Although the UFC is beyond ecstatic with Conor McGregor (19-2) facing Nate Diaz (18-10), the path to getting that fight was not easy. As fans know, Rafael Dos Anjos had to pull out of his title fight with McGregor with a broken foot. Fighters pulling out of big fights have happened one too many times in the past. Moving forward, the UFC should book alternates when announcing big fights of a main event in case one of the fighters pull out.
The UFC was scrambling all day on February 23rd to find a replacement for the Irishman. Numerous names included Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Urijah Faber, etc. Some of the fighters declined the offer to fight McGregor, while others were already booked for future fights.
This scenario of fighters pulling out of big fights has happened way too many times. Just recently, Cain Velasquez pulled out of his title fight with Fabricio Werdum earlier this month. Subsequently, Werdum pulled out as well and the pay-per-view event was moved to Fox Sports 1. Jose Aldo had to pull out of UFC 189 with a rib injury against Conor McGregor. Dan Henderson also had to pull out of his title fight with Jon Jones at UFC 151 back in 2012. UFC 151 was then scrapped entirely and became the first cancelled card in the company’s history.
The UFC did get what they want in McGregor vs. Diaz but what if they did not? What if McGregor was pulled from the card entirely? These are things the UFC would not want to see. The easiest solution to avoid these scenarios is to have an alternate fighter signed and ready to fight in the main event in case one of the two fighters pull out.
This is no different than any wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament. Events like those have alternates ready in case one of the competitors cannot compete or get injured in the middle of the tournament.
Critics might say that the UFC should instead “beef” up their cards by providing fans with good fights from top to bottom so that a card is not cancelled or relegated to Fox/Fight Pass. However, it is tough for the UFC to provide fans with big names consistently since there are more than 540 fighters on the UFC roster.
Fans have to realize that the promotion is in a period of time where it is trying to become more mainstream by gaining a wider presence on Fox, expansion of UFC Fight Pass, and introduction of raw and potential talents. Zuffa’s goal is to provide as much content as they can to sports fans. In return, we can only hope that we can see more fighters gain stardom like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey has.
No matter what kind of fighters you have on a card, Conor McGregor will dominate the entire event. The same could be said with Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, or Jon Jones. Fans expect to see these fighters on the card when they first purchase tickets. When one of the fighters pulls out, the entertainment value immediately drops. An alternate would ensure that the card is not juggled up or in danger of being cancelled.
An alternate would also be a much smoother transition for the UFC brass when a fighter pulls out. When Rafael Dos Anjos pulled out, the MMA community was in a panic storm. Countless fighters wanted to fight McGregor. There were numerous rumors and false statements being made. Dana White was scrambling to find someone to fight McGregor after Aldo and Edgar turned down the bout. An alternate or fighter on standby would eliminate all that and would save the PR team a lot of trouble.
The UFC did have a “contingency plan” at UFC 189 when it was first reported that Aldo had a rib injury. In jeopardy of losing the big fight, Chad Mendes was made an alternate two weeks before the fight in case Aldo had to pull out. He eventually did.
The UFC should adopt this policy they had at UFC 189 moving forward with big fights that feature fighters like McGregor, Rousey, Jon Jones, or any highly anticipated fight to avoid catastrophe.