Getty Images

UFC fans are biting their nails over the status of Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler. McGregor's first fight in nearly three years is expected to headline UFC 303 in Las Vegas on June 29 for International Fight Week. But anticipation has been replaced by anxiety after a series of troubling rumors.

After optimism started to circulate about the fight going on as planned, the promotion reportedly sent out feelers for "a replacement" to McGregor vs. Chandler, "and/or new fight(s)" on Tuesday, according to combat sports reporter Ariel Helwani. The report claims "even more pessimism" now than after a sold-out press conference in Ireland was canceled on short notice last week, the initial catalyst for public concern.

Helwani's report is the latest in a cycle of comforting and concerning updates. Four days prior, Chandler told "The Pivot" podcast the fight was moving ahead as planned.

"The fight's happening," Chandler said. "Where we are right now, there's a lot of speculation but the fight is on. June 29. It's happening.

"I do believe that Conor shows up. Conor shows up under the bright lights. He lives for these moments."

Everything appeared to be smooth sailing until Sunday, June 2. McGregor and Chandler were set to take part in a sold-out press conference in McGregor's home city of Dublin. UFC president Dana White told reporters he was booked for a plane to Dublin immediately after Saturday's UFC 302 press conference. By Sunday morning, UFC pulled the plug on the event.

"The UFC 303 press conference scheduled for Monday, June 3 in Dublin, Ireland at 3Arena has been postponed until further notice," UFC released in a statement. "We sincerely apologize to all the fans who were planning to attend. When we have further information on a new date and time, we will share it immediately."

McGregor broke his silence the next day but failed to give fans any clarity. The former two-division UFC champion chalked up the cancellation to outside obstacles.

"In consultation with the UFC, today's press conference was cancelled due to a series of obstacles outside of our control," McGregor wrote. "I apologize to my Irish fans, and fans around the world, for the inconvenience and appreciate all your passion and support. I can't wait to put on the greatest all-time show in the Octagon."

The abrupt cancellation or postponement had people fearing the fight would fall through. White and company have been radio silent about the situation.

"A cancelled presser, not that big of a deal, right? It happens," Chandler said during his podcast appearance. "But it's the layers in which if a presser is cancelled, is something else wrong? Is there something going on? Obviously then immediately speculation starts going all over the place in 2024, social media and all that stuff.

"I just kept resting on the fact that I can only control what I can control. I've been doing that now for a year and a half with this whole fight."

Helwani reported two days after the cancelled presser there was cautious optimism that McGregor vs. Chandler would remain intact, but matchmakers were putting out feelers to other fighters.

"The hope is still that the fight is on," Helwani tweeted Tuesday. "There is positivity, I'd say. But they have sent out feelers to see who might be able to fill in, either as a replacement or an entirely new fight at the top of the bill. Still developing, and still some time."

Helwani also claimed the press conference cancellation had nothing to do with legal or anti-doping issues.

"Nothing with regards to any sort of legal issue, incident of any kind, drama of any kind, criminal thing of any kind, fight of any kind, alcohol, this, that, like, none of that is at play here," Helwani said separately on "The MMA Hour" podcast.

"There's nothing regarding any sort of drug testing or anti-doping or anything like that."

The panic over McGregor vs. Chandler points to two painful realities for UFC in 2024: its event calendar and rising ticket prices.

UFC held 43 events in 2023, averaging an event every 1.2 weeks. The promotion spreads out its star power to accommodate its mammoth schedule resulting in a lower average quality per card. The last three McGregor cards have indeed relied heavily on his star power, but having one fight to hold together the promotion's tentpole annual event is risky. UFC 303's co-main event is short-lived former champion Jamahal Hill -- coming off a KO loss -- against the promotion's No. 11 ranked light heavyweight, Carlos Ulberg. Even that fight is a patchwork after Hill was scheduled to face Khalil Rountree before Rountree tested positive for a banned substance. Nothing screams off the page besides Ian Machado Garry vs. Michael Page.

White regularly boasts about UFC's record-setting gates. It's a legitimate accomplishment made possible by the UFC's brand strength and public demand for their events. On May 11, White told reporters at a UFC Fight Night press conference that McGregor's return to the T-Mobile Arena already generated "way over $20 million." Chances are the fans who paid between $405 and $3,005 for tickets, excluding dynamic pricing, aren't thrilled about potentially missing out on UFC 303's only major selling point, even though they'd be entitled to a refund should the main event fall apart.

UFC International Fight Week is less than three weeks away and its marquee draw appears to be in jeopardy. The fight is officially slated for June 29 but fans won't rest easy until the promotion or one of the fighters involved provides clarity.