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6 thoughts about McGregor-Chandler cancellation, Pereira-Prochazka 2, more

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It's been a busy week for Dana White, Hunter Campbell, and the rest of the UFC brass.

Two main-event switches occurred in the span of four hours Thursday, and the UFC 303 pay-per-view card got an entire makeover.

The biggest news, of course, is that Conor McGregor is injured and won't make his long-awaited return against Michael Chandler in the UFC 303 main event June 29 in Las Vegas. McGregor-Chandler is expected to be rebooked later this year, potentially in August or September.

The new main event for the promotion's annual International Fight Week card is a light heavyweight title rematch between champion Alex Pereira and former champ Jiri Prochazka. Pereira got the second-round knockout win at UFC 295 last November to claim the vacant belt, and now he has a chance to go 2-0 against Prochazka on a little over two weeks' notice.

That wasn't the only change for UFC 303: Former 205-pound champion Jamahal Hill pulled out of the co-main event against Carlos Ulberg due to a knee injury. Stepping in for Hill and taking on Ulberg will be veteran Anthony Smith. However, that fight will no longer be the co-headliner. The UFC announced a new featherweight matchup between Brian Ortega and Diego Lopes that'll take place right before Pereira-Prochazka 2.

Also of note: Khamzat Chimaev withdrew from his highly anticipated middleweight matchup against Robert Whittaker, which was scheduled to headline UFC Saudi Arabia on June 22, due to an illness. Whittaker, a former champ, will take on highly touted up-and-comer Ikram Aliskerov in the new main event.

Now that the UFC has avoided disaster and the dust has settled, here are a handful of thoughts on the frenzy of cancellations and new fight bookings that occurred in the last 24 hours:

1. The new UFC 303 lineup is as good as it was going to get. When word first came down about McGregor-Chandler being in jeopardy, fans likely shuddered at the thought of what the card would look like. An Ian Machado Garry main event? At International Fight Week? But as the UFC often does when things go awry, it pulled a rabbit out of its hat a la UFC 279 and UFC 294.

In fact, you could argue UFC 303 has actually gotten better. Of course, nothing compares to a McGregor fight in terms of big-event feel and mainstream interest. But Pereira-Prochazka 2 is the better matchup from a talent point of view, hands down. Pereira and Prochazka are two of the wildest fighters in mixed martial arts, and they just so happen to be the two best light heavyweights in the UFC concurrently. They could fight 100 times and produce something crazy or memorable each time. And Prochazka is a live underdog despite getting knocked out in the first fight.

Chris Unger / UFC / Getty

As far as the undercard is concerned, the surprise addition of Ortega-Lopes added some much-needed depth to UFC 303. This year's International Fight Week pay-per-view card won't be the blockbuster night we were all expecting, but it's still a solid offering that's arguably better than before.

2. McGregor's injury could potentially line him up for a fight at the Sphere. Aug. 31 and Sept. 28 are being targeted as new pay-per-view dates for McGregor-Chandler, according to MMA reporter Ariel Helwani, but it would make sense to rebook the fight for UFC 306 on Sept. 14 at the Sphere in Las Vegas instead. The UFC needs a big main event for its debut at the new venue, and it doesn't get any bigger than McGregor. UFC 306 is supposed to be a Mexican Independence Day-themed event, but as long as Alexa Grasso versus Valentina Shevchenko is somewhere on the card, no one would complain about McGregor-Chandler getting top billing.

It remains unclear what kind of injury McGregor suffered, but it likely wasn't too severe as he and his team tried to stay in the fight. Perhaps something good - a great main event for the Sphere - will come out of what initially seemed like a disaster.

Chris Unger / UFC / Getty

3. That said, Chandler should have at least a few concerns about the McGregor fight ever happening. It's been 16 months since McGregor and Chandler were announced as the coaches of "The Ultimate Fighter 30," with plans for the two fighters to square off in the second half of 2023. It's been eight months since the UFC and USADA parted ways, clearing McGregor to compete from a drug-testing perspective. Heck, it's even been a month since his "Road House" obligations were over.

All of that is to say McGregor-Chandler has been in the works for a long time. Chandler - who last fought in November 2022 and is closer to the end than the start of his MMA run at 38 years old - has practically put his career on hold waiting for his biggest payday yet. If McGregor indeed will be ready to go by August or September, then it's in Chandler's best interest to wait a little while longer. But until McGregor is inside the actual cage with him, Chandler should come up with a backup plan.

4. Pereira is setting himself up for another Fighter of the Year campaign. Pereira defended his light heavyweight title for the first time in the UFC 300 main event in April, knocking out Hill in the first round to cement himself as the world's top 205-pounder. If he can beat Prochazka again, no one will question who the front-runner for Fighter of the Year is. One more title defense in late 2024 and Pereira is all but guaranteed to have that award locked up for the second time in three years.

On a larger scale, what Pereira is doing - and the grand stages he's doing it on - continues to be amazing, especially when you consider that he's only eight fights and two-and-a-half years into his UFC career. A second win over Prochazka would mark three straight main-event victories at ginormous, tentpole shows: Madison Square Garden, UFC 300, and International Fight Week. This man slid into the UFC 295 main event when Jon Jones got hurt, agreed to headline UFC 300 on relative short notice when the promotion had no other options, and is now stepping up to save the day at UFC 303.

Not bad for a guy who hadn't even made his UFC debut the last time McGregor stepped into the Octagon.

Chris Unger / UFC / Getty

5. Ortega-Lopes could steal the show. It won't be the most talked-about fight of UFC 303 going in, but the featherweight bout has all the makings of an instant classic. Ortega showed in his last fight - a submission win over Yair Rodriguez in February - that he's still a top featherweight, and Lopes has emerged as a top up-and-comer in the last 10 months. Both men are terrific grapplers with high-level striking to boot. Either Ortega will hold off the rookie, or Lopes will make a dent in the top five of the division. It'll be a fun one, with the winner emerging as a top candidate for a featherweight title shot.

6. We'll find out if Aliskerov is the real deal when he faces Whittaker. There's no clearer example of getting fast-tracked than this. Of course, it wasn't the original plan. Aliskerov was scheduled to face UFC newcomer Antonio Trocoli at Saturday's Fight Night card at the Apex in Las Vegas. Now he's fighting a former champion and the No. 3-ranked middleweight in Whittaker instead - one week later, across the world in Saudi Arabia. Talk about a step up in competition.

Aliskerov definitely deserved a bigger test than he was supposed to be getting this weekend. The 31-year-old Russian has shown signs of being a future contender since debuting in the UFC in May 2023, knocking out Phil Hawes and Warlley Alves in the first round with ease. Now let's see if Aliskerov already has what it takes to hang with the best in the world.

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