephens. We’ll get to see Rashad Evans dip his toes in the shark infested waters of the middleweight division. Unfortunately, this is simply not enough for a card as historically important as the UFC’s debut in glimmering New York City.
If the fighter withdrawals continue, and the UFC fails to put together a compelling main event in good time, this long-awaited New York card could go the way of UFC 200, entering the history books as a pretty good card that should have been great. So find some wood, fight fans, and knock on it hard and often. And with a little luck, UFC 205 will buck its bad luck and evolve into the card we’ve all been hoping for.
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