The cancellation of UFC 151 and Jon Jones’ refusal to fight is still the hot topic among MMA fans everywhere. Jones turned down a short notice fight with Chael Sonnen that would have saved the event, citing lack of preparation time. The stance has polarized fans and fighters alike, with some saying that asking Jones to fight a new opponent on such short notice was unreasonable. Others have said that Jones disrespected the fans and the sport by refusing to fight and forcing the UFC’s first cancellation.
The irony here is that Jones himself was given the fortune of a short-notice fight against a champion, as his fight with Shogun Rua only came about due to an injury to Rashad Evans.
While Jones declined to step up, there are headliners that have agreed to switch opponents on short notice. These fighters decided that despite less than optimal preparation time,they would rather fight and give the fans their money’s worth, as well as picking up a cheque themselves that evening.
Tito Ortiz: UFC 50 vs. Patrick Cote
UFC 50 was to be a continuation of the feud between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock’s Lions Den. The card was to be headlined by a trilogy fight between Ortiz and Guy Mezger. But Mezger had to pull out of the fight during fight week after being hospitalized with stroke-like symptoms. THE UFC scrambled for a replacement opponent and decided to go with then-unknown Patrick Cote, who was to make his UFC debut on the undercard. Despite only having four days notice, Ortiz agreed to the fight. Cote made a good accounting of himself, even dropping Ortiz in the first round with a punch. But Ortiz recovered and was able to use his superior wrestling to outlast Cote en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Wanderlei Silva: Pride Shockwave 2004 vs. Mark Hunt
Pride Shockwave 2004 was to have featured a double main event, with Fedor Emelianenko rematching Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Wanderlei Silva facing off against Kazushi Sakuraba for a fourth time. Ferdor-Nog went off without a hitch, but just two days before the event, Sakuraba had to pull out with an injury. Pride matchmakers inserted the 280 pound “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt into the equation, and Silva agreed despite his new opponent having a completely different style and weighing 130 pounds more than the one he was preparing for. The fight saw Hunt eke out a controversial split decision victory that is disputed to this day, and perhaps just as importantly, debuted the “Atomic Butt Drop”.
Matt Hughes: UFC 56 vs. Joe Riggs
UFC 56 was to be the culmination of The Ultimate Fighter Season 2, with both coaches, Rich Franklin and Matt Hughes respectively, defending their titles at the event. But when original challenger Karo Parisyan suffered a hamstring injury leading up to the fight, the UFC asked Hughes to fight Joe Riggs, who ironically was training with Hughes at the Miletich Fighting Systems camp at the time. Riggs jumped at the chance and the champion Hughes agreed, but the decision proved to be a poor one for Riggs. He was shown the door by MFS, missed weight for the fight, thus causing the fight to be switched to a non-title affair and was submitted in the first round.
Hughes has also stepped up on other occasions on short-notice, fighting GSP in their trilogy fight after Matt Serra was injured preparing to face Hughes, and taking on Thiago Alves at UFC 85 in a card-saver when just about everyone else of name value on the show dropped out due to injury.
Rich Franklin: vs. Wanderlei Silva UFC 147
UFC 147 looked like it was going to be a PPV disaster when it became known that Silva’s original opponent Vitor Belfort had to withdraw from the fight with a hand injury. Franklin was preparing for a later fight with Cung Le, but agreed to rematch the dangerous Silva to keep the card alive. The two put on a great sequel to their UFC 99 bout, with Franklin taking a unanimous decision in the end.
Franklin also stepped up on short notice to fight Chuck Liddell at UFC 115 when Tito Ortiz’s neck problems forced him to withdraw from a planned trilogy fight with Liddell. Franklin’s willingness to fight kept the UFC with a viable main event for their Vancouver debut and his first-round TKO of Liddell signaled the end of the line for “The Iceman”.
Lennox Lewis: vs. Vitali Klitschko
Ok, so it’s not MMA. But you have to admire Lewis for taking this fight on ten days notice when original challenger Kirk Johnson was injured. Rather than cancel the event, Lewis took a much tougher fight and a fight that proved to be the final chapter in his illustrious career. Klitschko and Lewis battered each other for six rounds, with many thinking that Klitschko was ahead on the scorecards against the champion. But a nasty cut above Klitschko’s eye impeded his vision and his face eventually required 60 stitches. The cut caused the fight to be stopped, sending Lewis off into retirement on a winning note.
Whether you support Jon Jones’ decision or not, there is precedent for headliners taking fights on very short notice, and in the case of a guy like Lennox Lewis, people with much larger bank accounts and much more to lose.