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 MMAFighting.com 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.
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.
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 FoxSports.com'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.