Five times that the UFC had to scramble to save a big event

Alex Pereira and Jiri Prochazka have stepped in to rescue UFC 303
Alex Pereira and Jiri Prochazka have stepped in to rescue UFC 303 [Image courtesy: @ufc on X]

This week has seen some major changes to UFC 303. No longer headlined by Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler, the event has been turned on its head.

UFC 303 is not the first major event that the promotion has had to scramble to save on late notice, and it probably won't be the last.

The nature of MMA means that late changes to cards are always possible, and it's a testament to Dana White and company when they manage to rescue a big one.

With that in mind, here are five times that the UFC had to scramble to save a big event.


#5. UFC 303 (2024)

We begin with the latest card that has had to be rescued on late notice. UFC 303 was set to feature the return of the promotion's biggest star, Conor McGregor, in his first bout since 2021.

Michael Chandler's fight with 'The Notorious' had already been delayed for a long time and many fans believed it'd never happen. When the promotion announced it'd take place this month as part of international fight week, then, the whole fanbase seemed relieved.

Unfortunately, that relief came too early. This week it was announced that McGregor had suffered an injury in training, resulting in the fight being postponed again.

Add in the cancellation of the co-main event between Jamahal Hill and Carlos Ulberg, and the card looked essentially doomed.

However, on Friday it was announced that Dana White and company had put together several new fights, saving the show, at least on paper.

UFC 303 will now feature a light-heavyweight title bout between Alex Pereira and Jiri Prochazka, and a co-headliner pitting former featherweight title challenger Brian Ortega against Diego Lopes.

Sure, it doesn't quite make up for the loss of McGregor, but given the event takes place in two weeks, the promotion has done remarkably well to salvage things. One can only hope that the additional four fighters in action will be compensated handsomely for stepping in.


#4. UFC 222 (2018)

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Brian Ortega is no stranger to stepping in to help rescue an ailing event. Back in 2018, he came in on short notice, also as a co-headliner, to help rescue UFC 222, a show that looked doomed.

Initially, the event would've seen a featherweight title headliner between champion Max Holloway and challenger Frankie Edgar. Exactly a month before the show, though, it was announced that 'Blessed' had suffered an injury and could not compete.

At first, the promotion turned to then-bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw, hoping he'd salvage things by agreeing to a late-notice defense against his bitter rival Cody Garbrandt.

Unfortunately, that wasn't to be, and at one point, the event appeared to be in serious trouble.

Remarkably, though, a surprising savior emerged in the form of then-featherweight queen Cris Cyborg. She agreed to defend her title in a late-notice headliner against debutant Yana Kunitskaya, putting an end - for a while at least - to the theory that she wasn't a company fighter.

With Edgar still available to fight, meanwhile, Ortega came in on around three weeks' notice to face him. 'T-City' ended up scoring the biggest win of his career to that point, becoming the first man to knock out 'The Answer', stealing his title shot in the process.

With Cyborg entertainingly finishing Kunitskaya in the main event, UFC 222 turned out to be a decent enough show in the end. It was another example of Dana White and the company being able to pull a rabbit out of their hat to save the day late on.


#3. UFC 153 (2012)

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Known fondly in some circles as 'The King of Rio', Jose Aldo was a regular choice to headline the UFC's visits to Brazil during his reign as featherweight champion.

However, in late 2012, he saw two prospective bouts fall apart on late notice, seemingly ruining UFC 153 in the process.

Aldo was initially pegged to face Erik Koch as the headliner of the show, which was also set to feature a co-main event between Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson and Glover Teixeira.

With a month to go, though, disaster struck. First Koch suffered an injury and was replaced by Frankie Edgar, and then Aldo himself was involved in a motorcycle accident, ruling him out.

With 'Rampage' sidelined too, the event looked like it was heading directly for the scrap heap.

Thankfully, two of the promotion's biggest Brazilian stars weren't willing to allow an event in their home country to fall through, and stepped in, bailing out Dana White and company.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - who hadn't fought in almost a year after Frank Mir broke his arm - agreed to fight Dave Herman in a new co-headliner. In the main event, then-middleweight champ Anderson Silva accepted a last-gasp fight at 205 pounds with original 'TUF' legend Stephan Bonnar.

Given the star power of 'The Spider', it was hard to view his fight as a step down from one involving Aldo, particularly when he stopped Bonnar in a virtuoso performance.

Add in a pretty inspiring win for Nogueira too, and it's fair to say that the Brazilian fans were sent home happy - making this one a case of job well done for White and company.


#2. UFC 173 (2014)

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UFC 173, which took place in May 2014, is best remembered today for the tremendous performance of TJ Dillashaw. He came into his bantamweight title bout with champ Renan Barao as a huge underdog, but whitewashed the Brazilian, knocking him out in the fifth round to claim the gold for the first time.

What many people have probably forgotten, though, is that Barao saved the event by agreeing to face Dillashaw as the headliner in the first place.

Initially, the event was set to feature three major clashes. In the main event, middleweight champ Chris Weidman was pegged to defend against Vitor Belfort, with two co-headliners underneath - Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic and Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva.

In the end, none of those three fights went ahead, all being pushed back to later events or, in the case of Sonnen vs. Silva, taking place outside the promotion.

Instead, Dana White and company not only put together Barao vs. Dillashaw but bolstered the card with Daniel Cormier vs. Dan Henderson and Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Ellenberger.

All three fights delivered the goods in the end, turning the event into one of 2014's most memorable.

Sure, it didn't go well for Barao, but for White, the event was one of the finest examples of his - and the promotion's - ability to rescue things at the last second.


#1. UFC 279 (2022)

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All of the previous events on this list saw the UFC forced to scramble when a fighter - or multiple fighters - were sidelined with injuries. That wasn't the case in September 2022 at UFC 279.

Instead, Dana White and company were forced to step in when headliner Khamzat Chimaev badly missed weight for his planned bout with Nate Diaz.

'Borz' was supposed to hit the 170-pound welterweight limit, but didn't come close, only managing to make it to 178.5 pounds. Understandably not wanting to face an opponent so much heavier, Diaz refused the fight, forcing the promotion into panic mode.

Remarkably, White and his matchmakers managed to keep their heads cool enough to switch not one, but three fights around on the card, saving things entirely.

Firstly, they moved Chimaev out of the main event, matching him instead with Kevin Holland in a 180-pound catchweight fight, as 'The Trailblazer' had been preparing for a bout at that weight with Daniel Rodriguez.

Secondly, they matched Diaz with Tony Ferguson in a five-round main event, bumping 'El Cucuy' up from his intended undercard fight with Li Jingliang.

That left 'The Leech' to face Rodriguez, with the Chinese fighter agreeing to take the 180-pound catchweight despite weighing in at 170.5 pounds for his initial bout with Ferguson.

Some fans were quick to cry conspiracy around the whole event, particularly as Chimaev and Holland had gotten into a scuffle at a press conference the day before the weigh-ins.

However, the truth was that the promotion simply managed to spin enough plates to ensure the show would go on, and succeeded hugely. The event was one of the best of 2022, and all three thrown-together fights delivered excellent action, making this the gold standard for rescuing a card on late notice.

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Edited by Jigyanshushri Mahanta
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