When Louis Smolka dropped out of his upcoming fight with Sean O’Malley at UFC 264 next weekend, it didn’t seem like the UFC would have to search hard for a replacement, with names like Merab Dvalishvili, Marlon Vera and Ricky Simon all asking for the fight. However, the UFC had other ideas.
UFC 264 will now see Sean O’Malley face off with unknown Kris Moutinho in what is a huge letdown – but this isn’t the first time the UFC has sourced a disappointing replacement.
Sure, it’s not always possible for the UFC to throw together a strong fight on late notice, but it definitely feels like the promotion could do better at times.
With this in mind, here are five of the most underwhelming late-notice fighters in UFC history.
#5 Kris Moutinho vs. Sean O’Malley – UFC 264
Let's start with the most recent late replacement on our list. When Louis Smolka pulled out of his fight with Sean O'Malley at UFC 264, it felt like numerous UFC fighters saw a potential opportunity.
O'Malley has a big reputation right now and is expected to become a major star in the future for the UFC – but he's also arguably not quite as good as he believes he is, and as Marlon Vera showed when they fought in 2020, he's beatable.
And given that UFC 264 is likely to be one of the biggest UFC events of all time and may well break the promotion's pay-per-view buy rate record, a chance to fight on the card would be too good to pass up for most fighters.
That meant that the likes of Merab Dvalishvili, Ricky Simon, Ray Borg and Brian Kelleher all threw their names into the hat as possible opponents for the 'Sugar Show.'
To be quite honest, any of those fighters would’ve been a good choice. Dvalishvili would even have been an upgrade on Smolka.
And that makes the promotion's choice of Kris Moutinho – a UFC debutant with an unimpressive record of 9-4 – even more baffling.
Perhaps the only notable thing about Moutinho is the fact that physically, he almost resembles O’Malley – meaning the fight may look like one of the “mirror matches” on an old Mortal Kombat video game.
But either way, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the UFC’s choice here, particularly as the fight will likely do nothing for O’Malley’s burgeoning reputation either.
#4 Chris Camozzi vs. Jacare Souza – UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Rockhold and UFC on Fox: Machida vs. Rockhold
Most UFC fighters only get a chance to be a disappointing late replacement once, but somehow, TUF 11 veteran Chris Camozzi managed it twice, against the same opponent nonetheless!
Jacare Souza – ranked at the time as one of the best middleweights on the planet – was set to make his UFC debut in May 2013 against Costas Philippou, who was in the UFC’s top ten at the time. It sounded like a great striker vs. grappler clash.
But when Philippou suffered a cut over his eye and was forced out of the fight, the UFC didn’t search long for a replacement. Instead, they bumped Camozzi up from an undercard bout against Rafael Natal and matched him with Jacare.
It’d be unfair to label Camozzi a bad fighter. At the time, he was on a solid four-fight win streak in the UFC. But he was also nowhere near the top ten at 185lbs and was hardly the most awe-inspiring name.
Unsurprisingly, Jacare dealt with him via arm-triangle choke in just over three minutes.
Incredibly, though, in April 2015, Camozzi found himself taking another shot at the Brazilian. This time he stepped in to replace Yoel Romero on late notice, after two wins outside the UFC following his release from the promotion in 2014.
This time the fans were even more disappointed with the UFC’s choice, as at least Camozzi was on a winning streak the first time. Jacare took even less time to dispatch him the second time, submitting Camozzi with an armbar in just over two minutes – rendering the fight largely pointless.
#3 Shawn Jordan vs. Cheick Kongo – UFC 149
UFC 149 felt like a cursed card in general, as not only did it lose its planned main event of Jose Aldo vs. Erik Koch, but it also lost numerous other fights up and down the card.
The most disappointing change, however, came in a planned heavyweight bout on the main card. This bout would’ve seen Cheick Kongo take on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in what sounded like a potential war.
However, the UFC had apparently moved a little too quickly in announcing the fight. Nogueira had been on the shelf since suffering a broken arm in his fight with Frank Mir at UFC 140 and wasn’t ready to return just seven months later.
That left the UFC scrambling for a replacement. But despite the presence of several high-level heavyweights on the roster – as well as some hot prospects – it was hard not to be disappointed by the fighter they chose.
The UFC sourced Shawn Jordan – a StrikeForce import with a UFC record of 1-0 – to take on Kongo, immediately downgrading the bout dramatically. The promotion tried to push Jordan as a fighter to watch, but it was hard to get excited over someone who’d lost to journeyman Devin Cole a year prior.
And unfortunately, the fight itself turned out to be an awful, slow clinch-fest that was immediately forgettable – a description that summed up UFC 149 on the whole in the end.
#2 Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Tito Ortiz – UFC 33
An epic clash between Tito Ortiz and Vitor Belfort headlined UFC 51 in February 2005. Despite the duo coming off losses to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, they put on an instant, back-and-forth classic that was well worth the wait.
However, many UFC fans wouldn't remember that Ortiz and Belfort were actually supposed to meet nearly four years before UFC 51, with the UFC light-heavyweight title, then held by Ortiz, on the line.
The fight was pegged to headline UFC 33 – the promotion's first-ever show in Las Vegas. But when Belfort suffered a cut in training that forced him out, the UFC had to scramble for a late replacement.
The fighter they came up with? Wrestler Vladimir Matyushenko.
It was hard to complain about the MMA record of 'The Janitor.' He stood at 10-1, hadn't lost in two years, and had made an impressive UFC debut by beating Yuki Kondo.
But unfortunately, the Russian was also largely an unknown to UFC fans and hadn't earned a shot at the promotion's poster boy as the headliner of the UFC's biggest show to date. So saying the booking was disappointing would be an understatement.
In the end, the fight also turned out to be a dull slog that saw Ortiz grind out a unanimous decision. It was probably one of his more impressive performances, but it definitely wasn't fun to watch.
There are many reasons why UFC President Dana White still points to UFC 33 as the promotion’s greatest ever disaster, and the sourcing of Matyushenko as a late replacement is one of them.
#1 Patrick Cote vs. Tito Ortiz – UFC 50
Tito Ortiz was no stranger to taking on a late replacement by the time UFC 50 rolled around, as he'd obviously fought Vladimir Matyushenko on short notice at UFC 33. But while 'The Janitor' was a disappointing choice, at least he had some UFC experience under his belt.
That wasn't the case with the fighter the UFC produced as a late-notice opponent for Ortiz at UFC 50. The 'Huntington Beach Bad Boy' was initially pegged to face old foe Guy Mezger, but when Mezger reportedly suffered a stroke, the UFC naturally needed a replacement.
Rather than turning to one of their bigger, or even mid-level, light-heavyweight stars, they simply bumped debutant Patrick Cote – who was set to open the card in a fight with Marvin Eastman – right into the headliner.
It was a baffling and disappointing move by the UFC, although to be fair, Cote did at least come off as a self-confident and semi-marketable fighter. The only problem was that nobody had heard of him!
Unsurprisingly, Cote lost a lopsided decision to Ortiz, and while he went onto a fruitful UFC career overall, it would be four years before he found himself in another headline fight.