#3 Khamzat Chimaev – UFC Fight Island 1 vs. John Phillips
The strange nature of 2020 and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that tons of UFC fighters have recently taken last-minute bookings. However, few have been quite as successful as rising star Khamzat Chimaev.
The Swedish-based, Chechnyan-born fighter was basically a complete unknown until this summer. But when Dusko Todorovic pulled out of his fight with John Phillips at UFC Fight Island 1 just eight days before the event, Chimaev grabbed his chance with both hands and stepped in to face the Welshman.
Despite Chimaev moving up to 185lbs from his more natural 170lbs for the fight, it was a complete mismatch. Phillips had no answer for Chimaev’s grappling game and found himself taken down and beaten up en route to a second-round submission.
Incredibly, Borz wasn’t done there. Just 10 days later, he was back again, this time at UFC Fight Island 3, to take on Rhys McKee. The short turnaround was a modern-day UFC record, but it didn’t matter. Again, Chimaev was hugely impressive, destroying the UK native inside the first round to win by TKO.
Since then, Borz has gone on to record his third UFC win, and is now set to face Leon Edwards in his first UFC main event in December. Chimaev is living proof that in the world of the UFC, sometimes taking risks can pay off, big time.
#4 Nate Diaz – UFC 196 vs. Conor McGregor
From a financial standpoint, no other fighter in UFC history gained so much from taking a last-minute fight, as Nate Diaz did back in March 2016. Diaz had only returned to the UFC three months earlier, beating Michael Johnson following a self-imposed 12-month absence, but nobody expected him back so soon.
However, it was a chance that the native of Stockton, California, simply couldn’t turn down. UFC 196 was initially set to be headlined by a superfight pitting reigning UFC Lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos against Conor McGregor – the newly crowned UFC Featherweight champion and the sport’s biggest superstar.
On February 23rd, 2016, though – just 11 days before the event – disaster struck. Dos Anjos was forced to withdraw from the fight with a broken foot, leaving McGregor without an opponent. The UFC attempted to book both Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar into the slot, but both men turned the opportunity down.
And so instead, the promotion turned to Diaz – who’d called McGregor out in an expletive-filled rant following his win over Johnson. Diaz naturally accepted, and the fight quickly became one of the most hyped up in UFC history.
When it came to fight time, most fans were giving McGregor a big advantage – but despite Diaz taking the fight on horribly late notice, midway through the second round, it was the Irishman who appeared to be tiring. And when Diaz began to hurt him with punches, The Notorious One made the error of attempting a takedown.
Diaz quickly reversed him, took his back, and choked him out, picking up the biggest win of his career in the process. And not only was UFC 196 a massive hit on pay-per-view, drawing 1.5m buys, the rematch did even better and broke the UFC’s buyrate record – handing Diaz a multi-million dollar payout along the way.
#5 Michael Bisping – UFC 199 vs. Luke Rockhold
For a long time, it felt like Michael Bisping would go down in history as one of the greatest UFC fighters to never hold a UFC title. In fact, when he beat former UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva in early 2016 on the day before he turned 37, it felt like his career had probably found its ceiling.
However, things all changed a few months later. While filming on the set of XXX: Return of Xander Cage, The Count picked up a call from the UFC. They were offering him a shot at the UFC Middleweight title, but it came with a caveat. The fight against champion Luke Rockhold was to be at UFC 199 – just 17 days later.
Naturally, being a fighter renowned for his heart and determination, Bisping accepted the call. He came into the fight as one of the biggest underdogs in UFC history. Not only was he taking the fight on late notice, but he’d also fought Rockhold in 2014 and lost in the second round in one-sided fashion.
Still, Bisping was undeterred. And when an overly confident Rockhold made the error of dropping his hands a little too much, The Count capitalized. He countered with a crushing left hand, sending the champion crashing to the ground. Rockhold got up, only for Bisping to level him again, and this time, the UK native finished him off.
The result stunned the entire UFC world. Not only had Bisping pulled off a dramatic upset, but he’d done it on barely any notice, against a champion who’d already beaten him once and looked unstoppable.
It almost felt more like the script of a Hollywood movie than something that would happen in real life, and it proved once and for all that in the UFC, taking a last-minute fight can sometimes pay off.