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UFC putting big shows on for 3 straight nights this weekend

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Conor McGregor, left, kicked at Dustin Poirier, during their Sept. 2014 fight in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher,File)

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Jose Aldo, from Brazil, right, and Chan Sung Jung, from South Korea, battled during their UFC 163 mixed martial arts Featherweight Championship bout in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in Aug. 2013. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana,File)

The UFC is surging toward the new year by flexing its promotional muscles for three straight nights in Vegas.

Conor McGregor’s featherweight title showdown with champion Jose Aldo on Saturday night is the culmination of a three-day fight extravaganza this weekend. The UFC is staging back-to-back-to-back shows on the Las Vegas Strip, loading its stacked deck with intriguing matchups between former champions and rising stars.

“It’s going to be a historic time for me, but also for the entire UFC,” McGregor said. “You’ve never seen a weekend like this.”

In its 22-year history, the UFC has never crammed three major fight cards so closely together, never mind in the same city. The promotion is putting on at least 33 fights in those three days, including two title bouts and its first headlining non-title women’s bout.

After receiving criticism for occasionally thin shows while expanding its promotional breadth in recent years, the UFC made sure plenty of attention will be on mixed martial arts during this weekend gap between the college football regular season and holiday festivities.

“It’s literally the best December we’ve ever had in the company’s history,” UFC President Dana White said when announcing the lineup. “We started looking at the end of the year. A lot of people needed fights, so we said, ‘Let’s do three in a row. We’ll do Thursday, Friday and Saturday.’ It’s a killer weekend in Vegas, right before Christmas.”

The UFC 194 pay-per-view card is headlined by interim champion McGregor’s long-anticipated meeting with Aldo, the imperious Brazilian champion who has been subjected to months of expert verbal abuse from his Irish challenger.

And that show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena actually features two title fights: Middleweight champion Chris Weidman also defends his belt against Luke Rockhold in a tantalizing style clash pitting two dominant 185-pounders at the peak of their careers.

Weidman and Rockhold could headline a major show on their own, but the promotion wants to guarantee another big pay-per-view buy for UFC 194 after Ronda Rousey’s stunning loss to Holly Holm last month at UFC 193, which became one of the biggest money-makers in the company’s history.

The pay-per-view portion of the UFC 194 card is so stacked that popular veteran Urijah Faber is consigned to fighting Frankie Saenz on the preliminary card.

One night earlier at the Cosmopolitan hotel, featherweight veterans Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes will meet on Fox Sports 1 in the compelling main event of a card also featuring the final bout in this season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s long-running reality show. Edgar or Mendes, who lost to McGregor as a late replacement for Aldo in August, could be the next challenger for the undisputed belt.

The UFC’s weekend festivities start off Thursday night at the Cosmopolitan with a card headlined by a 115-pound showdown between Paige VanZant and Rose Namajunas, two of the strawweight division’s most promising prospects. The bout is the first non-title fight main event between two women for the UFC, which only began promoting women’s MMA in 2013.

The UFC has heavily promoted the 21-year-old VanZant as a future star, and this is her first headlining bout. The Thursday card, which can be viewed only on the UFC’s Fight Pass subscription digital network, also features unbeaten 19-year-old lightweight Sage Northcutt, another prospect ticketed for fame and stardom by the UFC.

And as jam-packed as this week is, it isn’t even the UFC’s big finish to 2015.

Rafael Dos Anjos faces Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone next weekend in a lightweight title bout between two of the sport’s most interesting characters in Orlando, while Robbie Lawler will defend his welterweight title against Carlos Condit in the headlining bout of UFC 195 in Las Vegas on Jan. 2.

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