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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.

Mayweather and McGregor end press tour with a bang in London

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Sometime before Floyd Mayweather Jr. stole Conor McGregor’s microphone and before McGregor walked behind Mayweather and pretended to spank him, it might have been hard to understand why all this was happening.

The four press conferences in four days. The insults and posturing. The clothes. Nobody seems to be talking about the 40-year boxing legend with increasingly public financial problems getting paid to fight an MMA star in his first-ever boxing match.

And that’s the whole point.

No matter what goes down on August 26, when Mayweather and McGregor finally put on boxing gloves and start punching each other, Friday’s press conference in London will live on in sports history.

Here are some of the best moments:

McGregor calls Mayweather’s body guards “Juice Head Turkeys”

McGregor has called out pretty much every member of Mayweather’s entourage this week, including his body guards. Earlier on the press tour, Mayweather ordered his security team to surround McGregor and some minor shoving ensued.

Apparently, the incident left a mark. McGregor had some choice words for those body guards on Friday and called them “juice head turkeys” from inside the ring.

Feel free to Google that expression, unless you’re offended by Thanksgiving arts and crafts or holiday recipes.

McGregor rubs Mayweather’s head

If McGregor were fighting, say, Adrian Beltre, this wouldn’t have gone down so smoothly.

But in one of the more revealing moments of the press conference, Mayweather  tried visibly not to laugh as McGregor rubbed his head and cracked some bald jokes. His best line might have been pointing out Mayweather’s fondness for wearing hats in public and asking him “What the [expletive] were you hiding under that thing?”

Mayweather does a chokehold in front of McGregor

McGregor’s most recent loss came against Nate Diaz in 2016, as the Irish fighter tapped out when Diaz put him in a rear naked choke-hold. Mayweather didn’t plan on letting McGregor forget that on Friday. Imitating the MMA move in front of his opponent, Mayweather even had his DJ cue up a few bars of Rich Gang’s 2013 single “Tapout.”

He then asked the decidedly pro-McGregor crowd why they decided to put their faith in “this quitter,” before asking them to get Nate Diaz on the phone.

“If you quit once, you quite twice,” Mayweather said. “If you quit twice, you quit three times. But on the fourth time, I’m going to knock you the [expletive] out.”

 

Valentina Shevchenko Favored Against Amanda Nunes in Five-Round UFC 2013 Matchup

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With a scheduled five-round bout this time around, Valentina Shevchenko is favored against woman’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in the main event at UFC 213.

Shevchenko is a slight -125 betting favorite against -105 underdog Nunes at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in their title matchup at UFC 213, which takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday. The match comes 16 months after their first matchup which Nunes won by unanimous decision in her only victory in the UFC that didn’t end early. That was a three-round fight.

The rematch is scheduled for five rounds, which would seem to work in favor of Shevchenko, who has the endurance to be methodical and play a long game while waiting for an opponent to over-commit to an attack. That might negate Nunes’ trademark aggressiveness.

By the same token, though, Nunes is rarely going to be priced at -105. Her backers can take heart in knowing she has made great strides with her technical game since that March 2016 showdown against Shevchenko.

Robert Whittaker (-135) is favored slightly against Yoel Romero (+105) on the UFC 213 betting lines as they vie for the interim strap in the middleweight division. Whittaker has by far the greater cardio of the two and his grappling is good enough to counter Romero, a former Olympic freestyle wrestler.

If Whittaker can survive the first two rounds – and he’s characterized the fight as a 25-minute war – he should be able to wear down Romero. If Romero is to win, it will likely be by using his ground-and-pound game to get an early submission.

By virtue of his win when they went head-to-head in 2011, Alistair Overeem (-130) is the favorite against No. 1 heavyweight contender Fabricio Werdum (even).

Overeem, at age 37, is a deadly striker who has become craftier about picking his spots over his long career. His losses over the years have usually come by knockout, which is something that the jiu-jitsu specialist Werdum hasn’t been able to achieve in recent years. Overeem’s powerful kicking might help him with keeping Werdum at bay.

Anthony Pettis (-240) is favored against Jim Miller (+190) in the former champion’s return to the lightweight class. Pettis should have more energy than he typically did when he was cutting mass as a featherweight, which could aid him with using his kicks to create an opening for a submission.

Miller is a grinder, though, and is certainly capable of trading strikes and getting the match to the mat. On the whole, one should not overlook that this is a fight Pettis wanted to re-establish himself.

And the only true mismatch on the UFC 213 odds on the main card is the heavyweight bout between emerging force Curtis Blaydes (-750) and Daniel Omielanczuk (+475). The price on the latter fighter is tempting if taken in a vacuum, but when it comes to the Octagon, Blaydes has a reach advantage in the striking phase and is also a one-time U.S. national junior college champion, whereas grappling is Omielanczuk’s weakness.