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Ranking the fights at UFC 303 -- With no McGregor-Chandler, who steps up? - ESPN

The date of UFC 303 has been circled on many a calendar for months. Even sports fans who rarely watch an evening of mixed martial arts had made plans to do just that on June 29, if only for the pomp and spectacle. This coming weekend was slated to be the long-anticipated return of Conor McGregor, by far the brightest star in MMA, a crossover phenomenon familiar even to folks who don't know a front kick from a rear-naked choke.

But at the beginning of this month, everything went sideways. The UFC had scheduled a June 3 news conference in McGregor's hometown of Dublin to promote his comeback fight with Michael Chandler, then abruptly canceled the event that morning without explanation. For more than a week, there was silence from the fight promotion while fan speculation ran rampant through potential scenarios. Finally, on June 13, the UFC announced that McGregor was injured and would no longer headline UFC 303.

Devotees of gaudy extravaganza were inconsolable, no doubt, but for hard-core MMA fans, there was a consolation prize: an upgraded main event.

Yes, it's true that neither light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira nor his challenger, former champ Jiří Procházka, is in McGregor's league in terms of fame or infamy. But the McGregor who was to fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this weekend is similar to Elvis from the Vegas years, still riding idolization built upon his virtuosity and panache from a long-gone era. The new UFC 303 headliners, by contrast, are at the top of their game. Pereira is possibly the most «anytime, anyplace, anyone» fighter in the sport, as evidenced by his agreeing to put his belt on the line against the dangerously avant-garde Procházka on two weeks' notice. If there were BMF power rankings,