UFC 213 kind of stumbled over itself, swallowed up by the hoopla surrounding a war between Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson and a carousel of withdrawing headliners. Initially positioned to headline International Fight Week, the event landed with something of a thud despite a few watchable fights. One of the main reasons the event sputtered was the incredibly late withdrawal of women’s ...
UFC 213 kind of stumbled over itself, swallowed up by the hoopla surrounding a war between Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson and a carousel of withdrawing headliners. Initially positioned to headline International Fight Week, the event landed with something of a thud despite a few watchable fights.
One of the main reasons the event sputtered was the incredibly late withdrawal of women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, herself only thrust into the spotlight when Cody Garbrandt bailed on a bout with TJ Dillashaw last month, who pulled herself from a title defense only hours before she was to lock horns with Valentina Shevchenko as a result of sinusitis.
The decision was polarizing based on what fans, media and other fighters were saying once her pulling out was announced. Some felt she should have fought while others felt she was within her rights to drop off the card at the last minute, but there was no person in the sport that wasn’t voicing an opinion.
Regardless of where a person stands on the legitimacy of a champion pulling out hours before a fight, its happening afforded an opportunity to look back over the course of UFC history and consider some similar instances, where big names were booked for big fights but never made it to the cage.
Nunes’ actions weren’t unprecedented entirely, but given the late notice of her withdrawal it will go down as one of the more unique and shocking circumstances in which an athlete didn’t make the walk.
Here are five other famous times when someone didn’t show up for work as a result of pulling out.
Royce Gracie was likely the baddest man on the planet in 1994. He was 7-0 in mixed martial arts (back when it was still “no holds barred” and groin punching was as technical an achievement as an anklelock) and no one had come particularly close to challenging him.
That all changed on the evening of UFC 3 when he took on fellow legend Kimo Leopoldo, a hulking specimen who walked to the cage with an enormous crucifix on his back just for something of a warmup.
The bout was the type of stomach churning cruelty that attracted many to MMA’s earliest days in North America, with the massive Kimo smothering and wailing on Gracie. The weight difference was upwards of a hundred pounds in Kimo’s favor, and he used every bit of it to pound on Gracie for duration of the bout.
Still, in the moment that may have truly established him as a fighter’s fighter instead of an unparalleled bully using a skill no one else had to overmatch his foes, it was Gracie who came out on top.
Nearing five minutes of caged hell against Kimo, Gracie slapped on an armbar from bottom position and secured the tap, pushing his win streak to eight straight UFC bouts and leaving many a jaw agape at what had just been witnessed.
Due to exhaustion he was forced to withdraw from the remainder of the tournament—Kimo serving, unapologetically, as an opening opponent for him—making for the first time in UFC history that Gracie wouldn’t be named champion of the one-night event he’d help push into the limelight.
It was the promotion’s first shocking withdrawal, and also made Steve Jennum a tidy piece of trivia for those wondering who won UFC 3 once Gracie bowed out.
Chuck Liddell had Tito Ortiz’s number.
If there ever comes a day that someone sits down to write the unquestioned history of mixed martial arts, this is a tenet that will be chiseled into whatever stone tablet they’re using to keep track of things.
Liddell beat Tito both times they fought, first at UFC 47 and then again at UFC 66. In both instances Ortiz was badly overmatched and ended up on the wrong end of the years of fury Liddell had built up after their friendship soured.
Even so, it appeared there was no adequate amount of punishment Liddell could dole out to his nemesis, as he signed up to coach The Ultimate Fighter opposite Ortiz in 2010. All those weeks in the gym listening to Ortiz and dealing with that tension would have a payoff for Liddell though, who would get a third fight with him at UFC 115 once filming wrapped.
Only Ortiz never made it. In fact, he never even made it to the end of filming the show.
Citing a neck injury, Ortiz withdrew from the show and the fight and was replaced by Rich Franklin. Franklin went on to fight Liddell at UFC 115 and memorably knocked The Iceman cold despite suffering a broken arm during an exchange early in the bout.
The loss was Liddell’s fifth in six fights and third straight, and it sent him into retirement. The whole thing was triggered by Tito’s withdrawal however, and he might well be kicking himself to this day that it wasn’t he who got to retire his most hated rival.
Most people remember the UFC 151 kerfuffle for what it meant to Jon Jones, and to the promotion itself. After all, there was a protracted narrative involving Dana White calling Jones and his coach, Greg Jackson, sport killers on the way to cancelling the whole event outright.
There’s a case to be made that their professional relationship never recovered after that, though it probably hasn’t been helped by the plethora of dreadful life choices Jones has made since.
Either way it’s worth remember that the whole thing came about because of a fighter withdrawal though. That fighter was Dan Henderson, and he pulled out of a light heavyweight title shot against Jones a mere nine days prior to their slated meeting.
An utter carousel of madness ensued, with the UFC hustling to find a replacement and very few suitors raising a hand to take on the best fighter who ever lived on such short notice. Chael Sonnen offered and the UFC liked the idea, but Jones didn’t and he refused the bout outright.
Sonnen eventually got his crack at Jones, suffering a fairly thorough beating.
Henderson never did get a chance at Jones, save for an exhibition grappling match in 2016 while Jones was suspended for various regulatory misgivings, and regretted it for some time afterwards.
Jones moved past the whole thing to the tune of continued excellence in the cage, but suffered a shocking fall from grace outside of his sport and is presently approaching a chance at redemption at UFC 214.
UFC 151 remains one of only two pay-per-view events the promotion ever cancelled entirely, and it all started with Henderson pulling out of the main event.
Jose Aldo had something of an issue with pulling out of fights during his featherweight title run. Hell, the very first UFC featherweight title fight he was ever booked for got canceled when he pulled out.
You could probably do a list of his most famous pullouts, actually.
Be that as it may they didn’t come any bigger or any more infamous than his withdrawal of his scheduled defense against Conor McGregor at UFC 189.
The two parties had spent months chirping at one another through the media, with McGregor taking the lead and repeatedly calling the champion’s name on his way through the ranks. Aldo alternated between ignoring him and dismissing him, that was until the Irishman could be ignored and dismissed no more.
They were booked for UFC 189, and all the associated hoopla ensued.
There was a lengthy, worldwide press tour that provided hours of amusement. There was the constant pressure on Aldo to perform against his greatest nemesis. There was McGregor, an undeniable, irresistible force ready to transcend the entire sport.
And Aldo simply elected to scrap the whole thing.
A little less than two weeks out the Brazilian, citing a rib injury, pulled out of the biggest fight of his life and left Chad Mendes to take on McGregor for an interim title. One nuclear left hand told you everything you needed to know about that replacement, with McGregor securing the title and a chance to unify the belts a few months later.
He did just that, notoriously ending Aldo’s undefeated run with the same left hand and needing only 13 seconds to do so.
There’s a real pattern prevalent with the opponents booked to square off with Conor McGregor. Actually, it’s one consistent, recurring occurrence: They don’t show up.
The aforementioned Aldo was among the most famous, but there were plenty of others along the way as well. If not more famous than Aldo, Rafael Dos Anjos was one who was absolutely on the same level.
Dos Anjos was set to defend his UFC lightweight title against McGregor, the sitting featherweight champion, as McGregor looked to be the first man to ever hold belts in two weight classes at the same time. Nine days out from his chance to do that, he withdrew from the fight with a nasty ankle injury and in so doing also withdrew McGregor’s chance at history.
So he went out and made history of a different kind, with a different opponent.
Nate Diaz emerged from a yacht in Cabo to challenge McGregor in a massive pay-per-view grudge match that expanded conceptions of what could be done in the realm of short notice promotion of a fight.
The event sold like hotcakes to anyone with even a passing interest in regulated violence, popularized on the backs of two of the most brash athletes under contract, both of whom come from a time where “anyone, anywhere, anytime” is more than just a mere utterance of cliché.
Diaz won in shocking fashion, giving rise to a rematch that was the biggest selling pay-per-view in UFC history at UFC 202, but the whole saga began as a result of the Dos Anjos pulltout.