Shockwaves have reverberated around the mixed martial arts world with the announcement that heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has had to pull out of his next title title defence against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180 in Mexico due to a torn meniscus.
With a little over three weeks notice, the No.4 ranked Mark Hunt has now been drafted in to fight Werdum in the event’s headliner, and to keep the stakes high it’s also been announced that they will be competing for the interim heavyweight title.
The UFC’s first trip to Mexico is a big deal for the UFC, fulfulling a long-term ambition for the company and offering the chance to make in-roads into a potentially huge and passionate fan-base.
With that in mind, losing Velasquez, who has strong Mexican roots and is the closest thing the UFC has to a star there, is a huge blow for the card. There’s no hiding that face either as Dana White was previously quoted back in March that they, “won’t go to Mexico without him”, leading to the destination being put on hold until he was fit.
Those words will now come back to haunt him as it’s too late to pull the plug now on the pay-per-view event now and so they’re going to have to soldier on in a challenging new market without him.
The fact that Velasquez is injured again will also lead to concerns about the heavyweight star’s health in general as as the man currently ranked No.5 on the overall pound-for-pound list has appeared to be battle more injuries outside of the Octagon than opponents inside of it over the past few years, with his knees and shoulders taking the brunt of the damage.
Velasquez’s loss is Mark Hunt’s gain though and sees his unlikely UFC fairy tale continue with the biggest fight of his career to date.
Four years ago Hunt’s career looked to have burnt out with four losses in a row, but he had one final card up his sleeve – the UFC owed him fights due to his contract having been taken on during the acquisition of PRIDE.
Initially the UFC wanted nothing to do with him, with Dana White offering to just pay him the money he was due rather than have him fight in the promotion, but ‘The Super Samoan’ showed his courage and determination by managing to convince White to let him compete and earn his keep.
He faltered at the first hurdle, suffering an 80 second armbar submission loss to Sean McCorkle, but then a remarkable transformation took place, with Hunt suddenly finding his feet on the sport’s biggest stage, stringing together four big wins in succession against respectable competition like Stefan Struve, Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo.
A third round title eliminator loss to former champion Junior dos Santos followed, but he rebounded with a majority draw against Antonio ‘Big Foot’ Silva (who would go on to fail a post-fight drug test) in what many consider to have been 2013’s best fight, while his only fight so far this year came at UFC Fight Night 52 last month when he did the unthinkable by knocking out the granite chinned Roy Nelson.
Win or lose, Hunt almost always puts on a good show and has built up a healthy following of fans as a result, and while Werdum’s ground skills have the potential to spoil his night, there’s a story here that the UFC will be looking to milk for all it’s worth in order to keep some of the buzz surrounding the show over the next few weeks.