Being ready to compete on short notice is perhaps the quickest way to jump several rungs up the ladder. And in mixed martial arts (MMA), the opportunities are readily available given a dropout rate that often hovers near 30 percent on some recent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight cards.
Any manager getting a call for a short-notice fight has some calculated thinking to do in a compressed period of time, weighing the opportunity costs of winning versus losing, while knowing that even in defeat, a "yes" to the call for a substitute opponent will generate at least some short-term goodwill on behalf of the promotion.
It can generate some of the sport's most memorable moments. If you're a hard-core fan, you had to enjoy seeing longtime veteran Brian Ebersole fill for Carlos Condit against Chris Lytle and grind out an impressive decision win. Since then, Ebersole has been a true soldier for the promotion, racking up three wins, before stepping in on short notice last month at UFC 149 and dropping a competitive decision loss to James Head.
Short notice goes both ways, more often than not to the detriment of the guy filling in.
That's what I was thinking while watching Buddy Roberts fight Yushin Okami Saturday night (Aug. 11, 2012) on the UFC 150 pay-per-view (PPV) main card. Getting to the UFC is tough enough, and often as much a product of random breaks and how a fighter exploits them, or is exploited by them.
Roberts, riding a six-fight win streak, stepped in against Okami, who'd seen two consecutive opponents drop out. After Luiz Cane, and then Rousimar Palhares scratched, Roberts stepped in, having seen his own bout on the card with Chris Camozzi nixed when Camozzi was injured.
This surely wasn't the way Roberts, who trains with Greg Jackson, envisioned his first high-level UFC test.
He'd gotten a win in the promotion under his belt in his debut decision over Caio Magalhaes, which is a huge achievement in terms of generating momentum and getting first-time jitters out of the way. Ideally, he'd get a chance against someone at Camozzi's level, and maybe a fight or two later get an Okami. But opportunity knocked -- in no small way underscored by the UFC calling and needing a main-card sub against Okami -- and Roberts took it like a trooper.
He did well enough early, landing some strikes and giving Okami a decent battle before eventually being overwhelmed by the former top Middleweight contender's top control and ground and pound, losing by second-round technical knockout. It makes you wonder what a guy like Roberts could do with a little more seasoning and time to prepare for an elite opponent like that.
It's something I always file in my mind as a caveat on short-notice fights.
Like when Jamie Varner started strong against Joe Lauzon, only to fade because it was obvious he simply didn't have the time to fine-tune his conditioning (Varner was late sub for the injured Evan Dunham). The game moves on and tomorrow's another opportunity.
But, it's definitely something you can't forget. Fighters win with the world at their side, but they lose alone, more often than not on short notice.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonprobst.