UFC 294 has experienced another dramatic switch-up barely more than a week away from the event at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi on October 21st with the news that Paulo Costa is now officially out of his co-main event fight with Khamzat Chimaev after suffering a staph infection on his recently operated on elbow that’s going to require him to undergo another surgery.
However, just as earlier this week when featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski was drafted in as a late replacement for Charles Oliveira against Islam Makhachev in the main event, the UFC has produced another impressive rabbit out of the hat by unveiling former welterweight champ Kamaru Usman as a short-notice replacement for Costa to fight Chimaev.
“You have been waiting for the co-main event,” White announced to fans. “Costa is hurt, all the rumours flying around, we got it done. ‘The number four welterweight in the world Khamzat Chimaev is moving up to middleweight and he will face the number one welterweight Kamaru Usman.
“So number one versus number four at middleweight, Usman versus Chimaev, we will see you in Abu Dhabi.”
It’s a bold decision for Usman to face one of the most feared fighters on the roster, not only on just over a week’s notice, but also competing a weight class above the division where he once ruled the roost.
And on top of that it comes at a time when Usman is in the unusual position of having suffered two losses in a row, with both coming against his nemesis Leon Edwards, who shocked the world when he beat him with a last-gasp head kick KO last year to seize the belt and then narrowly defended it via majority decision in their rematch back in March.
Of course it’s worth remembering that before that the 36-year-old Usman was one of the top-of-the-food-chain pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, riding a 15-fight winning streak in the UFC that included five successful defenses of his welterweight title.
During that time he beat a who’s who of 170lb talent, including the likes of Colby Covington (x2), Jorge Masvidal (x2), Gilbert Burns, Tyron Woodley, Sean Strickland and even Leon Edwards himself.
However, one rising force of nature in the division who he didn’t cross paths with at the time was the unbeaten Chimaev, who is currently on a six-fight winning streak that’s seen him split his time between running through opponents at both welterweight and middleweight, beating the likes of Kevin Holland, Gilbert Burns, Li Jingliang and Gerlald Meerschaert along the way.
With the hype surrounding Chimaev this is a huge challenge for Usman, but that goes both ways as ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ brings a completely different set of skills to the table than Costa, and his wrestling prowess makes for a fascinating stylistic clash with the 29-year-old’s own revered skills on the mat.
So it’s another late switch-up at the top end of the card that actually manages to not diminish the quality of an eagerly-anticipated event, but as with the main event it’s just very unfortunate that both fighters didn’t have a lot more time to prepare for each other.