News broke today that UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra will be unable to make his first title defense against Matt Hughes at UFC 79: "Nemesis" on December 29 because of a herniated disc in his back that he sustained during training.
Hughes still has the option to compete on the New Year's Eve weekend card, according to a report from Dave Meltzer at Yahoo!Sports.com, as long as he agrees to terms on a new opponent. Meltzer provided two such names: Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves.
Here's the snip:
"According to a UFC official, if Serra is out for a long period of time and Hughes agrees to fight on Dec. 29, the two most likely candidates to for an opponent would be Jon Fitch or Thiago Alves. Josh Koscheck and Diego Sanchez are both coming off losses, and Sanchez has talked about cutting to 155. "
MMAmania.com (www.mmamania.com) can confirm that Fitch is not available to fight that weekend. In fact, he told us today, "I'm not even going to be in the country. I'll be in Vietnam tending to some personal matters."
That leaves Alves if the report is indeed accurate, which would be a major opportunity for the American Top Team (ATT) team member. However, "The Pitbull" did just fight a two-round war with Chris Lytle this past weekend at UFC 78: "Validation" in which he came away with the win because of a doctor stoppage (cuts).
It would vault him into top contender status virtually overnight if he could defeat Hughes. On the other hand, Hughes would risk losing a potential title shot with a loss -- there's no real advantage to taking a fight with Alves much less anyone else.
Remember not too long ago Serra was put in the same situation when then-champion Georges St.Pierre pulled out of their fight at UFC 67:"All or Nothing." Serra opted to wait and fight "Rush" two months later and, well, the rest is history.
Hughes did have this to say in a recent blog post:
"As of now, Matt Serra is out of the fight because of a herniated disc in his lower back. I believe Serra is actually hurt, so I don't think this is just a ploy not to fight. Before my Royce fight, I had three bulged discs that I was able to repair enough to fight. As everybody knows you never go into a fight 100%."
Having said all of that it would be extremely bizarre for Hughes to take a fight instead of Serra without knowing the full extent of the injury. If it's serious and he's on the shelf indefinitely, then yes, he's going to have to fight someone else.
Short of that it'd be best to sit tight and let this situation play out in the next few weeks and months. There's always UFC 82 in March right in his backyard -- a card that Fitch plans to be on ... Josh Koscheck, too.