After an excellent night of fights at UFC 220, where Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic put on classic performances to set up a planned July superfight, the UFC landscape quickly descended into a February lull.
With the Super Bowl and Olympics dominating the February sports schedule, the UFC opted to fill the month with an unspectacular UFC Fight Night 125 card headlined by the aging Lyoto Machida, and a PPV card headlined by Yoel Romero-Luke Rockhold for the UFC Middleweight Championship — a fight UFC was forced into once former champion Robert Whittaker was injured.
Whittaker’s injury further complicated matters for UFC, as the New Zealand-raised fighter was meant to be the exclusive main-attraction draw for the show in Perth, Australia.
But UFC 222 was supposed to serve as the bounce back from a shaky start to 2018. Headlined by UFC Featherweight champion Max Holloway and the veteran Frankie Edgar, the 222 card was frontloaded with one of the potential fights of the year.
Understandably so, as the fight between Holloway and the legendary former UFC Lightweight champion in Edgar could sell a card on its own with little need for a co-main event.
Then, news of Holloway’s withdrawal from the UFC 222 card surfaced via ESPN, scrapping the title fight with Edgar. While the injury is still unspecified, it puts the UFC’s plans for the first quarter of 2018 into a further tailspin after a winter filled with injury cancellations.
In just over one calendar month, the UFC faced six different changes to either a main or co-main event to a scheduled 2018 card.
Since I know you all love this game: Max Holloway's UFC 222 withdrawal marks the SIXTH main or co-main event change to the UFC calendar so far in 2018.
— Mike Bohn (@MikeBohnMMA) February 3, 2018
In a sport as violent as MMA, injuries that force the sudden change of a scheduled event are engrained into the nature of the business. However, the scope of the problems the UFC has faced in early 2018 in regards to injuries is unprecedented and sets them up for an uncertain two month period ahead of April 7’s UFC 223 megacard.
The prospect of an early spring blockbuster headlined by Tony Ferguson-Khabib Nurmagomedov and a co-main event featuring the rematch between Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jędrzejczyk is a light on the end of the tunnel.
Right now, the focus falls on damage control for a second straight PPV card after the fiasco caused by Robert Whittaker’s injury cancellation. The federation must salvage the UFC 222 card without Holloway — a difficult prospect for the UFC brass, who are left without a main event just one month out.
With no co-main event to push to the top of the card, a quick scramble to put a matchup worthy of selling a PPV is a tall task. Right now, it appears the tentative plan for the UFC is to push Edgar down to the co-main event in a fight against Brian Ortega and attempt to schedule TJ Dillashaw-Cody Garbrandt 2 for the main event.
Not finalized, but the current plan is Edgar vs. Ortega in a non-title fight on March 3. And if that gets done, then they’d hope to have a new title fight (TJ vs. Cody 2 has been discussed) as the headliner. Still fluid at the moment. Developing.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 3, 2018
Ariel Helwani spoke to TJ Dillashaw’s coach, who indicated that Dillashaw and the camp wants a fight against Demetrious Johnson before any potential rematch with Garbrandt. Garbrandt responded to those comments with the classic Twitter trash talk that is a staple in the build to any fight in 2018, further stoking the flames towards a preferred emergency fight.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 3, 2018
Hey bang! Your fighter needed help to the stool after round one! You know what it is! Lighting doesn't strike twice, take the fucking fight bitchass mfers! I accepted! Balls in your court. @TJDillashaw
— Cody Garbrandt (@Cody_Nolove) February 3, 2018
Dillashaw-Garbrandt 2 could certainly restore excitement but would come at the cost of a potentially bigger fight between Demetrious Johnson and Dillashaw. A fight Dillashaw has been clamoring for prior to his title win over Garbrandt. Dream fights such as Dillashaw-Johnson are the fights the UFC are leaning towards in 2018 and a loss or injury sustained by Dillashaw in a short notice rematch against Garbrandt is certainly in play if they rush the two back into the Octagon to save UFC 222.
For this reason, Dillashaw quickly dismissed the notion that he would be entering the Octagon to defend his title on such short notice. Dillashaw also cited he is currently not training due to his newborn son, another factor that has it looking highly unlikely the UFC or Garbrandt will have much luck into goading Dillashaw into rushing into things.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) February 3, 2018
It is a difficult situation for the UFC and the reality is two top names will now need to rush back into the Octagon on under one month’s notice for a championship fight of some stature to fulfill the obligation of running a PPV card on March 3.
At the moment, things are extremely uncertain for the next two months. Holloway’s injury serves as yet another reminder of how chaotic things can become for the UFC’s scheduling of fights when injuries begin to compile.
My momma always said MMA cards are like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get. I know some surprises suck. But some are good. Stay with me so you don’t miss the good ones brother https://t.co/lrcINomjv1
— Max Holloway (@BlessedMMA) February 4, 2018
Now onto the sixth change to a marquee fight inside of the first 50 days of 2018, the hope inside the UFC offices is to survive these next two months and survive before a spring and summer of blockbuster fights and PPV sales.
If another significant injury happens before spring blooms and the snow melts, the UFC’s 2018 could spiral into full-scale madness.