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June's top MMA storylines: Conor McGregor set to appear in court

Conor McGregor looks on during his arraignment at a Brooklyn criminal court on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

The biggest event on the June mixed martial arts calendar will go down not in a cage, but rather a courtroom.

The sport’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, is scheduled to appear in a New York City courtroom on Thursday, June 14.

There, the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion will answer to three counts of assault and one of criminal mischief, the latter of which is a felony.

The charges were the result of an April 5 incident at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. McGregor, who showed up after a UFC 223 media day with a posse of about 20 people, threw a dolly through the window of a van carrying several UFC fighters, most notably Khabib Nurmagomedov, the current lightweight champ. Several were injured in the fracas, most seriously fighter Michael Chiesa, who suffered facial lacerations.

In the immediate aftermath of the van attack, UFC president Dana White labeled the incident “disgusting.” But the UFC failed to punish McGregor for his actions, meaning any discipline for the incident will come from the justice system.

And that also means a potential holdup for McGregor’s return to the cage. The former champ is plainly getting a lot of leeway because he means more to the company’s coffers than any other fighter. A bout between McGregor and Nurmagomedov would likely shatter UFC pay-per-view records, between McGregor’s return to the Octagon after what’s currently a year and a half away, as well as the built-in grudge angle.

Nurmagomedov’s crew has hinted they’re tired of waiting and are starting to look elsewhere, as recent reports have indicated they’re considering a fight with Georges St-Pierre instead. But money talks, and one assumes if McGregor became available, they’d once again become interested.

Which brings us back to why this is the biggest thing on June’s docket. The UFC needs a blockbuster fight, and it’s going to have to hedge its bets with McGregor until his case is cleared. In a worst-case scenario, a grandstanding judge could throw the book at McGregor. In the best-case, McGregor is cleared of charges. The June 14 hearing, while it might not be the final step, should go a ways toward providing clarity for the near-term status of the UFC’s biggest star.

Top MMA storylines for June 2018

Professional Fighters League debut

A sort-of-new promotion kicks into full gear on June 7, as the Professional Fighters League kicks off its season at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. The PFL, the rebranding of the former World Series of Fighting, will attempt to hold a full regular season with 12 fighters apiece in six weight classes, followed by a postseason and a championship. The PFL is promising $1 million to each winner, a number which has raised some eyebrows for a company without a track record of drawing big crowds. Either way, the festivities begin with the June 7 card, which will be televised on NBCSN, and headlined by one of the company’s blue chip prospects in undefeated featherweight Andre Harrison of Long Island, who puts his 17-0 record on the line against China’s Jumabieke Tuerxun (20-6-1).

Men’s fight of the month: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero at UFC 225

Last summer at UFC 213, Whittaker and Romero engaged in one of the most compelling fights of 2017. Romero got off to a fast start and won the first two rounds, then Whittaker rallied over the final 15 minutes and took the match, and what was then the UFC interim middleweight title, on straight 48-47 scores. Later, it was revealed Whittaker suffered a leg injury early in the bout and fought through it.

Robert Whittaker (L) and Yoel Romero face off during the UFC press conference inside Barclays Center on April 6, 2018 in Brooklyn, New York. (Getty Images)

Since then, the middleweight division has gone on one of the UFC’s patented over-the-river-and-through-the-wood routes. Champion Michael Bisping lost to St-Pierre, who promptly vacated the belt. Whittaker was promoted to the full title and was scheduled to defend against former champ Luke Rockhold at UFC 221. Whittaker pulled out due to illness and was replaced by Romero. It was supposed to be an interim title fight, but Romero missed weight, and was ineligible for the belt after his third-round knockout of Rockhold. Which brings us full circle to Whittaker-Romero 2, which will go down on pay-per-view Saturday at the United Center.

Women’s fight of the month: Holly Holm vs. Megan Anderson at UFC 225

One of the bigger knocks on the UFC over the past couple years is that they created a women’s featherweight championship as a vehicle for WMMA pound-for-pound queen Cris Cyborg, but never got around to building out a division. This, at least, is a start. Holm, who has already held the bantamweight title and three world boxing crowns, will rebound from a decision loss to Cyborg in December to meet Anderson, an Australian who held the Invcita FC featherweight belt and carries a four-fight win streak, all via finish, into the fight. Between this contender’s bout and the fall’s “Ultimate Fighter” season that will feature women’s featherweight, it appears the company is finally getting serious about 145.

Under the radar: Legacy Fighting Alliance on AXS

AXS-TV recently celebrated its 400th MMA broadcast. The cable network really came into its own as a fight outlet when it embraced its role as the place to see stars of tomorrow, and no promotion better exemplifies that than the Legacy Fighting Alliance, which has become a finishing school for next-generation UFC competitors. AXS airs four LFA cards this month, with the most intriguing coming on June 29 in Phoenix. There, top welterweight prospects Matthew Frincu (11-4) and Christian Aguilera (12-3) headline.

Keep an eye on: Tyson Pedro

The affable Australian light heavyweight made waves by winning his first six fights via finish, including his first two UFC bouts. Then he lost a one-sided decision at UFC 215 to Ilir Latifi, which had some believing the company pushed him too fast. Pedro responded with a victory over Saparbek Saparov at UFC 221, and now he again dives into the deep end. Pedro meets one of the division’s hardest hitters in veteran Ovince Saint Preux at UFC Singapore on June 23.

This month in MMA History

June 4, 2016: Bisping scores one of the most shocking upsets in mixed martial arts history when he scored a first-round knockout of Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 to claim the UFC middleweight championship.

June 6, 2016: Beloved brawler Kimbo Slice died of heart failure in a Florida hospital at age 42. Slice, the alter ego of Kevin Ferguson, was a first-generation YouTube star who parlayed street-fighting videos into MMA fame. Slice’s 2008 Elite XC victory over James Thompson, which aired on CBS, remains the most-watched North American MMA fight of all-time at 7.281 million viewers.

June 5, 2009: Joe Soto scores a second-round submission of Yahir Reyes to become the inaugural Bellator featherweight champion at Bellator 10 in Ontario, Calif. Soto later became best known for stepping into a UFC bantamweight title match against champion T.J. Dillashaw on a day’s notice at UFC 173 after Renan Barao had to pull out.

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