MMA

Conor McGregor withdraws from UFC 303 main event vs. Michael Chandler due to injury, Dana White announces

Conor McGregor withdraws from UFC 303 main event vs. Michael Chandler due to injury, Dana White announces

Conor McGregor's nearly three-year layoff from the UFC will become even longer, as the Irishman withdrew from his UFC 303 fight against Michael Chandler on Thursday.

UFC president Dana White announced McGregor's exit, only saying that the Irishman had sustained an injury.

The main event, set to take place June 29, will be replaced by a light heavyweight title rematch between champion Alex Pereira and former champion Jiri Procházka. Pereira previously defeated Procházka via second-round TKO to win the chronically vacant belt at UFC 295 last November.

The co-main event between former light heavyweight champ Jamahal Hill and Carlos Ulberg is also being replaced by a bout between Brian Ortega and Diego Lopes due to an injury to Hill. Ulberg will instead face Anthony Smith.

It was a rough day overall for the UFC, as the Fight Night scheduled the week before 303 also saw its main event between Khamzat Chimaev and Robert Whittaker get derailed due to a medical issue with Chimaev. The UFC announced earlier Thursday that Whittaker will instead face Ikram Aliskerov.

McGregor last fought at UFC 264 in July 2021, when he lost a trilogy fight with Dustin Poirier via TKO after breaking his tibia at the end of the first round. It has been more than four years since he last won a fight, and nearly eight years since he won a title fight.

Fans hoping for McGregor's long-awaited return to the Octagon at UFC 303 first saw red flags when a news conference with Chandler scheduled for June 3 was abruptly postponed, with little explanation from the promotion.

As rumors — and a video of McGregor partying with his fiancée — started to swirl, McGregor posted on X that "a series of obstacles" had caused the postponement, but he insisted he was still looking forward to fighting again.

Anyone encouraged by that explanation would have been subsequently disheartened when veteran MMA journalist Ariel Helwani reported Tuesday that the UFC was putting out feelers for a McGregor replacement or a new fight entirely.

Those anxieties dissipated over the following week, with Chandler saying all was well in an interview and the UFC promoting the fight like usual on a Fight Night, but Helwani reported the following Tuesday there was increased pessimism and that the promotion was once again sending out feelers for a replacement.

Helwani reported soon after McGregor's withdrawal that the former champion had sustained the injury a day or two before that news conference, with McGregor's camp hoping in vain he could recover in time.

This latest development is particularly rough for Chandler, who has been more than patient as he awaits what would be by far the most lucrative fight of his career. Chandler last entered the Octagon in November 2022, when he also lost to Poirier. Months later, he and McGregor were set up for a bout as coaches of "The Ultimate Fighter," but months passed without a real fight date. That span of time included the UFC's contentious split with the USADA over McGregor's reentry into the testing pool.

The fight date was finally announced in April, and no one was happier than Chandler.

McGregor's most recent loss to Poirier was a low point in a career that was already trending downward, at least when it came to performance in the cage.

McGregor sat on the mat, with a badly broken leg, hurling insult after insult and making a gun sign at Poirier, who remains one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. McGregor had spent the entire pre-fight process making statements about Poirier's family that clearly crossed a line, to the point that Poirier's wife Jolie was seen flipping him off as he received medical attention.

It was a moment of soul-searching for McGregor, who at that point had lost three of his last four fights, with two losses to Poirier and one to the since-retired Khabib Nurmagomedov. Yes, he was (and still is) the biggest draw in MMA, but the former two-belt champ had never actually defended either belt, and was stripped of both due to inactivity.

So McGregor went through a slow recovery process, and he definitely didn't jump back into the UFC as early as he could. Instead, he focused on his considerable business portfolio and made his acting debut as the antagonist in Jake Gyllenhaal's adaptation of "Road House."

There were also some concerning accusations, not to mention whatever this was.

And now that three-year road back to the UFC is extended, and you can only wonder how much longer the promotion can play ball with a fighter it has defended and indulged at every turn.

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