September's top MMA storylines: Why all eyes will be on the UFC 228 weigh-in

Tyron Woodley (L) and Darren Till face off during the UFC news conference inside the Orpheum Theater on Aug. 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)
Tyron Woodley (L) and Darren Till face off during the UFC news conference inside the Orpheum Theater on Aug. 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Saturday night’s UFC 228 at American Airlines Center in Dallas is an intriguing card headlined by a pair of title fights.

But the most interesting moments on the September MMA calendar could very well go down in the day before the fight.

There will be considerably more interest in the weigh-ins for UFC 228 than for most events. In the evening’s main event, Tyron Woodley will defend his welterweight belt against undefeated British standout Darren Till.

Till has the ability and charisma to become the UFC’s next breakout U.K. star, filling the void left by the recent retirement of former middleweight champion Michael Bisping. But Till’s been awarded a title fight after missing weight by three pounds for his UFC Liverpool decision win over Stephen Thompson in May.

This marks the second time in recent months the company has awarded a title shot to a fighter who missed weight. The last time, Yoel Romero was granted a title shot with a knockout win over Luke Rockhold after missing weight at UFC 221, then missed weight for his UFC 224 title fight with middleweight champ Robert Whittaker.

So will the UFC once again be burned by a controversial decision to reward a fighter who didn’t do his job right? Till won’t have the benefit of the extra pound allowed for non-championship fights, and will have to hit 170 pounds on the nose. At a media day in Las Vegas last week, Till was testy with reporters when talking about his weight cut, and openly discussed an eventual move up to 185 pounds.

Adding to the drama, the UFC has a backup plan in place lest anything go awry on weigh-in day, as red-hot welterweight Kamaru Usman is in shape, will weigh in and earn a show payday regardless of whether he ends up fighting. But Woodley, for his part, says he won’t fight Usman if Till doesn’t make it to fight night, telling reporters in Los Angeles last week he doesn’t want to be part of a “circus.”

Maybe things will go without a hitch. But what goes down on the scales on Friday could be just as compelling as anything that goes on in the cage the next day.

Men’s MMA match of the month: Mousasi vs. MacDonald

Referee Jason Herzog raises the hand of the new welterweight world champion Rory MacDonald after defeating Douglas Lima at Bellator 192 at The Forum on Jan. 20, 2018 in Inglewood, California. (Getty Images)
Referee Jason Herzog raises the hand of the new welterweight world champion Rory MacDonald after defeating Douglas Lima at Bellator 192 at The Forum on Jan. 20, 2018 in Inglewood, California. (Getty Images)

Gegard Mousasi (44-6-2) vs. Rory MacDonald (20-4), Bellator 206, San Jose, California, Sept. 29, DAZN

A champion vs. champion superfight which happens to be one of the very best on-paper matchups that can be made outside the UFC these days headlines Bellator’s return to HP Pavilion in San Jose, as middleweight champion Mousasi defends his belt against welterweight champion MacDonald. Mousasi, who left the UFC on a five-fight win streak, is now up to seven, with wins over Alexander Shlemenko and Rafael Carvalho, the latter to win the middleweight belt, since jumping over to Bellator. MacDonald, for his part, has always been game for the biggest challenges, so didn’t hesitate to jump at the chance to become a two-weight-class champion after defeating Douglas Lima in January to claim the welterweight belt.

Women’s MMA match of the month: Montano vs. Shevchenko

Nicco Montano (4-2) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (15-3), UFC 228, Sept. 8, Dallas, pay-per-view

Montano is in an odd spot: She’s the first-ever UFC women’s flyweight champion, but everyone seems to think she’s just keeping the belt shiny until Shevchenko comes and takes her rightful place as champion. The first champions in new UFC women’s weight classes haven’t fared well: Carla Esparza, the first strawweight champ, lost badly in her first title defense to Joanna Jedrzejczyk; and first featherweight champ Germaine de Randamie relinquished her belt rather than fight current champ Cris Cyborg.

Montano at least will defend her title, and have her chance to prove her critics wrong. The Ultimate Fighter 26 winner gives up quite a bit of experience to Shevchenko, a decorated kickboxing champion who dropped down to flyweight after losing a razor-thin decision to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 215.

Under the radar: LFA’s big month on AXS-TV

The Legacy Fighting Alliance has rapidly proven its mettle as one of the most important feeder promotions to the big leagues. And LFA will have its busiest month to date, as the promotion puts on shows all four Fridays of the month in September. Two particular events stand out: LFA 50, on Sept. 21 in Prior Lake, Minnesota, marks the fastest any MMA promotion has reached the 50-card milestone for nationally televised events, and is headlined by Brendan Allen vs. Tim Hiley for the company’s vacant middleweight belt. Then, on Sept. 28, women’s flyweight champion Sabina Mazo, an undefeated knockout artist tabbed by many for future stardom, defends her belt against Jamiee Nievera in the main event of LFA 41 in Fresno, California.

Keep an eye on: Which fight is going to headline UFC 230?

As of this writing, we’re two months away from UFC 230 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The card, as of now, has plenty of intrigue, from a barnburner of a lightweight fight between Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier to a middleweight matchup between former Strikeforce champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and former WSOF champ David Branch to a grudge match between the flashy Israel Alcantara and Derek Brunson.

But we still don’t have an officially announced main event. Can the UFC come up with a pair of names on the marquee that’s worthy of The World’s Most Famous Arena? Conor McGregor is of course fighting in October, which makes him unavailable. Jon Jones remains sidelined by USADA. Daniel Cormier has two belts, heavyweight and light heavyweight, but Brock Lesnar won’t be cleared to compete at heavyweight until next year and there are no marquee light heavyweight challengers currently available. If the UFC is going to come up with a game-changer of a UFC 230 main event, it’s going to have to pull a rabbit out of the hat soon. And if not, hey, you can do a whole lot worse than leading with Diaz and Poirier.

This month in MMA History

Sept. 6. 2014: Those who have watched Michelle Waterson compete in the UFC have noted she’s on the small side for a strawweight, and would likely excel if the UFC ever instituted a 105-pound weight class. There’s good reason to believe it: Prior to the UFC, Waterson was atomweight champion in the all-women’s Invicta FC promotion. On this night, Waterson successfully defended the world title she had won from Jessica Penne, as she beat Yasuko Tamada with a third-round TKO in the main event of Invicta FC 8 in Kansas City.

Sept. 23, 2006: Another chapter in one of MMA’s most celebrated rivalries went down in Anaheim, California, as Matt Hughes took on B.J. Penn in the main event of UFC 63. Penn had upset Hughes to claim the welterweight title in 2004, and seemed on the brink of another win as he dominated the first two rounds. But gassed badly in the third, and Hughes rallied for a tremendous third-round TKO win. Hughes was originally scheduled to fight Georges St-Pierre at UFC 63, but the latter pulled out of the date due to a knee injury. After Hughes’ win over Penn, GSP got on the mic and uttered his famous “I am not impressed by your performance” diss of Hughes, which set up GSP’s title win over Hughes at UFC 65.

Sept. 28, 2001: It was supposed to be the new UFC’s coming-out party: UFC 33 represented both the company’s return to pay-per-view after several years’ banishment, and a celebration of the sport’s legalization in Nevada. Instead, the event at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas was a disaster. All five main-card fights, which included three, five-round title fights, went the distance, and none of the fights were compelling. Exacerbating matters, the show ran long and several PPV providers cut out during the middle of the main event, Tito Ortiz’s successful light heavyweight championship defense against Vladimir Matyushenko. To this day, UFC president Dana White holds the evening up as the standard by which all bad fight cards are judged, as after another famously bad show, UFC 149 in 2012, he said “It felt like I was at UFC 33 again.”

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