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Cormier: Gustafsson not first choice as challenger

Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will fight Alexander Gustafsson this year, even though it‘s not his first choice of challenger.

Cormier thinks not only has Reno native Ryan Bader earned the shot with four straight wins, but the growing rivalry between them had created enough heat to make the fight quite marketable.Whether he thinks it would be a competitive fight is a different story.

“When you look at their resume, Ryan Bader has better wins than Alexander. But it‘€™s all about matchups,” Cormier said. “Let‘s not go making Ryan Bader into somebody that can really beat somebody. He can beat people he matches up well with. He‘€™s got good wins, but when you say those names, it‘s guys he matches up well with.”€

Bader will face Rashad Evans at UFC 192 on Oct. 3, the date also targeted for Cormier to defend the belt against Gustafsson as long as Cormier is healthy after treatment on his knee.

In that context, the matchup makes sense to the champion.

“It‘€™s like a tournament. Ryan and Rashad are seeded No. 2 and No. 3. You couldn‘t really seed Alexander over either of those guys,”€ Cormier said. “€œI‘€™ll fight the No. 4 seed, and the winners will fight after that.”

Cormier‘€™s plan would obviously extend well into the new year and certainly excludes the possibility that Jon Jones, a bitter rival and the longtime champion who was stripped of the belt because of legal issues outside the sport after defeating Cormier this year, will return.

Cormier said he believes Jones will be back to fight him, but not until UFC 200, which is scheduled for the new MGM arena on the Strip on July 2, 2016. He plans on still having the belt at that time.

“I‘€™m going to tell you this right now with 100 percent confidence. It‘s going to be this way until Jon comes back,”€ Cormier said of controlling the division. “€œI think it‘s clear Jon and I are one and two. Until he comes back, I‘€™ll beat the rest of these guys.”

LEE LOOKS TO CONTINUE STREAK 

Mixed martial arts came easily to Kevin Lee.

He was working toward his degree in biomedical sciences at Grand Valley State in Michigan and then winning fights on the side. Lee did well enough to go 7-0 and earn a UFC contract, but he lost to Al Iaquinta in his debut.

That made him get serious, relocating to Las Vegas to train on a more regular basis. The move has paid dividends with three straight wins and a lightweight bout against James Moontasri on the main card of a UFC event Wednesday in San Diego.

He credits his lone loss in part with the turnaround.

“€œIt changed my mentality toward the game. I thought before it was easy. I was in college taking 16 credits, doing a science test and then whooping someone‘€™s ass on a Saturday,”€ he said. “€œBut it brought me back down and made me realize what I did wrong. I only trained two weeks for that fight. I‘€™ve done eight or 10 weeks ever since. I‘€™m taking it serious.”

The event, which is headlined by a heavyweight bout between Todd Duffee and Las Vegan Frank Mir, airs live on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329) at 7 p.m., with the preliminary card on the same network at 5.

MACDONALD HURTING 

Welterweight contender Rory MacDonald suffered more than just a defeat in Saturday‘€™s fifth-round knockout loss to champion Robbie Lawler.

MacDonald broke his nose and foot during a slugfest that UFC president Dana White called one of the greatest fights in UFC history.

White said MacDonald has firmly established himself as the top contender in a division over which Lawler has a tight grip.

“€œThe rest of the division is going to have to get through him to try to get to Lawler,”€ White said. “Guys who know the fight business, a fight like tonight can change you, too. We’ll see what Rory‘€™s got when he comes back, but right now he’s the second baddest dude in the world in the 170-pound division.”

MacDonald was ahead three rounds to one on all three scorecards when he was injured.

UFC DEBUTS IN SCOTLAND 

UFC middleweight Michael Bisping will look to stop a recent trend when he takes on Thales Leites in the main event of the first UFC event in Glasgow on Saturday.

Bisping has alternated wins and losses over his past nine fights. After a win over C.B. Dollaway in April, Bisping will be seeking his first two-fight winning streak since 2011.

Las Vegan Evan Dunham also will be in action against Ross Pearson. Dunham snapped a three-fight skid with a decision victory over Rodrigo Damm in February.

The event will air live on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329), with the preliminary card beginning at 8 a.m. and the live card starting at 10.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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