UFC 192 overshadowed by backstage dealings

Alexander Gustafsson in his main event tilt against Jimi Manuwa.

UFC 192 takes place this Saturday, and while it’s not a great card, it is a very good one. Daniel Cormier makes his first defense of his totally-not-interim light heavyweight title against Alexander Gustafsson. The co-main event features top welterweights Johny Hendricks and Tyron Woodley in a fight that will either put you to sleep or leave your pants a mess. Plus, Rashad Evans makes his first appearance in a UFC cage in nearly two years against Ryan Bader. This isn’t the kind of card that excites the casual fan, but it’s one that the UFC should be able to sell to your typical fight fan.

While this is the unofficial launch of the #GoBig seasonal marketing (choosing to start with last week’s Fight Night in Japan was…something), there doesn’t seem to be much buzz about this event. And the marketing of the event doesn’t suggest the UFC has given it much thought, either. In addition to a couple cookiecutter promos, the UFC went back to the size angle that worked so well for Jones vs. Gustafsson. The lack of oomph behind this show is also confusing considering that the last big event took place on August 1st and the next big event takes place in six weeks. UFC 192 sits on an island, apparently deserted.

So, what’s going on? Well, the UFC has a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes that may be distracting them from their main business. Let’s run through the list!

The UFC loses motion to dismiss antitrust suit. Despite having the case moved from San Jose to their backyard in Las Vegas, U.S. district judge Richard Boulware denied the UFC’s motion to have the suit dismissed. In addition, Boulware raised some interesting questions about the UFC’s right-to-match option, which he suggested grants the UFC rights to a fighter “forever.”

The USADA partnership has started poorly. Roy Nelson claims he wasn’t tested prior to UFC Fight Night: Japan. (And it sounds like Josh Barnett wasn’t either.) Yesterday, several UFC fighters complained that the mobile app to notify USADA of their whereabouts wasn’t working. Earlier this month, Deadspin published a story by Josh Gross that put both the UFC and new drug czar Jeff Novitzky’s integrity into question. This is in addition to stories by Thomas Hauser and Lance Pugmire that questioned USADA’s handling of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and (in Pugmire’s article) Frank Mir’s use of Adderall.

Jon Jones pleads guilty, receives probation. With Dana White in attendance, Jon Jones plead guilty to a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Judge Charles Brown granted Jones a conditional discharge, 18 months of supervised probation, and 72 charity appearances. This is good news for the UFC, but they will now conduct their own investigation before reinstating him from a suspension. And there’s also the issue of getting him licensed to fight as a felon.

Nick Diaz is the center of trouble that he didn’t cause. Nick Diaz is set to challenge the Nevada Athletic Commission’s recent ruling and five-year suspension after testing positive for marijuana. According to Diaz, the UFC put him in touch with their lawyers. In the wake of the hearing, multiple fighters have now intimated they will refuse to fight in Nevada.

The UFC announces Madison Square Garden event. With traditional lobbying efforts failing year after year, it appears the UFC is going to try to force New York’s hand by staging an event at Madison Square Garden in April. According to Jim Genia, the UFC’s gambit creates a game of chicken between the promotion and the state. In theory, the UFC can run at the Garden without New York lifting it’s ban on professional MMA by having a third party (in this case, the World Kickboxing Association) sanction it. In that case, New York misses out on tax revenues associated with the event.

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