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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Doubt UFC 230 as you wish, but fight night could be an exciting one

Daniel Cormier poses during a news conference for

Daniel Cormier poses during a news conference for UFC 226 on July 5, 2018, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP/John Locher

UFC 230 fight week arrives in New York City with a trail of hullabaloo in its recent past.

As the weeks-long questioning of who would be the main event for Big Town’s third foray as host city for this traveling band of mixed martial artists received an unpopular answer only to be subbed out a few days later for a more palatable (and pay-per-viewable) alternative, we are several days away from the start of competition.

Did we mention that we’re on the third co-main event, too?

For what has become a financial tentpole of sorts for the WME-IMG owned Ultimate Fighting Championship -- $17.7 million live gate in 2016 and $6.1 million in 2017, both in the top 10 in UFC history -- this particular go-round indeed seems to be trying to leap over its early hurdles.

Sure, fight fans lost out on Nate Diaz vs. Dustin Poirier in a lightweight bout that each fighter tried to turn into a title fight at a weight class that remains non-existent in the UFC. That co-main event figured to be a striker’s delight, but Poirier pulled out with an injury.

Fight fans also lost out on seeing Chris Weidman finally get a second shot at Luke Rockhold, only this time minus any sort of middleweight championship belt at stake. Rockhold pulled out on two weeks’ notice ago with a series of injuries. Weidman instead will face Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who was supposed to fight David Branch, who now fights Jared Cannonier instead.

And then of course there’s the main event snafu. Valentina Shevchenko was bumped up a month and instead of facing Joanna Jedrzeczyk for the vacant women’s flyweight title, she would fight Sijara Eubanks for the belt. That fight found plenty of traction in social media, most of it negative except for those on Team Eubanks. Within seven days, a new main event was announced: Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will face Derrick Lewis on three weeks’ notice.

If it seems this UFC 230 fight card is cursed, that’s just the decorations and costumes you’re immersed in this week. These things happen in MMA, all the more frequently as it turns out. There have been 25 main event or co-main event changes this year in the UFC, and that’s before we even get to Friday’s weigh-ins and medical exams by the state athletic commission’s doctors.

If it seems this fight card lacks the luster of past UFC events at Madison Square Garden, you can be on that side of the discussion and make a fair argument that shouldn’t land you on @OldTakesExposed’s Twitter timeline.

There’s no Conor McGregor this time around, so that instantly makes UFC 230 compare less favorably than UFC 205 in November 2016, when 15,000 people showed up at the ceremonial weigh-ins. The ceremonial weigh-ins! The ones that don’t count for anything tangible other than photo-ops, sound bites and video clips for TV and social media.  It also was the first UFC event in New York after a years-long battle to legalize the sport here. 

There’s only one title fight on the line this year, as opposed to three title fights in each of the past two Novembers, and no return of Georges St-Pierre like in 2017.

Should you wish to draw concern from the large number of brighter blue boxes on Ticketmaster’s UFC 230 ticket page indicating unsold seats as of Monday afternoon, go for it. It's fair.

But, when adding up all these things, keep one other thing in mind: The cards that get mocked and criticized the loudest for not being at a certain level very often turn into the most exciting of fight nights.

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