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Jon Jones off UFC 200 fight card after apparent doping violation

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — UFC interim light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was notified of a potential doping violation Wednesday night, ruling him out of his bout with Daniel Cormier in the main event of UFC 200.

A grim-faced UFC President Dana White announced the dramatic change three days before the mixed martial arts promotion’s landmark show.

“He’s got the chance to prove himself innocent before being called guilty,” White said. “But if it’s true, it’s obviously super disappointing.”

Jones tested positive for an unspecified banned substance in an out-of-competition sample taken June 16 by USADA, which administers the promotion’s anti-drug policy. While Jones is considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA, he has apparently failed drug tests around two of his past three scheduled fights.

Brock Lesnar’s heavyweight bout with Mark Hunt is UFC 200’s new main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Lesnar’s much-anticipated return from a 4 1/2-year MMA absence was previously the penultimate bout on the star-studded pay-per-view card assembled by the UFC for its biggest event of the summer.

White said he doesn’t know what substance was detected in Jones’ test, but acknowledged that this violation could lead to a multiyear suspension for one of the UFC’s biggest stars.

After Jones beat Cormier by clear decision in their first meeting in January 2015, the UFC announced that Jones had tested positive for apparent cocaine use before the fight. The detected cocaine metabolite was not banned for out-of-competition use by the Nevada Athletic Commission, which claimed it couldn’t stop him from fighting.

But Jones’ behavior outside the cage repeatedly has hampered his meteoric rise inside his sport. Shortly after his first positive drug test, he was suspended for several months in 2015 due to his involvement in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the upstate New York native lives and trains.

Jones’ manager, Malki Kawa, didn’t immediately return a message Wednesday night.

Jones and Cormier appeared at the UFC 200 news conference earlier Wednesday, trading their usual insults and glares in a rivalry that has festered for years. Cormier won the vacated light heavyweight title during Jones’ suspension, but acknowledged his reign wouldn’t be real until he beat Jones in the cage.

Cormier was downbeat when he appeared alongside White at the hastily arranged news conference, realizing he is likely to miss out on millions from his share of the pay-per-view revenue unless a late replacement fight can be booked. The former U.S. Olympic wrestler said he is “not the moral police. It’s not my place to judge him.”

“For all that I knew, he looked like he was doing good,” Cormier added. “He said all the right things.”

Jones’ UFC suspension was lifted in October 2015, and he returned to competition in April with a victory over Ovince Saint Preux. Jones was scheduled to meet Cormier in that bout, but Cormier pulled out with a foot injury.

White said the UFC would attempt to book another fight for Cormier, but isn’t sure it could find a reasonable opponent on such short notice. Cormier would get some compensation if he misses out on the UFC 200 card, which is expected to be one of the biggest sellers in MMA history.

“When you have the biggest, baddest fight card ever assembled, it doesn’t sting as bad when you lose a fight,” White said. “But it stings real bad for Daniel Cormier. It’s devastating to him in every possible way.”

The main event of UFC 200 has now been changed twice. Conor McGregor was slated to meet Nate Diaz in a rematch, but the bout was bumped to next month after McGregor wrangled with the UFC over money and promotional obligations, even briefly claiming he was retiring.

UFC 200 still features two title fights and the return of Lesnar, the biggest pay-per-view star in UFC history.

Ronda Rousey slight favorite against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207

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Betting lines can be influenced by popularity, which is important to keep in mind when looking at the women’s bantamweight title bout between Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes that will be the culmination of UFC 207 on Friday in Las Vegas.

Rousey is the -140 betting favorite with Nunes nominally the underdog at +110, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Rousey is fighting for the first time since losing her title to Holly Holm in November 2015, while Nunes is making her first defense since her victory by submission against Miesha Tate in July.

Since she has been away for so long, Rousey is a bit of a blank slate, but during her title reign she had the knack for using her judo background to get a fight to the mat. That might give her a shot at nullifying some of Nunes’ punching power and forcing the champion, whose cardio is below-average, to burn energy getting out of clinches and back on her feet. Of the two, Nunes is the more powerful puncher.

Dominick Cruz is a -225 favorite on the UFC 207 odds in his bantamweight title defense bout against underdog Cody Garbrandt (+175). One case for the challenger is that Garbrandt, who is undefeated in the UFC, averages more significant strikes per minute than Cruz, and hits at a higher percentage. His quick-strike power gives him a chance to get the win, but the unknown variable is his stamina. Cruz has shown throughout his career than he can elude heavy punchers and allow his stamina to carry the day.

T.J. Dillashaw is listed at -240 in his bantamweight bout against John Lineker (+190). Dillashaw’s propensity to strike early and frequently, along with being sounder technically than Lineker, makes him the clear favorite. Lineker’s brawling style makes him entertaining to watch, but he’s not efficient in his striking and that can land a fighter in trouble if he is unable to land a knockout.

Dong Hyun Kim is a -145 favorite against Tarec Saffiedine (+115) in a welterweight match that was moved to the main card after Cain Velasquez was scratched from his showdown with Fabricio Werdum. Kim, who has won six of his seven fights with the lone defeat coming against Tyron Woodley, has been able to handle any opponent who is isn’t elite. Saffiedine has dropped two of his last three fights and, from a betting perspective, doesn’t offer great value as an underdog.

And in a late add to the main card, Ray Borg is a slight -135 betting favorite against Louis Smolka (+110) in a flyweight bout. Borg is the savvier grappler of the two whereas Smolka has greater reach and striking ability. Smolka’s defense might not be strong enough to prevent Borg from turning this into a fight that is contested mostly on the mat.

Holloway favored over Pettis on UFC 206 odds for Saturday night event

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Whether one buys the premise of an interim featherweight title bout, it’s easy to see why Max Holloway is a big favorite against Anthony Pettis in the headline matchup for UFC 206 in Toronto on Saturday.

Having won nine fights in a row, Holloway is listed as the -190 betting favorite with Pettis at +165 for the co-main event at Air Canada Centre, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The interim belt was created after Conor McGregor moved up to win the lightweight strap at UFC 205.

Holloway is a much busier striker who prefers to attack, while Pettis picks his spots for counter-attacks. There is definitely potential for Pettis to win if he can slow the pace and get the match to the ground, although no one has done that against Holloway recently. It will also be interesting to see what form Pettis shows now that he has cut body mass to compete at featherweight (145-pound limit).

The match is scheduled for five rounds. The winner will likely advance directly to a title fight against champion Jose Aldo.

In the co-main event, welterweight Donald Cerrone is the main card’s heaviest favorite at -280 as he takes on veteran Matt Brown, who is listed at +220. Cerrone is looking for a fourth consecutive win since moving up to welterweight and it’s fair to take a pass on Brown, who has lost four of his last five bouts. If Brown prevails it would be the biggest upset, in terms of odds on the underdog, at a UFC event since UFC 200.

Featherweight Doo Ho Choi is a -210 favorite against Cub Swanson, who is listed +180. Swanson’s defense is top-notch but he is spotting some reach to Choi, who is also the more efficient of the two in the striking game. Choi defends well and, if anything, might be underpriced. The line could narrow closer to fight time, since Swanson has more name recognition among casual North American and European fight fans.

Coming out of nearly two-year hiatus, Jordan Mein is favored at -155 against +135 underdog Emil Meek. Meek, a Norwegian newcomer to UFC, is a powerful striker who has seven of his eight career wins by knockout. A loss here won’t hurt his prospects in the UFC, so essentially he has been handed a nothing-to-lose scenario which might foment trying to attack Mein and get him off-balance early. There is upset potential here.

Middleweights Tim Kennedy (-145) and Kelvin Gastelum (+125) have been matched after each was pulled out of UFC 205. The prices have been shifting toward equilibrium – Kennedy opened -222 with Gastelum at +175 – as oddsmakers try to balance out the enthusiasm for Gastelum. Gastelum is now likely a middleweight for good after failing to make the weight limit for UFC 205 and should be motivated, whereas it’s unclear what to expect out of the 37-year-old Kennedy, who last fought more than two years ago.

Underdogs have won 163 of 440 fights this year in the UFC, or 37 percent. That trend has been consistent from UFC 201 through UFC 205 with underdogs prevailing in 14 of 41 fights, or 34.1%.