UFC 239: Potential Main Events for International Fight Week’s Pay-Per-View

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor Credit: Mike Fridley/Sherdog.com

UFC 239 is the pay-per-view that will take place during International Fight Week in Las Vegas this July. It’s generally one of the biggest events of the year, and we’re wondering who will be featured in the main event.

During International Fight Week, the UFC tends to deliver. Aiming to promote the best parts of their product during one of the most visible weeks in the combat sports calendar, the promotion’s early-July pay-per-views have become can’t miss events. From fun fights and important fights, to title fights and beyond, we’re expecting more MMA intrigue this summer in Las Vegas.

In recent years, the main event of the UFC’s International Fight Week PPV has featured the likes of Daniel Cormier, Robert Whittaker, and Amanda Nunes. Despite the undoubtedly loaded cards, we’ve only been treated to three title fights in the past three early-July UFC PPVs. Due to injuries, USADA, and more, these cards have struggled to keep their initial shape.

Regardless of what’s happened, the promotion has continued to put their efforts toward major PPV events during International Fight Week. There’s no reason why this year would be any different, especially with the recently announced ESPN+ PPV deal taking hold. Given the second quarter schedule is beginning to fill-out, and titlefights are still needed for the rest of the summer slate, what’s left for UFC 239 this July?

Who’s Out?

There are a couple of interim title fights happening at UFC 236 that, dependng on the promotion’s need and the health of the other division champion, may or may not feature at UFC 239. UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway is fighting Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight title in the main event. In the co-main, Israel Adesanya takes on Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight championship.

The fights happening in April give the victors a solid chunk of time to prepare for a July matchup, depending on how the interim title fights go. There are a lot of factors at play, and it’s hard to predict the exact timeline for the futures of the UFC’s lightweight and middleweight titles post-UFC 236.

At UFC 237 in May, history is being made. Strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and challenger Jessica Andrade are becoming the first 115-pounders to main event at pay-per-view in promotion history. With the likes of Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo on the main card, that’s no small feat. Given the timeline, we’re ruling out the winner of Namajunas-Andrade for International Fight Week.

The following month, at UFC 238 in Chicago, flyweight title-holder Valentina Shevchenko is defending her belt against Jessica Eye. In a bout that is likely the co-main event of the PPV, neither fighter will likely be available for duty at UFC 239. We’re currently still waiting for a main event for June’s UFC PPV, which will take one more option off of the promotion’s table for International Fight Week.

UFC 83 Georges St. Pierre
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

You can also rule out lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov for UFC 239. He’s currently suspended, and looking at a return in the fall. The same goes for bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes, who is looking to defend her 135-pound title in late-2019.

We won’t be seeing the recently “retired” Georges St. Pierre in the Octagon this summer, either. Even if he received an offer he liked, he’d have to re-enter the USADA testing pool. That means that he’ll have at least six months from whenever he decides to return and his next UFC appearance.

Who’s Available?

The UFC’s flyweight and bantamweight divisions are in a weird place. That’s been true for a few months, and only became more accurate following TJ Dillashaw’s announcement that he’s vacating the 135-pound belt following a flagged USADA test from the day before his bout with 125-pound champ Henry Cejudo in January.

This development left Cejudo, focused on getting a shot at the bantamweight title, without a clear opponent for his next bout. It also highlighted the list of fighters ready for title-shots of their own in both divisions. The future of the flyweight division as a whole remains to be seen. But, after UFC Nashville, promotion President Dana White shared the new plans for both divisions’ next title-fights.

After the event, White said they’re working toward still giving Cejudo his shot at the bantamweight title. Instead of taking on Dillashaw in a rematch, the flyweight champ will face the clear number one contender at 135-pounds: Marlon Moraes. That’s a big, fun, and interesting fight, that wouldn’t look out of place at all on a loaded UFC 239 main card. Whether the promotion wants the fight there, or at UFC 238 in June, remains to be seen.

That also means that, for now, the flyweight title is on the shelf, waiting for the winner of (another) number one contender bout between deserving challengers Jussier Formiga and Joseph Benavidez. Hopefully one of these guys gets a shot at the belt before the division is gone for good.

As we mentioned before, there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to the potential UFC 239 inclusion of the winner of the interim lightweight title fight between Holloway and Poirier. If things shake out in a way where the winner of that bout is ready and willing to fight in early-July, there are some interesting Khabib-less options for the UFC.

If Poirier earns the victory, his argument for a matchup with a certian Irishman gets a bit stronger. With the likes of Khabib, Al Iaquinta, Donald Cerrone, and Tony Ferguson all unavailable for a variety of reasons, the path to Poirier-McGregor 2 is a clear one. The same goes for a Holloway-McGregor rematch. Conor McGregor is probably the only matchup either Poirier or Holloway would accept for International Fight Week, as they would be risking their already-earned shot at Khabib later this year.

There’s also the possibility of Holloway returning to featherweight to defend his belt. We don’t know whether or not the Hawaiian is staying at lightweight, and it is likely that the result of his bout at UFC 236 is playing a role. If he vacates the title, the 145-pound belt could feature at UFC 239 in some fashion. If he wants to defends the belt, a summertime bout could happen. We’ll know more after UFC 236, but considering their other available options, the featherweight title isn’t of the utmost concern to the promotion at the moment.

Max Holloway UFC
Max Holloway Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Of course, if the winner of Holloway-Poirier 2 isn’t ready or willing to fight at UFC 239, it wouldn’t be hard for McGregor to find another opponent. Signs seem to be pointing toward a trilogy bout with Nate Diaz, which we’re very much for. Former lightweight champ and recent welterweight Anthony Pettis also threw his hat in the ring following his win at UFC Nashville. Both of those bouts sound just fine to us, and wouldn’t look out of place atop UFC 239 in early-July, even without a title attached. McGregor is a main event fighter, and putting him anywhere else on the card, regardless of who’s fighting for what title, doesn’t make sense.

Update 3/26: Conor McGregor’s situation has changed a bit, as he’s allegedly under investigation for sexual assault in Ireland. Oh, and he retired. So, we’ll see what happens next. Honestly, there’s still a decent chance he ends up on UFC 239, regardless of his current “retired” status or pending criminal investigations. 

There’s also newly-crowned welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. His next bout, with Colby Covington, seems to be set in stone. Where and when it takes place are the final questions to be answered. Like Cejudo-Moraes, Usman-Covington could feature in the main event of UFC 238 in June, or somewhere on the main card of UFC 239. Could it be the main event? Probably not. But given how these events have gone the last few years, it may find itself there anyway.

The same goes for Robert Whittaker’s next title defense. The middleweight champ is targeting a summer return, following hernia surgery that forced him out of the UFC 234 main event. Again, a lot depends on the health and summer plans for the Adesanya-Gastelum winner at UFC 236. That said, don’t be surprised if we’re treated to a 185-pound title fight sometime this summer.

Light heavyweight champ Jon Jones has talked about keeping a busy schedule this year. He has an opponent at 205-pounds seemingly ready in Thiago Santos. So, why not put it in the main event of UFC 239? If things with McGregor get too messy, relying on the next biggest draw in the company isn’t a bad move. Light heavyweight newcomer Luke Rockhold has already been announced for the card, making his divisional debut against Jan Blachowicz. Should both Jones and Rockhold win, an easy timeline for Jones’ next light heavyweight title defense is good-to-go.

Jon Jones UFC 235
Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

If the promotion has other, heavier plans for Jones, there are some interesting options available. Of course, the trilogy bout with heavyweight titleholder Daniel Cormier will always be out there. Matchups with the likes of Brock Lesnar and Stipe Miocic would also be fun for Jones, but probably make more sense for DC at this point. The seeds for Cormier-Lesnar have been planted, and Santos is an exciting and interesting opponent for Jones. As fun as some of the heavyweight matchmaking with Jones is, there’s no need to force such a bout on to UFC 239.

While UFC 238 still needs a main event, and the promotion will need some titles for the remainder of their summer PPV slate, there are plenty of top-tier options available this July. With matchups like McGregor-Diaz 3, Cormier-Lesnar, Jones-Santos, and more as legitimate main events we could see this summer, there aren’t a lot of wrong choices for UFC 239. We’re betting on McGregor-Diaz 3, but given the changes the UFC’s International Fight Week PPVs have gone through in recent years, we could be in for a few different main events when all is said and done.

Let us know who you think will be fighting in the main event of UFC 239 this July! There’s a few different ways the promotion can go, and some intriguing options seem to be available. Comment with your thoughts below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!