Four fighters who stepped up on short notice to save the UFC

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Over the course of the last week, we saw the card for UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi drastically change. It was originally set to be headlined by a rematch between UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev and the man he dethroned to become the king, Charles Oliveira. It was also set to be supported by Russian sensation Khamzat Chimaev in a mouth-watering clash against another Brazilian in Paulo Costa.

However, both Brazilians scheduled to compete at the event had to pull out of their respective fights. In their place, the card had been somewhat upgraded. Makhachev defended his 155-pound title against featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in a rematch of their epic encounter from earlier this year.

Former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman also accepted the challenge of going up in weight to face the terrifying Chimaev. Websites providing UFC betting odds online made both stand-ins huge underdogs, with the former priced at +200 and the latter at +260, but nothing can be taken away from either man with both of them showing tremendous bravery.

As fans of UFC, we often see fighters who have been training for months to prepare for a big bout only to pull out at the last minute. However, as one door closes, another one opens, with the withdrawal providing an opportunity for another fighter to become a legend. Unfortunately, not all risks reap the rewards however, these fighters that have taken the challenge head-on gave us some of the most memorable moments in UFC history.

Nate Diaz Submits Conor McGregor at UFC 196

We all remember the hype leading up to UFC 196. Conor McGregor – fresh off of knocking out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to become the undisputed featherweight champion – was set to take on Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight title. Unfortunately for the Irishman, a foot injury forced the Brazilian champion to pull out of the fight. In stepped Nate Diaz on barely 11-days notice. If anyone thought Stockton’s favorite son would be over-roared by the occasion immediately needed to think again.

The trash talk in the build-up to the contest was second to none, and it had fight fans enthralled before either fighter had even made their way to the Octagon. The hype led to over 1.65m people purchasing the pay-per-view, the most in UFC history at the time. Many had tuned in to see if the Notorious hype train would roll on. However, Diaz was ready to shock the world.

Despite heading into the bout as a heavy underdog, the Californian managed to survive an early McGregor onslaught. Then, when the Irishman began to tire in the second round, Diaz went for the kill. He landed a number of heavy strikes before sinking in a Rear-Naked Choke to get the submission victory. After the bout, he delivered one of the coldest lines of all time. “I’m not surprised Motherf***ers.”

You might not have been Nate, but the rest of us certainly were…

Michael Bisping Knocks Out Luke Rockhold at UFC 199

When Chris Weidman suffered an injury in the build-up to his world middleweight championship rematch with Luke Rockhold, opportunity knocked for Britain’s Michael Bisping. After over a decade in the UFC and after losing not one but two world title eliminators, “The Count” may have thought that his title opportunity would never come. Then, when it did, it came on a mere 17-day notice. 

The champion entered the bout as a heavy favorite, especially considering the fact that he had comfortably defeated Bisping barely two years prior. But Bisping had other plans. He knocked out Rockhold in the very first round with a ferocious left hook to become Britain’s first UFC champion and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest fighters in company history.

Jorge Masvidal Loses to Kamaru Usman at UFC 251

Jorge Masvidal has always been known for his fighting spirit, so when Gilbert Burns had to withdraw from UFC 251 due to an illness, “Gamebred” stepped up on just six-days notice to face Kamaru Usman for the welterweight championship. Despite the short notice, the UFC’s resident BMF gave an impressive performance, showcasing his trademark striking and defensive skills. He would ultimately lose the contest, with the champion’s grappling game simply too much to handle. But he gave a great account of himself in the process.

Al Iaquinta Loses to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223

Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is perhaps the most cursed fight in UFC history. Dana White attempted to put the bout together no fewer than five times. However, it was scrapped each and every time… The same thing happened at UFC 223, where the two were set to square off for the lightweight championship, which had just been stripped from Conor McGregor due to inactivity. Initially, Max Holloway stepped up to replace the injured Ferguson on six days’ notice however, he was deemed unfit to compete at the weigh-in following a particularly strenuous weight cut.

Up stepped unranked Al Iaquinta on barely one day’s notice to fight the most feared fighter in the lightweight division. And to be fair to him, he did a decent job considering the circumstances. He was dominated in each of the five rounds. However, he survived and heard the final bell. That is something that the likes of McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje cannot say.

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