PFL buying Bellator & 4 more shocking MMA moments of 2023

MMA was full of surprises in 2023, here are five of the biggest jaw-droppers.

Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Olivier Aubin-Mercier / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
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USADA and UFC part ways after Conor McGregor controversy

In 2015, the UFC began two partnerships that would begin the trend towards homogenization. The first was its much-maligned apparel deal with Reebok, which began as a comedy of errors that ranged from misspellings of fighters' names to misidentification of their nationalities. It also drastically reduced fighter pay - which caused a massive exodus, mainly to Bellator, as fighters chafed at losing sponsorship money.

The other was the testing program with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, aka USADA. This one went much better, but it was not immune to controversy - as the Brock Lesnar-UFC 200 debacle proved. However, as UFC 300 drew nearer and nearer, a problem soon arose.

It is no secret that the UFC always wanted very big names for its milestone cards. At UFC 100, Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre shared the stage. UFC 200 was originally going to have Conor McGregor looking to avenge his shocking UFC 196 loss to Nate Diaz - then when that fell through, a light heavyweight unification rematch between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones was booked (which also fell through after USADA flagged Jones for a failed drug test on the week of the event).

And for UFC 300, the promotion wanted McGregor back, potentially against Michael Chandler in a clash of The Ultimate Fighter 31 coaches. Just one problem: he was not in the USADA pool. Then on Oct. 5, the Irishman claimed to have rejoined said pool, but no one would believe it.

But it turned out to be true. Six days later, USADA made two shocking announcements: 1. As of Oct. 8, McGregor was once again under its testing program, and 2. The program was ending at the end of 2023. The former announcement would prove prescient, as UFC 300 was revealed to be taking place on April 13, 2024 - just above USADA's testing threshold of 180 days. Better yet, it would be held at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas - exactly the type of venue that would happily accommodate McGregor.