There’s always the chance UFC matchups will fall apart. With such intense training, weight cuts and, for the past year, Covid-19, it’s rare every scheduled pairing on a card remains the same.
We’ve missed out on some great matchups through late withdrawals. Robert Whittaker’s hernia on the day of UFC 234 left us waiting two years to see him fight Kelvin Gastelum.
A failed drugs test pulled Jon Jones out of his bout with Daniel Cormier at UFC 200. We never saw Tony Ferguson face Khabib, which is all I can say about that matchup without crying. A fight between the Russian and Max Holloway also showed potential after their press conference, not that we'll ever know now.
Thankfully, on most occasions there is a game fighter willing to step in and save the day.
Five best short notice UFC wins
Marvin Vettori was scheduled to face Darren Till in an exciting middleweight clash at UFC on ABC 2 this weekend. In a heart-breaking turn of events for Till and the entire MMA community, the Englishman suffered a broken collarbone in training. On one weeks’ notice, Kevin Holland will face the Italian, just three weeks after his five-round main event with Derek Brunson.
With such a short notice opponent, Vettori heads into the headliner as the heavy favorite, but Holland can’t be underestimated. We’ve seen some memorable short notice wins in the past.
With that said, here are the best UFC victories on less than six weeks notice.
#5 Dustin Poirier at UFC 125
At UFC 125, the great Jose Aldo was set to defend his featherweight title against Josh Grispi. “The Fluke” was flying high. Riding a 10-fight winning streak, he’d been elevated to the top. With the Brazilian champion injured in training, Grispi put his number one contender spot on the line against an unranked 21-year-old. His name was Dustin Poirier.
“The Diamond” has a habit of shocking the world. He did it against Conor McGregor earlier this year and he did it against Grispi on debut a decade earlier.
On five weeks’ notice, Poirier de-railed the Grispi hype train in convincing fashion. Grispi had secured eight first-round finishes in his previous eight fights. But against the Louisiana-born Poirier, he got beat up.
Despite being the heavy underdog, Poirier took home a unanimous decision victory, 30-27 on all scorecards. While Grispi lost his following three fights and hasn’t fought since, Poirier has developed into one of the best lightweights in the world.
#4 Brian Ortega at UFC 222
“The Answer” was set to face Max Holloway for the featherweight belt at UFC 222. After the Hawaiian was forced to withdraw, Edgar was willing to put his spot in jeopardy in order to still fight. “T-City” stepped up to the plate.
Despite being the underdog, Ortega entered the fight with strong momentum behind him. Unbeaten in 13 fights, he'd finished his previous five opponents, including Renato Moicano, Cub Swanson and Diego Brandao. Ortega made it six consecutive stoppages in his first walk to the octagon in 2018.
A quick left-hand rocked Edgar before a flurry of strikes kept the pressure on. A brutal right uppercut from Ortega brought the stoppage with just 16 seconds left in the opening round.
After a defeat in the title opportunity that followed, Ortega bounced back in style against Chan Sung Jung last October. Ortega had been set to challenge for Alex Volkanovski's belt at UFC 260, but the Australian contracted Covid-19 a week out from the bout.
The two will now be coaches for the return of The Ultimate Fighter this year, before colliding at the series' culmination.
#3 Jon Jones at UFC 128
Not much is as impressive as what Jon Jones did at UFC 128. On around five weeks’ notice, Jon Jones beat Mauricio Rua to become the youngest champion in UFC history.
Rua's first title defense was set to be against former champion Rashad Evans. After Jones defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 126, it was revealed Evans had been forced to pull out due to a knee injury. In front of a full crowd at Mandalay Bay, Jones immediately accepted the fight during his interview with Joe Rogan. He was crowned champion just over a month later.
With just three years of professional fighting experience, “Bones” Jones was thrust into his first title opportunity. He put on an MMA clinic. Treating Rua like a punching bag, Jones beat the Brazilian until he was bruised, bloody and unable to continue.
It was an appropriate light heavyweight coronation for a fighter we now know as one of the greatest of all time.
#2 Michael Bisping at UFC 199
One of the best moments in UFC history. Maybe that's because Michael Bisping is my compatriot, but either way his middleweight glory at UFC 199 was special, wherever you're from.
After being submitted by Luke Rockhold in their first meeting in 2014, Bisping went on a three-fight winning streak. Victories over C.B. Dollaway, Thales Leites and the legendary Anderson Silva, put “The Count” back into a top contender position.
In May 2016, the Englishman was alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Vin Diesel on the set of the ‘xXx: The Return of Xander Cage’ movie. While he shared a beer with his co-stars, the UFC gave him a call. They asked him to fight for the title at UFC 199.
Despite only having 17 days to prepare and having been convincingly beaten by Rockhold just 18 months earlier, Bisping accepted with no hesitation. The rest is history.
Chris Weidman's withdrawal ended up being a blessing for Bisping and the MMA community. Not only did we get to see one of the greatest upsets and commentary reactions in the promotion's history, but we also got to see the priceless look on the face of Bisping once he realized what he had achieved.
UFC 199 gave us one of the best short notice performances in history.
#1 Nate Diaz at UFC 196
In the category for short notice performances in the UFC, not many come close to what Nate Diaz accomplished at UFC 196.
At the 2016 pay-per-view, Conor McGregor was set for his first shot at becoming a two-division champion. The Irishman was scheduled to face lightweight titleholder Rafael Dos Anjos. After the Brazilian broke his foot, the UFC began a frantic search for a new opponent to avoid losing McGregor from the card.
While partying on a yacht in Cabo, Diaz got the call. During the fight, Joe Rogan explained that despite the late notice, Diaz was in great condition because he’d been training for a triathlon. Diaz’ comments after suggested he’d only said that to convince the UFC he was in shape to compete:
“I wasn’t training for a triathlon before this fight I was on a yacht in Cabo getting my chillax on wit my dudes @gilbertmelendez and crew before I got the call but #alwaysreadyforwar in season or not??”
The manner of his pre-fight activities only made what Diaz did more impressive. On just 11 days' notice, he became the first man to defeat Conor McGregor in the UFC.
By submitting the featherweight champion, Diaz gave us one of the most memorable moments in UFC history. He also secured himself a not too shabby $500,000 payday for a fight he wasn't even booked for two weeks earlier.