What a difference a year makes: UFC injuries and opportunities


Just one of the many fights that didn't happen.

It's difficult to believe, but it was roughly a year ago that opportunity knocked on the door of fighter Jon Jones to snatch the Light Heavyweight crown from Mauricio Rua, and he made good on that chance. Throughout the past 365 days and change, there have been several fighters who have used injuries of other fighters as an opportunity to leap into the big time, while others have suffered as a result.

I looked back over the past year at what was, what might have been, and what never happened:

UFC 127, February 27

It was Feb. 27 last year when Carlos Condit was scheduled to face Chris Lytle. Carlos was coming off a brutal KO of former Welterweight number two Dan Hardy, while Lytle was on a career resurgence with a four-fight win streak, including a revenge win over former TUF alumni Matt Serra. A knee injury forced Carlos out of the matchup just 18 days before the fight, putting relative unknown Brian "chest hairow" Ebersole into the cage to presumably get worked over by the veteran Lytle. Instead, Ebersole cleaned the mat with Lytle, launching his own career resurgence that today stands at 3-0 in the UFC.

UFC Sanchez vs Kampmann, March 3

When the door closes for one fighter opportunity knocks for another. Brazilian middleweight Miquel Falcao was coming off his debut win over Gerald Harris and was set to fight Alessio Sakara. But Falcao was injured, leading to a replacement with Rafael Natal. But just 19 days before the fight Natal injured his knee, making way for the debut of unknown fighter Chris Weidman. The two-time All-American wrestler won the fight against Sakara 30-27 unanimously, launching his four fight winning streak into the echelon of the Middleweight division.

UFC 128, March 19

This was supposed to be Rashad Evans' first title fight after being knocked out by Lyoto Machida way back on May 23, 2009. But fate was not with Evans, who injured his knee, making way for Jon Jones' magnificent destruction of Mauricio Rua. Had Evans not gotten injured, who knows what the division matchups might have looked like.

UFC Nogueira vs Davis, March 26

The main event was actually supposed to be Lil Nog against Tito Ortiz, but Tito caught a giant gash on his forehead during training, leading to a big hole in the main event. Fortunately, the UFC had about five weeks before the event and slotted wrestler Phil Davis in his place, who went on to dominate Lil Nog. This was only significant because it leap-frogged Davis into the top of the division. Nogueira fought Ortiz at UFC 140 anyway, and won.

UFC 129, April 30

Although welterweight juggernaut Jake Ellenberger mauled relative UFC newcomer Sean Pierson by KO in the first round of their undercard matchup, the UFC didn't design this mismatch. Pierson was originally scheduled to face Brian Foster, a fighter more on his level, but 18 days before the event Foster pulled out of the match because an MRI scan showed a brain hemorrhage. Although it was a mismatch, it contributed to Jake's rise in the division, setting himself up for a matchup with Jake Shields.

UFC 130, May 28

Rampage always seemed too experienced and too strong a fighter to lose to Matt Hamill. But that fight might not have ever taken place if Thiago Silva, who literally spanked Brandon Vera at UFC 125, had not tested positive for banned substances and received a one-year suspension.

Also on that card, Brazilian phenom Renan Barao was set to battle Demetrious Johnson in his UFC debut. Brad Pickett, however, was forced from the card with an injury, changing the matchup to Cole Escovedo against Barao, while Mighty Mouse went on to battle Miguel Torres. What's interesting about this change of plans is that Johnson's win over Torres granted him his bantamweight title fight against Dominick Cruz. Considering how good Barao has looked, what would have happened if the two had fought on this card?

UFC 131, June 11

Everyone knows the Brock Lesnar fight against Junior dos Santos fell through, which led to a match between Shane Carwin and dos Santos instead. It's a shame for Carwin, since he was coming off a loss against Brock Lesnar and was set to face Jon Olav Einemo. Carwin likely would have beaten Einemo in that fight. Instead Dave Herman, who was supposed to fight English fighter Rob Broughton, beat Einemo, who was originally scheduled to fight Joey Beltran. The Mexecutioner instead fought Aaron Rosa, winning by technical knockout in the second round.

But that's not all. Court McGee was coming off his TUF finale win against Kris McKray, and was set to fight Jesse Bongfeldt. But Court tore his MCL during training camp, letting Chris Weidman step up once again. This was the second fight in a row that Weidman took on short notice and won.

UFC Kongo vs Barry, June 26

Matthew Riddle was meant to fight TJ Grant on this card, but the ever unreliable Riddle pulled out and was replaced by Charlie Brenneman. Just days before the event, however, Grant became ill, cancelling the bout. To make matters worse, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson was supposed to fight Nate Marquardt, but as we all know by now, he wasn't medically cleared and was later cut by the UFC. That's when Rick Story made the mistake of his career, agreeing to fight Brenneman on a day's notice, losing a decision in the process and halting his meteoric rise in the welterweight division.

UFC 132, July 2

Evan Dunham was set to face George Sotiropoulos, both fighters coming off losses. But Dunham was injured and replaced by Rafael dos Anjos, who made the most of his opportunity by knocking out the Australian in the first round. Sots hasn't fought since.

Meanwhile, Jason "Mayhem" Miller was going to fight Aaron Simpson in his UFC return, but that was cancelled when he agreed to do the TUF season with Michael Bisping instead. What might have happened if Miller fought Simpson instead of the embarrassing turnout he had against Spits?

UFC 133, August 6

Rashad Evans was going to fight Jon Jones way back in August, but Jones pulled out with an injury and Davis agreed to step in because Evans had already waited a significant amount of time for a title shot and was beginning to get rusty. Although a Lyoto Machida rematch was rumoured, Tito Ortiz, coming off a cocky win over Ryan Bader, agreed to rematch Evans after their draw at UFC 73. Evans won by domination.

Also of interest, Vladimir Matyushenko was set to face Alexander Gustafsson, but Vladdy pulled out of the fight July 13, leading to a match with Matt Hamill. After losing by TKO in the second round, Hamill would go on to retire from MMA. What might have happened to Hamill's career if Vladdy's fight with Gustafsson had gone ahead then instead of later at UFC 141?

As well, an interesting fight between Lil Nog and Rich Franklin never happened after Nogueira sustained a shoulder injury July 16.

UFC Hardy vs Lytle, August 14

Flailing featherweight Leonard Garcia was set to fight Alex "Bruce Leeroy" Caceres, but Garcia was injured, leading to the debut of unknown fighter Jim Hettes. The judo fighter submitted Caceres in the second round, in the first of two impressive smackdowns that includes Nam Phan.

UFC 134, August 27

Mike Swick (remember that guy?) was supposed to fight Erick Silva in Brazil but Swick, as always, injured himself again. Luis Ramos stepped in and was subsequently decimated as quick as a Quick Swick pick.

UFC 135, September 24

This was supposed to be a Diego Sanchez beatdown of old lion Matt Hughes, but Sanchez broke his hand, being replaced with his hated rival Josh Koscheck. You have to wonder what might have happened if Diego took the fight and won? Would he have fought and lost Ellenberger on Wednesday?

UFC 137, October 29

Rising German fighter Dennis Siver was supposed to fight Canadian Sam Stout, but Stout pulled out, setting up a matchup with Cerrone instead. Siver did not fare well with this change in destiny, losing quickly in the first round.

This was also supposed to be the GSP vs Nick Diaz fight. We all know what happened here. Several possible matchups never happened: GSP vs Diaz, and Condit vs BJ Penn.

UFC 139, November 19

It was originally Vitor Belfort who was supposed to fight Taekwondo master Cung Le. But Belfort was replaced by Wanderlei Silva, which was a good decision for the "Axe Murderer", since it halted a terrible decline in his career with a second round TKO.

UFC 140, December 10

The rise of Brian Ebersole was almost halted when he was set to face Rory MacDonald, whose only previous loss was a controversial stoppage with 11 seconds left against Carlos Condit in a fight he was winning on the judge's scorecards. Fortunately for Ebersole, Rory got injured and was replaced by fellow Canadian Claude Patrick, who lost the decision.

UFC 142, January 14

The whole controversial DQ against Carlo Prater might never have happened if Afghan welterweight Siyar Bahadurzada hadn't pulled out of the fight.

UFC Evans vs Davis, January 28

It was Paul Sass who was originally scheduled to fight Evan Dunham, but after an injury it was Nik Lentz who came to take the beating instead. The undefeated Sass might have been a tough fight for Evan Dunham, who broke a two-fight losing streak.

As well, Cody McKenzie of the McKenzitine fame was set to fight Michael Johnson, but Shane Roller replaced him after an injury. Good for Johnson, since he won the decision.

And as luck would have it, Chris Weidman once again stepped up on 10 days notice to fight Demien Maia, who was originally scheduled to fight Michael Bisping, but took the match against Chael Sonnen instead after Mark Munoz pulled out of that matchup.

UFC 143, February 4

More disappointing than the Diaz vs Condit fight is that GSP vs Diaz was scheduled to take place. Carlos Condit was supposed to fight Josh Koscheck on this card, but when he was reset to fight Diaz, the UFC inserted Mike Pierce.

Another mismatch on this card was Dustin Poirer's decimation of Max Holloway. Well, it was originally supposed to be the more evenly matched Erick Koch, but he was injured and replaced by Ricardo Lamas. Eventually, Lamas also pulled out, leading to the insertion of Holloway.

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