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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.

Nunes, Pennington carry conflicting betting trends into UFC 224

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All of Amanda Nunes’ wins in her homeland have ended early, but challenger Raquel Pennington has a history of going the distance.

Women’s bantamweight champion Nunes is a -900 favorite on the UFC 224 odds with Pennington coming back at +550, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.  The card is set for Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday.

Nunes is 7-1 when she fights in Brazil, while Pennington is fighting in the country for the first time. Although Pennington has only been stopped once in 22 pro and amateur fights, Nunes’ home-soil advantage could be crucial. Nunes did require a decision during her most recent title defense against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215 in September 2017.

Bettors looking for value in method-of-victory props will have to decide whether they believe Pennington can duplicate and improve on the techniques Shevchenko employed, or whether Nunes learned some lessons from that fight about being the aggressor with her powerful striking game. If the latter theory pans out, there’s a good chance of a Nunes knockout.

In the co-main event, Ronaldo (Jacaré) Souza (-135) has a three-inch reach advantage over Kevin Gastelum (+130) in a matchup of Top 5 middleweights, as well as home-soil advantage. Souza rates the edge in power and versatility, which might make him too much for Gastelum to handle, setting the table for a submission.

That said, Gastelum’s speed and accurate striking does make it tempting to back him for the win, knowing full well that it’s not the percentage play.

Up-and-coming Mackenzie Dern (-265) takes on Amanda Cooper (+225) in a grappler vs. striker matchup between two women’s strawweight competitors who are each somewhat experienced. Dern has had three of her six wins via submission, which is coincidentally how Cooper has sustained all three of her losses.

Those trends should carry over, presuming that Dern has continued to upgrade her technique in order to get the match to the ground.

John Lineker (-250) is favored against Brian Kelleher (+195) in a bantamweight bout between high-volume strikers. Six of Lineker’s last nine fights have gone to a decision and that trend could continue if he focuses on using his punching power to wear Kelleher down early and get a lead on the judges’ cards. For Kelleher, the matchup might be too big of a step up in caliber.

And Lyoto Machida (-260) is favored against Vitor Belfort (+200) in a middleweight bout between two aging Brazilian fighters, the latter of whom has said this will be his last fight. Stylistically, Machida likely has the edge due to his abilities as a counter-striker, which should enable him to weather the anticipated early onslaught from Belfort, who is 0-4 in his last four fights as the underdog. Machida’s most likely path to victory is through a decision.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

 

Floyd Mayweather to start MMA training ‘soon’

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Floyd Mayweather beat Conor McGregor in the boxing ring back in August. Now, Mayweather is eyeing a turn in the octagon.

The 41-year-old Mayweather, who retired from boxing following his win over McGregor, confirmed to TMZ Sports that he would “soon” begin training with UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley.

Mayweather thinks it will take him less than a year to acclimate to MMA.

“Even if it takes six-to-eight months, whatever it takes, we want to make sure that everything is done correctly, is done the right way,” Mayweather said.

Mayweather doesn’t believe his skill-set will require extensive improvement. He graded his wrestling skills as “probably a seven” out of 10, but he could “take it up to a nine if possible.” His real weakness is kicking, which Mayweather graded as just a four. But his hand game? “On a scale of 1-10, it’s 100.”

Mayweather was hesitant to say who he would face in his MMA debut, though he was asked directly about a rematch with McGregor.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “We can’t say. That’s why I pause, you know?  I can’t really say, you know? I have to talk to my team, speak with my father and then see how it’s gonna play out.”

Like his boxing match with McGregor, Mayweather and his team want “the right numbers and we would make it happen.”