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5 times that a UFC main event was made weaker due to a last-minute change

An injury to Jimi Manuwa has greatly weakened the main event of Fight Night 137
An injury to Jimi Manuwa has greatly weakened the main event of Fight Night 137
Scott Newman

Injuries are part and parcel of the sport of MMA and the UFC is no stranger to seeing a last-minute injury completely ruin one of their cards. Usually, the promotion manages to do something to save things, though – remember, for instance, the legendary Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz fight was only put together when Diaz replaced the injured Rafael dos Anjos.

Sometimes though things are unsalvageable – forcing the UFC to put together a main event that’s far weaker than the original at late notice. It’s nobody’s fault as such – it’s just part of the sport – but it’s always harsh to the fans that spent money to attend the show live.

Here are 5 examples of a UFC main event that was made far weaker due to injury replacements.


#1 UFC Fight Night 137 – 09/22/18

Original main event: Jimi Manuwa vs. Glover Teixeira

Replacement main event: Thiago Santos vs. Eryk Anders

We begin with this weekend’s upcoming card. It’s unfair to slate Santos vs. Anders at this stage as it could turn out to be the best fight of the year, but on paper at least it’s definitely far weaker than the originally planned clash between top ten Light-Heavyweight contenders Jimi Manuwa and Glover Teixeira.

Midway through August, it was announced that Teixeira would be unable to compete due to a nagging shoulder injury, which left Manuwa without an opponent.

Despite 205lbers Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Sam Alvey fighting on the undercard, the UFC instead pegged Thiago ‘Marreta’ Santos – who usually fights at 185lbs – as the replacement fighter.

After some negotiations, the fight was signed, but earlier this week it was announced that Manuwa had torn his hamstring and thus would be out of the fight too. His replacement? Eryk Anders, another fighter more used to fighting at Middleweight.

And so we’ve ended up with an odd situation indeed – a fight at 205lbs between two fighters more suited to 185lbs in the main event of a UFC show. Hopefully, it’ll be exciting!

#2 UFC Fight Night 76 – 10/24/15

Original main event: Dustin Poirier vs. Joseph Duffy

Replacement main event: Paddy Holohan vs. Louis Smolka

Paddy Holohan vs. Louis Smolka was an unexpected UFC headliner in 2015
Paddy Holohan vs. Louis Smolka was an unexpected UFC headliner in 2015

When the UFC announced its return to Dublin in October 2015, the initially billed main event of Dustin Poirier vs. Joseph Duffy was hardly world-shattering anyway. Poirier has since developed into a genuine contender, but at that stage, both he and Duffy were prospects rather than contenders and the fight was a clear step down from the Conor McGregor-headlined show in Dublin a year prior.

Still, it sounded like fun at least. That was until three days before the show, when it was announced that Duffy would be unable to fight due to a concussion sustained in a sparring session earlier that week. Poirier was offered Norman Parke as a late replacement but turned the fight down and so the show was left without a main event.

Unable to put a new fight together on late notice, the UFC instead elevated a fight between two unranked Flyweights – the local boy Paddy Holohan and Hawaiian Louis Smolka – into the main event slot, booking probably the weakest main event in UFC history.

In the end, the fight was fun at least – Smolka submitted Holohan late in the second round after nearly ten minutes of back-and-forth grappling.

#3 UFC on Fuel 9 – 04/06/13

Original main event: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Gegard Mousasi

Replacement main event: Gegard Mousasi vs. Ilir Latifi

Ilir Latifi was a late replacement for Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on Fuel 9
Ilir Latifi was a late replacement for Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on Fuel 9

When the UFC began to absorb the roster of the defunct StrikeForce promotion in early 2013, one of the biggest names that fans were clamoring to see in the Octagon was Gegard Mousasi.

Long considered one of the best 205lbers outside of the UFC, Mousasi duly signed a deal with the promotion and when he was announced as headlining UFC on Fuel 9 from Stockholm against top contender Alexander Gustafsson, eyebrows were raised.

After beating Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in December 2012, Gustafsson was actually pegged to get the next Light-Heavyweight title shot, and so it was a surprise to see him matched with Mousasi, but most fans were excited anyway as it was a chance to see Mousasi against a top-three contender instantly. Of course, it wasn’t to be.

Just four days before the event, it was announced that Gustafsson was out of the fight due to a cut received in sparring that week.

Due to the incredibly late notice, the UFC couldn’t secure a strong replacement and so it looked like the fight would be scrapped – until Gustafsson’s training partner and fellow Swede Ilir Latifi agreed to step in.

Latifi has since gained a cult following from fans, but at the time nobody had heard of ‘The Sledgehammer’ and so it was hard not to be disappointed.

The fight was even changed from the regular five rounds for the main event into a three-round fight. And in execution, it was dull too – Mousasi came in with a knee injury and simply used his jab to keep Latifi at bay for the full fight, winning a decision.

#4 UFC 200 – 07/09/16

Original main event: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz

Replacement main event: Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes

UFC 200: Tate v Nunes
Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate were never supposed to main event UFC 200

Okay, so at least we were given a title fight as the replacement main event for this one. But realistically UFC 200 was being built as the biggest show in UFC history and so – no offense to either fighter as they’re both fantastic – Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes for the Women’s Bantamweight title – was hardly an amazing-sounding headliner.

It wasn’t supposed to be, though. Tate vs. Nunes was initially part of the undercard, with the rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz to be the main.

But McGregor refused to attend the amount of media days that the UFC required and ended up being removed, and so the fight was scrapped and replaced with an equally big fight – the long-awaited Jon Jones/Daniel Cormier rematch.

Then three days before the event, disaster struck. USADA announced that Jones had tested positive for a banned substance and would thus be unable to fight, and so the UFC hastily shifted Tate vs. Nunes – the only remaining title fight on the card – into the headline slot.

It was a weird choice given Anderson Silva had agreed to fight Cormier as a late replacement – making that a far bigger fight than Tate/Nunes – and Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt threatened to overshadow both fights anyway, but the UFC evidently chose to show the value of their titles over anything else.

As it turned out, Tate vs. Nunes was more entertaining than both – Nunes finished Tate in the first round of a surprisingly one-sided fight to take the belt.

#5 UFC 178 – 09/27/14

Original main event: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

Replacement main event: Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso

The fans just didn't seem to care about Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso
The fans just didn't seem to care about Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso

When longtime – and still unbeaten – Heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier announced a drop to 205lbs in early 2014, fans immediately began to salivate about a potential match between him and UFC Light-Heavyweight champion Jon Jones.

And sure enough, after Cormier beat Patrick Cummins and Dan Henderson in one-sided fashion, the fight with Jones was signed for UFC 178 in September.

The event looked like one of the all-time great shows, too – with rising star Conor McGregor facing Dustin Poirier, former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez making his UFC debut against Donald Cerrone, former Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz making his return, and the likes of Cat Zingano and Yoel Romero fighting on the undercard.

After a press conference ended in a shoving match between the two, the Jones/Cormier pairing became one of the most anticipated fights in promotional history, but then disaster struck.

About six weeks out, Jones injured his leg and had to withdraw, and the UFC decided to replace it with a fight initially booked for UFC 177 – a Flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Chris Cariaso.

This was a total damp squib as not only was fan interest in Johnson – and the Flyweight division – low anyway, but Cariaso was a non-entity as a contender and was only given the title shot as nobody else was available.

It represented probably the first and only time in UFC history that there were around five fights on the card with more fan intrigue than the main event.

In the end, the show was a massive success as almost every fight ended in exciting fashion. But sadly by the time the main event came around, the crowd were dead – a combination of not caring in the first place and exhaustion from the action of the previous fights – summing up the feeling surrounding the fight.

Johnson easily submitted Cariaso with a kimura in the second round, and Jones ended up fighting Cormier four months later at UFC 182.

Edited by Alan John

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