Unsurprisingly, given the events of this year, UFC fans seem to have suffered constant disappointment during 2020 when it comes to big fights being scrapped. In fact, the last three UFC events have seen their planned main events fall through.
The UFC will undoubtedly be hoping for some better luck once 2021 rolls around. But for now, here’s a look at five huge UFC fights that have fallen through during 2020.
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#1 Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson – UFC 249
The most canceled fight in UFC history, a bout between UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and top-ranked contender Tony Ferguson had already fallen through on four occasions prior to 2020. But this was the year when the fight was finally supposed to happen.
The UFC booked it as the main event of UFC 249, which was initially supposed to take place in Brooklyn on April 18th. And once again, the MMA world salivated over the idea of the unbeaten Khabib taking on Ferguson and his 12-fight win streak.
Of course, it wasn’t to be, and for once, this time, neither fighter was to blame. By early March, it was quickly becoming clear that COVID-19 was a major worldwide problem. And when New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo stated that mass gatherings in the state would be restricted, alarm bells began to ring.
UFC President Dana White quickly announced that the event would be moving locations, but the fight was scrapped just days later. Unsurprisingly, Khabib was unable to travel to the US from his native Dagestan, and coupled with the restrictions on general travel, it was inevitable that the fight would be delayed.
In the end, UFC 249 was delayed for just under a month, and when the event did take place – in Jacksonville, Florida – it had a brand new main event. Ferguson faced Justin Gaethje with the interim UFC Lightweight title on the line, and his long winning streak was finally snapped.
In the months that have followed, Gaethje has been defeated by Khabib – who has since retired – while Ferguson is set to fight Charles Oliveira later this month.
Sadly, it appears that the Khabib vs. Ferguson fight will probably end up being filed alongside Lesnar vs. Fedor and GSP vs. Silva as mega-fights that the UFC just couldn’t make happen.
#2 Henry Cejudo vs. Jose Aldo – UFC 250
Hardcore UFC fans weren’t too impressed when the UFC booked their Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo’s first title defense earlier in 2020. Rather than matching him with one of the division’s many top contenders – Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling, for instance – they instead pitted him against former UFC Featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo.
The detractors said that Aldo hadn’t earned a title shot at 135lbs at all – mainly because he’d lost to Marlon Moraes in his debut in the division. But the UFC decided to push through with the booking, and the fight was pegged as the main event of UFC 250.
At that point, the event was scheduled for May 9th in Sao Paulo, Brazil – but of course, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly put an end to that plan. Instead, the UFC looked to get the fight shifted onto UFC 249, which had been delayed by that point. But the pandemic also meant that Aldo was unable to travel to the US for the event.
When that happened, the UFC decided to pull the plug on the pairing. Cejudo was instead matched with another questionable challenger – former UFC Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, who hadn’t fought since 2016 – and ended up knocking him out in the second round.
Cejudo announced his retirement after the fight, and just two months later, Aldo was knocked out by Yan in a fight for the vacant title. Now, of course, the idea of a Cejudo vs. Aldo fight couldn’t be further from anyone’s mind.
#3 Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns – UFC 251
When a big UFC fight falls through, it’s very rare that the promotion manages to salvage things by putting together an even bigger fight. However, that was the case at July’s UFC 251.
Billed as the first show to take place on Abu Dhabi’s much-talked about Fight Island, UFC 251 was always supposed to be the first real mega-card during the COVID-19 pandemic. And so the UFC put together three title fights at the top of the card, with a headliner of UFC Welterweight champ Kamaru Usman taking on top contender Gilbert Burns.
However, with just over a week to go before the event, disaster struck. After both he and his head coach Greg Jones tested positive for COVID-19, Burns was quickly removed from the fight. The main event was left in jeopardy, and at one point, it even looked like the UFC would remove Usman from the card altogether.
In the end, though, Jorge Masvidal – currently one of the UFC’s biggest stars – stepped in to take the fight, making UFC 251 even more of a blockbuster in the process. And while he failed to defeat The Nigerian Nightmare, his addition did make the show a huge pay-per-view hit, drawing around 1.3m buys.
As for Usman vs. Burns? The UFC attempted to re-book it for this month’s UFC 256 show, only for Usman to withdraw, citing a number of nagging injuries. As of the time of writing, the UFC are hoping to put the fight together again at some point in early 2021.
#4 Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling – UFC 256
If you ask most hardcore UFC fans, this fight should probably have already happened in 2020. Sure, the UFC weren’t to blame for its eventual cancelation, but the fact that the two weren’t matched together for the vacant Bantamweight title in the summer was almost criminal.
Essentially, both men came into 2020 off the back of big wins. Sterling had extended his winning streak to four by beating the highly-ranked Pedro Munhoz, while Yan ended 2019 with a knockout win over the legendary Urijah Faber.
The UFC should’ve looked to book either man against then-UFC Bantamweight champ Henry Cejudo in early 2020. But instead, they plugged a largely undeserving Jose Aldo into the title fight. That left both Sterling and Yan largely log-jammed. But surprisingly, the UFC didn’t decide just to book them against each other.
In the end, after Cejudo vacated his title, Yan was finally given an opportunity to become a UFC champion. But it didn’t come against Sterling – who choked out Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 in one of his most impressive performances. Instead, the Russian knocked out Aldo to claim the vacant title.
With that whole mess out of the way, it appeared that nothing could stand in the way of this match taking place at UFC 256. That was, of course, until Yan was forced to withdraw when he was unable to get a Visa to travel to the US.
Thankfully, the UFC seems determined to push through with the fight – meaning we should see it, perhaps in Abu Dhabi, in early 2021. As it will pit the best two Bantamweights in the world against one another, hopefully, it finally happens then.
#5 Leon Edwards vs. Khamzat Chimaev – UFC Vegas 17
The latest big UFC fight to be canceled, the clash between Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev, didn’t have a UFC title on the line. However, it still felt like one of the biggest fights put together by the UFC in 2020. And so the news of its cancelation yesterday was a bitter pill to swallow.
Largely considered one of the best five Welterweights in the world, Edwards actually hasn’t fought in the UFC since July 2019. Rocky was initially pegged to face Tyron Woodley on March 21st in London in the main event of UFC Fight Night 171. But naturally, COVID-19 put paid to that entire event.
With Edwards then struggling to make it out of the UK, the UFC were unable to book him in another fight.
But while the pandemic caused the star of Edwards to largely stall out, it also caused another star to rapidly rise. At the start of 2020, nobody had heard of Khamzat Chimaev. And when the Chechnyan was signed on late notice to fight John Phillips at UFC Fight Island 1, few eyebrows were raised.
However, Chimaev blew observers away with his performance, as he submitted the Welshman in the second round. And just 10 days later, he was back in action, stopping Rhys McKee in another dominant showing in the first round.
With the hype around Borz quickly growing, the UFC decided to give him a trickier test in the form of veteran Gerald Meerschaert. However, this test lasted just 17 seconds, as Chimaev knocked him out cold with a single right hand.
So with this in mind – Chimaev being arguably the UFC’s hottest prospect and Edwards being a true title contender on an eight-fight win streak – it’s easy to see why this was considered one of the most highly-anticipated contests of 2020.
However, with COVID-19 striking again, the fight has now been postponed. Reportedly, Edwards has contracted the virus – and it’s been suggested that Rocky has suffered a “severe case,” too. UFC fans will now be hoping that the native of Birmingham recovers quickly – allowing the promotion to re-book this potential classic for early 2021.