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Report: UFC working on Lawler vs. Wonderboy for first ESPN card on January 19th

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The UFC’s new deal with ESPN starts in 2019, and now we have our first look at what they’re cooking up for the debut.

MMA: UFC 214-Lawler vs Cerrone Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When the UFC arrived on FOX, it kicked things off big with a heavyweight showdown between heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez and number one contender Junior dos Santos. And while it’s still to early to know whether the promotion is pulling out all the stops once again for their ESPN debut on January 19th, the first fight rumored for the card is pretty solid: a welterweight showdown between former champ Robbie Lawler and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.

MMA Junkie was the first to report the fight, which is still conditional on Lawler’s torn ACL being cleared by his doctor on Monday. Lawler suffered that injury in his last bout, a five round fight with Rafael dos Anjos in December of 2017 that saw dos Anjos blank Lawler 50-45 on all three scorecards.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is coming off a loss of his own as well, although under much closer circumstances. Many thought he won his UFC Liverpool main event with Darren Till, only to have the judges give the fight to the local boy 49-46, 49-46, and 48-47. As with many of Thompson’s most recent fights, it was a conservative affair with Till refusing to play into Wonderboy’s counter-heavy game.

Robbie Lawler isn’t the kind of fighter to hold back, which is guaranteed to make the fight more interesting, but also makes it a bad stylistic match up for the brawler. In effect, we have to hope Lawler fights against his best interests if we want this to be an entertaining scrap.

The January 19th event is set to go down on ESPN’s flagship channel, not ESPN+, the streaming channel airing the majority of UFC events under the promotion’s new deal. That deal sees ESPN paying the UFC $300 million a year for 30 events and a ton of shoulder programming.

It’s unclear at this time whether Lawler vs. Thompson would be the main event or if there’s even bigger things in store for the UFC’s historic first event on ESPN. We’d lean towards there being more, but with so many events on the schedule these days, you never know.