UFC’s excellent card in months overshadowed by the absent Conor McGregor | Les Carpenter

UFC 211 on Saturday night in Dallas promises to be something special, but the headlines continue to be about the Irishman and a fight that might never happen

On Saturday night, the UFC will offer what is possibly their best card in five months with two title fights including one with rising female star Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Its a lineup so good that last summers lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez isnt even on the main card.

But much of the UFC news this weekend is less about the bouts at Dallass American Airlines Center and more about someone who hasnt fought in more than five months. And there is nothing to say this predicament is going to end soon. Even as the UFC pushes on selling Stipe Miocic v Junior Dos Santos as a headliner on Saturday the headlines continue to be about Conor McGregor and a fight that might never happen.

On Thursday, UFC president Dana White told radio host Jim Rome that he is setting a Sunday deadline for finishing negotiations with McGregor on a possible Mayweather fight before looking to work with Mayweathers representatives next week. His proclamation was a bigger deal than anything that happened in the pre-fight discourse in Dallas, save for Fridays announcement that Jon Jones is going to meet Daniel Cormier in July. Whatever McGregor does stands as the biggest thing going on with Whites UFC.

Perhaps a year ago it wasnt this way. A year ago, McGregor was just coming off his non-title loss to Nate Diaz, dulling his soaring star. There was also talk Ronda Rousey might return that summer after her stunning loss to Holly Holm and in many ways Rousey was always the UFCs most-compelling figure. But now, 12 months later, the UFC has been sold to corporate owners and White says he is certain Rouseys through after Amanda Nunes took her apart in UFC 207. This leaves McGregor as the organizations one great draw.

He has gotten bigger in his planned half-year hiatus and paternity leave. He looms larger than ever over the UFC, technically holding both the UFCs lightweight and featherweight titles though hes since had to return the featherweight belt after beating Alvarez for the lightweight title in November. No fighter might better understand their leverage better and he is well aware that his only shot at a $75m-$100m payday is to step into a boxing ring with Mayweather. Until he does that, the talk around the UFC will be McGregor even if McGregor continues to sit out.

Saturday night should be a celebration of how deep the UFC remains. The Miocic-Dos Santos rematch is a pairing of two explosive hitters. Jedrzejczyk is a furious fighter who has overwhelmed her last several opponents. Alvarez remains a skilled fighter who just wasnt a match for McGregor as few are.

But many of the UFC headlines at the end of this week are about Whites deadline and his confidence that he can pull together a McGregor-Mayweather fight. I will do the Mayweather-McGregor fight because I think he deserves it, White told CNN this week. On a weekend when all the stories should be about a loaded card, they are about a proposed fight that White says will make zero cents for the UFC.

There isnt much he can do about this unless another great star comes along. Jones, the organizations once-great champion, is finally coming back from the year-long doping suspension that ruined UFC 200. His battles with Cormier are always good entertainment. But after all of Joness problems in recent years there is no certainty he will be the fighter he was once. Cris Cyborg has been cleared of a possible doping violation and holds promise of being as exciting as Rousey had been. But will any of them have the flair of McGregor and Rousey? Can they bring the same mainstream appeal? Can anyone?

For now, McGregor waits. He can afford to do this after taking four fights in 11 months and carrying the UFC to its huge sale before his sabbatical. Whatever he decides to do will have a huge impact on the rest of the organization. Every top male fighter within realistic distance of his weight class is longing for a shot at him, knowing the only real money is in a McGregor fight. Diaz, for instance, remains on the sidelines since his 20 August rematch loss to McGregor, scoffing at Whites offers of fighters like Alvarez.

Call me with some real shit, Diaz recently told Ariel Helwanis The MMA Hour.

For now, Diaz must stand in line with everyone else lusting for their McGregor chance as McGregor chases Mayweather money.

Meanwhile the UFC will put on a great show Saturday night.

Is anyone paying attention?

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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