The recent UFC 223 pull-out massacre was a whirlwind of emotions for most. From deserving contenders to superfights to who the hell is going to step in? It was a bizarre set of events.
In actual fact, the anticipation for high caliber fights being pulled is far greater than it was before. With grueling weight cut measures in place, and the fact that athletes are training harder than ever – the frequency has gotten higher and higher.
In the past five years, I went through every UFC PPV event (or numbered event) and studied the original fight cards versus the cards that played out. There are very few cards that actually stayed intact from the moment the fights were announced until fight night.
In this article, I will focus on the most disappointing main event pull-outs in the last five years.
Expect lots of Jon Jones.
Honorable mentions: Jose Aldo vs Anthony Pettis (UFC 163), Daniel Cormier vs Anthony Johnson 2 (UFC 206), Cody Garbrandt vs TJ Dillashaw 2 (UFC 213).
10. Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2 (UFC 176)
Reason for cancellation – Jose Aldo injury
Out of all the Top 10, the pulling of Aldo/Mendes 2 at UFC 176 arguably had the biggest impact.
UFC 176 was set for the Staples Centre in Los Angeles in August of 2014. Jose Aldo had pulled off a stunning flying knee knockout in their last bout, but Mendes was the clear #1 contender after bouncing back with a string of wins.
Less than a month before the fight, Aldo was the bearer of bad news as he was deemed unable to compete due to injury. Instead of seeking an opponent, or bumping up another fight to the main event slot, Dana White and UFC brass pulled the card completely. That’s right, UFC 176 NEVER HAPPENED.
To avoid complications with promotions – the UFC did not alter the numbered events thereafter. UFC 176 became a ghost card in the history books.
Aldo/Mendes 2 was rescheduled for UFC 179 in Brazil, where Aldo took a Unanimous Decision win.
9. TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao 2 (UFC 177)
Reason for cancellation – Renan Barao weight cut complications
What could possibly go wrong after the ghost card of UFC 176? Well, how about a highly anticipated title rematch on top of UFC 177 being CANCELLED.
That’s right, a few weeks following the card that never was, Dillashaw/Barao 2 was pulled from the main event of UFC 177.
Renan Barao had complications with his weight-cut and apparently had fell and hit his head off the bath-tub the night before weigh-ins. He was deemed medically unfit to compete.
The UFC were left in a pickle with only a days notice of the unfortunate circumstances. With no other choice, they took UFC debutant Joe Soto from the preliminary card and gave him a title shot. In his first fight with the promotion.
As expected, Dillashaw went on to dominate and eventually finished Soto in the fifth round. But it was all too much for fans, just a few weeks removed from the cancellation of another high profile main event.
8. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit (UFC 193)
Reason for cancellation – Injury to Robbie Lawler
I distinctly remember when this fight was first announced. And when it was subsequently cancelled.
The contrasting emotions – from pure joy and violence relishing – to heartbreak and public outcry. It really struck a note with fans that Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit was cancelled.
In fairness, it was just over 2 months before the event was set to take place, so the week-of-the-fight heightened anticipation had not been endured. But Lawler/Condit was the ultimate fight for the fans at the time. Every Robbie Lawler fight in recent memory was a war, and every Carlos Condit fight in recent memory was a war. War vs. War = war.
Ironically, the cancellation inadvertently led to the demise of the UFC’s biggest drawing power at the time. Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm was moved from the NYE card to November 15th. We all know how that ended.
Thankfully, fans got to see Lawler vs. Condit in January of 2016 in a Fight of the Year calibre fight. Lawler took that by a very close split decision.
7. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson/Max Holloway (UFC 223)
Reason for cancellation – Ferguson injury, Holloway weight cut issues
Thankfully, this cancellation is fresh in everyone’s minds.
Initially, it was the fight everyone had waited years to see. Two rightful Lightweight contenders – Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. In a fight that should have been heavily overshadowed by the UFC’s biggest draw in Conor McGregor – fans didn’t need much convincing to get excited for this fight alone.
But then, the drama ensued.
Early in to fight week, Ferguson freakishly tripped over a wire on a UFC television set and suffered an ankle injury, ruling him out.
Dana White broke out the contact list and somehow, UFC Featherweight Champion Max Holloway agreed to step up to the plate on a few days notice. Unfortunately for the Hawaiian, it was too little too late, as weight cut issues ruled him out of the fight – understandably.
It was a whirlwind of emotions. Fans couldn’t handle Khabib/Tony being cancelled a FOURTH time. The MMA gods were telling us ‘I told you so’. Then with Holloway stepping in, all faith was restored. We had a superfight.
And neither happened.
It was heartbreak. It was deeply disappointing. But as always, we move on. Eventually.
6. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustaffson/Daniel Cormier (UFC 178)
Reason for cancellation – Injury to Gustaffson, Cormier
Surprisingly it took us several cancellations to get to one associated with Jon Jones. Even more bizarre, this chapter has nothing to do with the man himself.
We all remember Jones vs. Gustaffson – a fight of the ages. One of the best fights in UFC history. Jones claims he underestimated the Swede, but no one can doubt that it was the closest ‘Bones’ came to losing.
The excitement was real for the rematch. The UFC announced it well in advance of September 27th, 2014. That was both good and bad. Good – so the anticipation could build, but bad – as it was enough of a window for one of the fighters to get hurt. Gustaffson was the bearer of bad news.
In stepped Daniel Cormier to save the day. ‘DC’ was a highly touted Heavyweight prospect coming over from Strikeforce, and he had dominated every fight inside the Octagon. The promotion for this fight was real. Both guys visibly did not like each other.
The build-up featured the famous ‘pushing/shoe throwing’ incident where Jones barrelled over Cormier and took the UFC backdrop (and Dave Scholler) with him. Cormier later responded by taking off his shoe and.. missing his target.
‘DC’ had to dampen the hopes of fans this time around, pulling out in mid-August due to an injury. The fight was cancelled and rescheduled to January of the following year.
Two fights that were arguably the biggest in the promotion at the time: both cancelled.
5. Jon Jones vs. Anthony Johnson (UFC 187)
Reason for cancellation – Jon Jones impending legal charges
Amidst the craziness of UFC 223 a few weeks ago – there’s only one other week it remotely reminds me of. And that’s the circus surrounding Jon Jones in late April, 2015.
Jones had bested Daniel Cormier earlier in the year by Unanimous Decision. He now set his sights on ‘Rumble’ – fresh after knocking out Alexander Gustaffson. It was a highly anticipated matchup, and many thought AJ was the perfect flaw for Jones’ game.
As with every Jon Jones fight in recent memory, it came with the usual complications. But this time, Jones really messed up.
One Sunday, on the 26th of April, ‘Bones’ was driving in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his home for several years. Harmless Sunday driving turned in to a ‘Hit and Run’ when Jones ran a red light and hit a car in the process, injuring a pregnant lady.
Jones fled the scene. An arrest warrant was issued. Eventually Jones admitted himself in to police custody and legal proceedings commenced weeks after.
It was a fight we may never get to see. The disappointment that came with it was powerful, considering we didn’t know if Jon Jones would fight again.
4. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson (UFC 209)
Reason for cancellation – Nurmagomedov weight cut issues
Oh god. Here we go again.
As I’ve said before, despite a very congested lightweight division, fans treated Khabib vs. Ferguson as a title fight. This, at the time, was for the interim title (later at UFC 223 for the full belt).
Stylistically, it was treated as a dream matchup. You had the cardio machine/awkward striker vs. the wrestle-grappling monster. What one was good at, the other could counter. What one was weak at, the other could exploit.
It seemed like it was finally going to happen after two previous scheduled dates. Despite being the co-main, fans were treating this as the people’s main event over Woodley vs. Thompson 2 (Which was a good shout in hindsight, as that fight turned out to be boring as hell).
But the MMA gods prevailed once again.
Khabib Nurmagomedov ate a little too much tiramisu (pure speculation) and had weight cut issues. He was admitted to hospital in Las Vegas during fight week and was deemed medically unfit to fight.
It was a huge disappointment. The Lightweight division was crying out for a clear #1 contender to call Conor McGregor out and lure him back to the Octagon. Luck has not been by either fighter’s side, as the fight has failed to materialise four times.
3. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2 (UFC 200)
Reason for cancellation – Media obligation issues with Conor McGregor
This may be a fight that doesn’t place on most lists.
We ultimately got to see the rematch of McGregor vs. Diaz at UFC 202 in August of 2016, almost two months later. But it was the perfect fight for the perfect event, and it should have happened at what was being billed as the biggest event of the year.
International Fight Week always brings the heat, and stacked cards. But when you throw in the UFC’s 200th PPV event, that makes the occasion all the more special.
McGregor at the time, and still is, the UFC’s biggest draw. He attracts fans to the sport. It made perfect sense to put him on this event. The UFC announced the fight, but scheduled McGregor for a press-conference with Diaz in April of 2016 to promote the event.
McGregor, in response, was a month removed from a loss to Diaz, and had become a bit of a recluse following the loss. He demanded he be exempt from making an appearance at the press-conference, and asked to be relieved of all media duties until the week of the fight.
This was too much for Dana White and ultimately became a battle of egos. White refused, and pulled him from the card. McGregor initially responded with a ‘retirement’ tweet – but later refuted the initial claim.
The UFC tried to make amends by booking Jones/Cormier 2 and Brock Lesnar on the card, but it didn’t feel like the event it should have been. Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate ultimately headlined the card when Jon Jones was eventually pulled, which is a good segway…
2. Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier (UFC 200)
Reason for cancellation – Jones fails a drug test
See that face? That’s the face of a fighter that just lost out on a 7-figure payday.
Well, there may have been more attached to it. But there is no denying Jon Jones was going to get PAID. After complications with the law – leading to the cancellation of his fight with Anthony Johnson in May of 2015, Jones was set to return to title contention two years later for redemption. And who better than against his finest foe, Daniel Cormier.
It was the next best option to headline UFC 200 after McGregor/Diaz. Before that rivalry, this one eclipsed them all. The beef was real. The story was real. It was Good guy vs. Bad guy and the fans couldn’t wait for it.
While Jones was out of action serving probation, Daniel Cormier was cleaning out the Light Heavyweight division. Jones’ return fight against OSP left a lot to be desired. Had the game passed him by?
Ultimately, we got to see the answer to that question. But in a week where an event was built to be the ultimate fan friendly experience – it caused nothing but heartache. Jon Jones tested positive for an out-of-competition USADA drug test.
The UFC ultimately pulled him from the card, and they had lost their big money main event. Fans everywhere were devastated. It was the perfect timing for a story so tenured. But it all was lost, thanks to Jon Jones stupidity once again.
We’d have to wait a year to see the rematch come to fruition.
1. Aldo vs McGregor (UFC 189)
Reason for cancellation – Jose Aldo injury
At the time – Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor was the most heavily promoted fight in UFC history.
There was a ‘World Tour’ of press conferences and unprecedented media appearances. It was scheduled for International Fight Week in Las Vegas – having that big feel card to it. Throw in another highly anticipated title fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald, and three exciting main card matchups, and we had ourselves an event.
Aldo was the old guard, McGregor the new. Aldo was the legend, the proven one. McGregor was the emerging star, unproven. It was the perfect rivalry on paper. The build-up was a lot of McGregor having his way with Aldo – but we all ultimately knew that Aldo did his talking in the Octagon. The intrigue level was through the roof.
But this, this was painful. After all the promotion, the excitement, the breakdowns, the anticipation: the fight was cancelled. Jose Aldo cited a rib injury the week before the fight and Conor McGregor was left without an opponent.
I distinctly remember the reaction to this, as being from Ireland, it was like there had been a high profile bereavement. People who hadn’t watched a second of footage inside the Octagon were in mourning. It was crazy.
Chad Mendes became the knight in shining armour and eventually stepped in, but it was not the matchup we had all been captured by.
We did see the fight finally materialise months later at UFC 194, but the MMA gods rid of us of one of the most highly anticipated fights in UFC history.
If only they were a bit kinder.
Thank you for reading, I really enjoyed writing this article and reliving the memories of shock, anger and disappointment… (genuinely). As always, stay tuned to the website for more content. Thanks for all the support.