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UFC Can’t Catch a Break as Injury Bug Hits Again

By on November 29, 2009

gabriel gonzagaIt appears as if the UFC will start 2010 off with the kind of bad luck that the company has probably never seen before, injury-wise.  With the announcement that Gabriel Gonzaga has withdrawn from his UFC 108 fight against Junior dos Santos (due to a staph infection in his arm), yet another proposed bout for early 2010 has fallen by the wayside.

If you’re not keeping track- and it is somewhat hard to, at this point- here’s a rundown of the many planned fights that have had to be postponed, cancelled or otherwise tossed aside.

Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin– Lesnar’s title defense against Carwin- which was highly anticipated due to Carwin’s size, wrestling, an eagerness to get under Lesnar’s skin- was supposed to go down in November.  It makes this list because when Lesnar’s mysterious illness first began, it was initially just going to be pushed back until January.  Instead, it just became one of three title fights that were looked at for 2010’s first UFC event, but ultimately done away with.

Now, Lesnar is involved in one of the most bizarre storylines in MMA history.  Without so much as an authoritative word on his condition through much of this time (early reports from Dana White were very vague, though he didn’t mind speculating on whether Lesnar would ever be able to fight again), we’ve heard his jiu-jitsu coach say that he’ll be ready in “six months” and others say that his career may be in jeopardy.  As for Carwin, well, we’ll get to him later.

Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort- Another idea for headlining one of next year’s events (UFC 109) was to have Silva defend his middleweight title against apparent number one contender Belfort, who hasn’t fought as a middleweight in the UFC since, well…ever.  Still, whether or not Belfort had earned a place in front of Nate Marquardt or Dan Henderson, fans were excited about the bout, and Silva had already gotten the smack talking off to a surprisingly quick start, calling his fellow Brazilian “lost”.

Unfortunately, Silva had some routine, yet  necessary, surgery on his elbow, and as of this moment still has not been cleared to have a full training camp.  Recently, Silva has jokingly said he wanted to strangle his doctor for not clearing him, but it looks like he’ll have to hold onto that aggression until the spring of 2010, at earliest.

Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua- This, like some of the others, was not set in stone, but word was that the UFC wanted it to happen in January at UFC 108.  White wanted an “immediate rematch”, and both guys seemed game, but it turned out that Machida had injured his hand and wouldn’t be ready by then, after all.  The rematch has been postponed until May 1, meaning it will have been a little over six months since the original fight.

In this case, other than the disappointment of having to wait to see these guys settle it for good, the delay may not be so bad, after all.  Without a clear cut top contender beyond Shogun (who many thought was undeserving of the title shot in the first place, although he obviously changed a lot of minds at UFC 104), the rest of the division could use another few months to sort itself out.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez- Yet another planned UFC 108 main event was a fight to set up the next challenger for the title after the apparently-cursed Lesnar-Carwin title fight.  This was not to be, either, as Nogueira, like Gonzaga, had a staph infection that set back his training.  Unlike in his fight against Frank Mir, where his infection seemed to age him by about fifteen years, Nogueira made the smart move this time and swallowed his machismo, deciding to wait until he’s healthy to face the tough Velasquez.

This fight has not been set back as far as the others, as it will now be aimed for UFC 110, which will also feature Wanderlei Silva vs. Michael Bisping. In the meantime, talk persists of a possible showdown between Carwin and Velasquez for an interim UFC Heavyweight Championship (which I’m not in any way a fan of), but it is unclear if that is being set aside due to the Velasquez-Nogueira fight still happening.  Perhaps the winner of that bout will take on Carwin for the meaningless placeholder belt, if Lesnar is still not looking anywhere close to ready by next spring.

So, what are we left with, after all of this?  UFC 108 will be headlined by Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva, in a fight that may determine the next fighter in line for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, depending on whether Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is serious or not about setting fisticuffs aside in favor of being a full-time thespian.  Meanwhile, UFC 109 will have the decidedly pedestrian matchup between UFC Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Mark Coleman as its main event.

Let me say right off the bat that I’m interested in seeing both of these fights.  Evans is a dynamic and explosive fighter, and Silva was regarded as one of the top young fighters in the sport before he looked utterly ineffective (who doesn’t?) against Machida.  Meanwhile, I actually look forward to Couture-Coleman; I have believed for some time that fighters of advanced age in this sport (Couture has been the notable exception) should face their contemporaries, rather than fighters half of their age.  I’m also always more interested in fights between competitors with similar strengths (ie two good wrestlers or strikers) than the supposedly “classic” striker vs. grappler matchup.

Are either of these particularly sexy choices to main event a UFC pay-per-view, though?  Absolutely not.  Even if they were, Coleman is not a sure thing to advance to UFC 109 unscathed and ready to fight, anyway.  He has had to pull out of two of his four planned UFC fights since his return, as bouts with Lesnar and Tito Ortiz never came to fruition…perhaps to Coleman’s benefit.

I guess the question is, what can the UFC do to avoid these problems in the future?

One thing that should be looked at, even if it is not a sure-fire solution, is the integration of bantamweight and featherweight classes into the UFC.  It’s time for those who haven’t taken the time to turn on a WEC event to see such fighters as Jose Aldo, Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres, Mike Brown and Urijah Faber.  With the UFC running so many events each year, and with champions seemingly fighting less and less often for some reason, more viable options for headlining pay-per-views would come in handy.

E-mail Jon Hartley

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