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Is UFC 303 better without superstar Conor McGregor?

UFC president Dana White said he thinks light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira was on a sponsor tour of Australia visiting children’s hospitals and former champ Jiri Prochazka was in his meditation chamber when they were asked on short notice to headline UFC 303 in place of injured Conor McGregor.

Neither hesitated.

“Savage,” White said of the attitudes of the headlining combatants, who will meet in a rematch in Saturday’s main event at T-Mobile Arena.

“News breaks, and Alex jumps on a plane immediately to start training. Jiri was apparently in a shed for three days to talk to the spirits or whatever the hell he does. So his coach bangs on the door to tell him he was offered the fight, and he says something like, ‘If this is what the universe wants.’ ”

White also secured a new co-main event on short notice by matching featherweight contenders Diego Lopes and Brian Ortega when a series of light heavyweights withdrew from the card.

The result is what appears to be a better pay-per-view card than the original lineup headlined by McGregor that was thrown into disarray when he broke his toe in training and pulled out of his fight against Michael Chandler.

McGregor, who will turn 36 on July 14, remains a massive box office draw, but he’s more celebrity than elite fighter at this point, with one victory in the past seven years.

“Obviously everyone wants to see Conor fight, so it’s unfortunate that he’s out,” said veteran featherweight Cub Swanson, who will fight Andre Fili on the preliminary card. “But I feel like the card got better. I’m sure his fans will say I’m hating on him or whatever, but I think it did.”

His opponent agreed.

“I have a lot of respect for Conor,” Fili said. “But I also think the replacement fights are incredible. It’s not like the card fell apart.”

Tireless efforts

White credited his staff for working to change everything from posters to commercials to marketing strategies on the fly.

In the end, he still expects to do big business even without the sport’s biggest star on the marquee.

“We might even still break the gate record at T-Mobile again,” White said. “We’re right on the cusp right now. This is the business. These things happen. Guys get hurt, fights fall off.”

Pereira-Prochazka figures to be another thriller after Pereira won the vacant belt with a second-round knockout in November at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Both won by knockout at UFC 300 in April at T-Mobile Arena. Pereira retained the belt despite entering the cage with a broken toe.

The champion isn’t about to criticize McGregor for his decision to withdraw with a similar injury.

“You can never judge people’s pain,” Pereira said through an interpreter. “Different scenario, different situation. He made his name, he made his life, he made his money. I’m kind of halfway there. So I fought with a broken toe due to my situation, but maybe if I were in his situation I would not have fought.”

Pay-per-view card

Lopes and Ortega also are coming off stoppage wins, including Lopes at UFC 300. They are two of the most exciting fighters in the division.

“Either of those two fights could be the fight of the night,” White said of the reworked headliners.

Former Bellator star Michael “Venom” Page and Ian Machado Garry will open the pay-per-view portion of the card, which begins at 7 p.m.

Preliminary fights will begin streaming at 3 p.m., with the bouts moving to ESPN at 5.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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