This weekend at UFC Vegas 14, Paul Felder will look to pull off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Usually, the #7 ranked UFC Lightweight contender wouldn’t be such a huge underdog against an opponent like Rafael dos Anjos, but there’s a huge caveat to this fight.
Stepping in for the sidelined Islam Makhachev, Felder is taking the clash on just five days notice. Given that he’s spent the past nine months in pseudo-retirement following his February loss to Dan Hooker, can he really expect to succeed here? Who knows.
However, if The Irish Dragon does win on Saturday night, he won’t be the first UFC star to have won a fight after taking it on late notice.
Here are five other UFC stars who took fights at the last minute – and somehow won.
#1 Chris Leben – UFC 116 vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
Despite playing a villain of sorts on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Chris Leben was always wildly popular with UFC fans. It wasn’t hard to see why, either. The Crippler was the kind of fighter who epitomized an “any place, any time” attitude, and never backed down even against the UFC’s toughest Middleweights.
His wildest victory, though, undoubtedly came in the summer of 2010. June 19th’s TUF 11 Finale saw Leben face off with tough wrestler Aaron Simpson. And although The Crippler came into the fight as a slight underdog, he was able to pull a big win off, using his power punches to send Simpson stumbling all over the Octagon for a second-round TKO stoppage.
Following the win, most fans expected to see Leben again towards the end of the year. But instead, when Wanderlei Silva withdrew from a fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116, Leben decided to step in, just two weeks after the Simpson fight.
Early on, it looked like a bad idea. Akiyama outstruck and outwrestled The Crippler throughout the first round. However, something crazy begun to happen during the second. Leben began to push the pace, and shockingly, it was Akiyama – who’d had a full training camp – that began to fade.
By the third round, the Japanese superstar was exhausted, and Leben was able to trap him in a triangle choke to force him to tap out. Not only was the win just Leben’s second submission victory in the UFC, but it also came over a notable grappler and Olympic judoka – on less than two weeks’ notice.
#2 Charlie Brenneman – UFC on Versus 4 vs. Rick Story
Back in 2011, Rick Story was on a serious run in the UFC’s Welterweight division. He was on a six-fight winning streak, and had beaten the likes of Johny Hendricks and former UFC title challenger Thiago Alves. At UFC on Versus 4, The Horror was supposed to fight top contender Nate Marquardt, only for Nate the Great to fall foul of a drug test just hours before the weigh-ins.
Charlie Brenneman – who’d been pegged to face TJ Grant on the same card in a fight that’d been scrapped earlier in the week – decided to step in to take the fight, and the odds weren’t on his side. While Story had been rising through the ranks, Brenneman was largely unheralded, and hadn’t appeared on the main card of a UFC show.
However, The Spaniard was banking on a gut feeling he had. He figured that Story’s bullying style relied on him having a wrestling advantage over his opponents. And against Brenneman – a former NCAA Division I wrestler – that advantage would not exist, allowing The Spaniard to turn the tables.
Incredibly, that’s exactly what happened. Brenneman took Story down early on in the fight and never really allowed him to gain any traction. Rather than bullying his foe with his pressure and clinch game, Story became the victim, and fell to a loss via unanimous decision.
Brenneman would go onto just one more UFC victory in his next seven fights with the promotion. But he remains one of the ultimate examples of a fighter who stepped in on late notice and succeeded.