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Late Replacement Main Events: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Jared Jones

In a year that has seen nine pay-per-view headliners slip through the UFC’s fingers, Cain Velasquez’s injury and subsequent removal from UFC 180 might the biggest blow of them all (I hear a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs is to blame for all this). The TUF curse has now gone international, folks, and while I’m not prepared to start nailing the UFC’s coffin shut, I will say that the champ’s most recent injury has cast an ominous shadow over the UFC’s first trip to Mexico.

Then again, the UFC was able to book a hell of a replacement opponent for Fabricio Werdum in Mark Hunt, and an interim title fight between the two is probably the best thing us fans could ask for, all things considered. Late replacement main events are always a mixed bag, but before we start rioting, let’s all take a deep breath and try to remember a few last-minute headliners that actually worked out…

The Good

UFC 128: Shogun vs. Jones

(This and all photos hereafter via Getty.)

That’s right, the event that marked the beginning of the end for light heavyweights with title aspirations was never meant to happen.

Having just ended the Machida Era™ at UFC 113 in stunning fashion, Mauricio Rua was actually scheduled to face Rashad Evans at UFC 128 until a knee injury forced the latter out of the contest. Rua, who had just had his own knee repaired following the Machida fight, was then matched up against a resurgent and likeable at the time contender named Jon Jones, who had unleashed an And-1 mixtape of asskicking on Ryan Bader just two events prior.

Although it was Rua who held the tremendous experience edge, it was Jones who would dominate the fight from start to finish. Flying knees, oblique kicks, and likely an eye poke or five from the challenger had Rua in defense mode until a particularly vicious knee put him away in the third round. Despite being called up to the biggest fight of his life on a month’s notice, Jones emerged a champion and sent a chilling message to the rest of the light heavyweight division.

That message: “Hey pussy, are you still there? None of you will ever defeat me.”

UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort

Every fan remembers where they were the day Greg Jackson killed MMA. Me, I was out on my lanai, sipping on a mango mojito and discussing the DOW with a few fellow aristocrats, when suddenly, my phone was aburst with talks from the Twittersphere of Dan Henderson tearing his ACL.

“This…cannot be,” I said under my breath (as not to alert my esteemed colleagues of my MMA fandom and risk losing their respect forevermore).

But alas, it had been, and Henderson’s injury was only the beginning. Shortly after the news of Henderson’s injury broke, the stateside hoodlum Chael Phinneus Sonnen stepped up and offered to fight Jones on 24 hours notice in his infinite bravery. After a quick consultation with master Jackson, Jones declined the fight, leading to the cancellation of the event and a firm tongue-lashing from his employer.

But still, the UFC was in spin mode. They needed their light heavyweight title fight to come to fruition and they needed it forthwith. They offered short-notice rematch opportunities to Mauricio Rua and Lyoto Machida, but were somehow denied on both occasions. That left only one brave soldier for the job: Vitor Belfort (pronounced like Stephen Colbert).

And indeed, Belfort put on a hell of a show at UFC 152, pardon my French — nearly securing an armbar victory early in the first round. But because Jon Jones is truly more machine than man, he overcame the early storm and submitted his foe with an Americana in the fourth.

From tragedy, the UFC was able to generate a small victory, 450,000 pay-per-view-buys, and $1.9 million dollars in live gate cash. It doesn’t get much more triumphant than that.

UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw

UFC 173 was originally meant to house a middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort, until that damned TRT ban forced “The Phenom” to take a temporary leave from MMA. Weidman was then matched up against Lyoto Machida, and for a brief second there, UFC 177 ticketholders were able to breath a sigh of relief, the fools.

But then, as champions of the modern era so often do, Weidman went down with an injury (likely while rescuing a blind man from a fire), pushing his fight against Machida back to UFC 175 in July. Once again without a true main event, the UFC sought to pair bantamweight champion/PPV juggernaut (lol!) Renan Barao against top contender Raphael Assuncao. But theennnnn, it was revealed that Assuncao was still nursing a rib injury and would be unable to fight.

So what do you do in this situation? You throw TJ Dillashaw – who was scheduled to fight Takeya Mizugaki that night anyway – against Barao, have Goldie and Rogan yell about what a beast this fresh-faced Aryan youth actually is, and yadda yadda chalk this thing up as a loss. Just like that, you’ve got yourself UFC 177: F*ck It.

Barao came in as a ridiculous 10-1 favorite over Dillashaw, and most of us expected the fight to be over within a round, for Urijah Faber was the king of the Alpha Males and even he was smoked by Barao in their previous encounter. But oh, how we were wrong.

For five straight rounds, Dillashaw absolutely tooled Barao, utilizing a Cruz-esque offensive attack to keep a literal step ahead of the champ before finishing him with a head kick in the fifth. Just like that, the Barao Era™ had ended. While UFC 173 may not have been a financial success, its main event was one of the most thrilling in recent memory, and a reminder of just how great and unexpected our oft troubling sport can be.

Of course, more often than not, late replacement main events fall into two other categories, “Bad” and “Ugly”, so let’s gather our pitchforks and torches and look at a few prime examples…

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