UFC 200 was a moment to remember for the UFC and its fans. But also, in many cases, one to try and forget.
So much happened before, during and after UFC 200 fight week that it’s hard to remember the original planned main event for the card was Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor 2. McGregor, though, refused to fly to the United States for a press tour in April and was yanked from the event.
The situation set off a chain reaction of oddities having to do with the historic card. There would be two other planned main events scrapped, a pair of positive drug tests, and a 41-year-old legend fighting on short notice before all was said and done.
After Diaz-McGregor 2 was moved back, a light heavyweight title fight between champion Daniel Cormier and former champ Jon Jones was setup. The two have a long, well-documented rivalry and Cormier-Jones 2 was a big-time main event for a marquee card. Then, the UFC announced the return of Brock Lesnar (after the news was broken by MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani) against Mark Hunt.
Now, things were humming. Jones, Cormier and Lesnar plus a women’s bantamweight title fight between champion Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes gave the UFC just about everything it wanted for the big, numbered event.
Fight week started July 6 with a giant press conference. Lesnar’s comeback after nearly five years away was the big story. Jones and Cormier did some trash talk. The stage was set.
A few hours later, though, all hell broke loose. The UFC called a sudden emergency press conference at MGM Grand. Jones was out of UFC 200, UFC president Dana White announced. He had tested positive for a banned substance. Lesnar vs. Hunt was the new main event. A teary-eyed Cormier, now without an opponent, addressed the media.
The next morning, in that very same room, Jones, the best fighter on the planet, broke down and cried during a press conference and had to leave the stage to collect himself. An estimated $10 million had been lost due to a failed drug test; the fans and the UFC had been let down just three days prior to one of the biggest events ever.
The UFC announced later that day, July 7, that Tate vs. Nunes, the title fight, would be the main event, not Lesnar vs. Hunt. Nunes would end up beating Tate by first-round submission to become the first openly gay champion in UFC history.
Lesnar won, too, grinding out Hunt for a unanimous decision. Less than a week later, though, the UFC announced that Lesnar, too, had failed a drug test. The test was taken more than a week before UFC 200, but the results did not come back until after fight with Hunt. More than one eyebrow was raised, though it was fact. Compounding it was an exemption granted to Lesnar that he did not have to spend four months in the USADA drug-testing pool prior to the event.
Cormier? He didn’t get paid nearly as much as he was supposed to, but Anderson Silva, the aging great, stepped in on just two days notice to face him. Cormier won by unanimous decision in a lackluster fight the crowd lustily booed throughout.
UFC 200 still earned more than 1 million pay-per-view buys. It was a financial success. That is no doubt. But looking back, it seems sullied. No McGregor, no Jones, Lesnar allegedly cheating, and Nunes, an unknown commodity, holding up the belt to cap the event.
Still now, the effects are reverberating throughout the MMA world. Jones was hit with a one-year suspension from USADA and the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC). He can’t compete again until July 2017. Same for Lesnar, who was also hit with a $250,000 fine.
For an event that was supposed to be a celebration for the UFC, one of the biggest productions the promotion has ever put on, it is likely that it’ll be looked back at as more of a catastrophe than an historic pivot point.