Conor McGregor Featured on 1st Sports Illustrated Cover Ahead of UFC 196

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2016

Conor McGregor reacts after defeating Jose Aldo during a featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time ahead of UFC 196 despite reports suggesting lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos has pulled out of their bout with an injury.  

Sports Illustrated shared the cover of McGregor on social media Tuesday:

Ariel Helwani of noted that dos Anjos' coach, Rafael Cordeiro, confirmed the fighter is hurt and that he "won't need surgery on his injured foot at this time; however, he can't put any pressure on it for at least three weeks."

McGregor was aiming to become a two-weight champion in his showdown with dos Anjos, but the news leaves the UFC two weeks to find a new opponent. The organisation has announced no further plans, as reported by James Whaling and James Edwards of the Daily Mirror.

John Locher/Associated Press

On deciding to move up the weight divisions, McGregor said, per Sports Illustrated:

You know, I could have chosen an easy contest. I could have stayed in the division. But really what else is there to do? I have beaten everyone in the 145-pound division. Jose [Aldo] was the longest reigning champion. He is the only champion in the 145-pound division. He was the pound-for-pound No. 1 on the roster. He had beaten everybody. I had beaten everybody. Then I beat him in 13 seconds.

There’s no one really there just yet. I’d like to see a couple of them throw down and look to build that interest back up again. That's what I should feel with the featherweight division personally. I feel they should compete now....True champions, they fight, compete and they work. So I looked around the landscape, and although I feel they are all inferior, I chose the one on paper who was the toughest, the current 155-pound champion.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 20:  UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor speaks to the media during the UFC 197 on-sale press conference event inside MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on January 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

This is the second time in 12 months that a fighter has pulled out of a title contest with the Irishman following Jose Aldo's initial withdrawal from their scheduled fight at UFC 189.

The bout with dos Anjos was one of the most hotly anticipated championship fights in recent memory, as McGregor's stature continues to explode in MMA.

Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone has put his name forward as a potential replacement for dos Anjos, according to's Damon Martin, who cited Cerrone's manager. Cerrone is fresh off his win against Alex Oliveira after choking his opponent out in the first round. 

It is unknown whether Cerrone will be considered, but McGregor is motivated to win titles, and he could wait until dos Anjos is ready to step back into the Octagon.