When it rains, it pours for the UFC.
A single day after Cain Velasquez announced that due to injury, he was dropping out of his heavyweight title fight against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 196 on Feb. 6, Werdum announced he was also withdrawing from the card to address nagging injuries, according to a report from MMA Fighting’s Guillherme Cruz.
It first appeared that the main event at UFC 196 wouldn’t suffer too much from Velasquez’s absence. The UFC named Stipe Miocic as a replacement to face Werdum for the belt, with Miocic coming off a devastating first-round knockout of Andrei Arlovski at UFC 195 earlier this month and sporting a 5-2 record in his last seven fights. However, Werdum’s withdrawal leaves Miocic without a dance partner for one of the UFC’s bigger shows of the year – a show that happens to take place the day before Super Bowl Sunday.
Who could step up to face Miocic on short notice for perhaps an interim heavyweight title? Fellow heavyweight Alistair Overeem stated his intention to test free agency after his TKO victory over Junior Dos Santos late last year. If the UFC needs to convince Overeem to re-sign, there isn’t much better incentive to offer than a guaranteed title shot.
If Overeem can’t or won’t step to the plate for some reason, another candidate might be Ben Rothwell. While he is already scheduled to face Josh Barnett at UFC’s next Fox card on Jan. 30, it wouldn’t take much to convince Rothwell to forego that fight for a title shot. Rothwell is undefeated in his last three fights, with first-round finishes in his last two.
Regardless of how UFC decides to address this situation, it’s another example of UFC putting their eggs in one basket when it comes to putting together pay-per-view cards. You should still remember the infamous UFC 151 debacle in 2012, when an injury by Dan Henderson forced the cancellation of that fight card when then-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones refused to face Chael Sonnen on short notice. That card was basically a one-fight event, as is UFC 196.
The co-main event fight for the Feb. 6 card is currently Stephen Thompson vs. Johny Hendricks. While Thompson is a promising fighter on the rise, and Hendricks is seeking redemption after some recent weight-cutting issues, this fight is not main event-worthy. Unless UFC finds a viable replacement on the level of a heavyweight title fight that it’s in danger of losing altogether, it might be forced to cancel another fight card – this time on the weekend of the biggest football game of the year. It would not be a good look for UFC President Dana White & Co.