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When fighters step up on late notice for high-profile bouts and succeed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the payoff can be enormous.
Yoel Romero filled in for the injured Robert Whittaker and faced Luke Rockhold in what was supposed to be an interim middleweight title fight at UFC 221 on Saturday in Perth, Australia. While a failure to make weight cost the American Top Team brute an opportunity at interim gold, his rousing third-round knockout of Rockhold made sure he would be next in line to challenge Whittaker for the undisputed championship at 185 pounds later this year.
This is not the first time accepting a fight on short notice turned into a career-altering moment, nor does it figure to be the last. Others have been tapped to help raise sinking events and in doing so came through with performances that reshaped their respective divisions.
If you remember, Michael Bisping’s time also came at Rockhold’s expense in their rematch at UFC 199, where “The Count” replaced an injured Chris Weidman. The two had squared off once previously, with Rockhold submitting the Brit in a lopsided affair; as a result, Bisping was a heavy short-notice underdog. However, Rockhold encountered a different Bisping the second time around, as he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner knocked out Rockhold in a stunning upset to become the new middleweight champion. Bisping went on to defend the title in a rematch with former tormentor Dan Henderson before being choked unconscious by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 217. Nevertheless, the decision to fight on short notice and his success in avenging two of his career losses only strengthened Bisping’s legacy.
Another example: Nate Diaz called out Conor McGregor at UFC on Fox 17, only to have his mic cut due to his use of foul language. The subject was broached again a few months later, when an injury forced Rafael dos Anjos to withdraw from his UFC 196 pairing with McGregor. On 11 days’ notice, Diaz answered the call. He made the most of his chance, as he handed the “Notorious” Irishman his first UFC loss and ignited one of the biggest rivalries in MMA history. The tension was so great between the two that an immediate rematch was booked for UFC 202, where McGregor was awarded a majority decision in one of the year’s best fights. Talk of a McGregor-Diaz trilogy bout continues to this day and figures to be one of the sport’s greatest spectacles if it ever happens.
Like Romero, Bisping and Diaz, T.J. Dillashaw capitalized on a short-notice opportunity. UFC 173 required a new main event when a proposed showdown between Weidman and Vitor Belfort fell through. In stepped Dillashaw, who faced Renan Barao for the bantamweight championship. He was a sizeable underdog to Barao but shocked the MMA world by stopping the Brazilian with a fifth-round head kick and a barrage of follow-up punches. The upset and two subsequent title defenses painted Dillashaw in new light and provided him with notoriety he still enjoys nearly four years later.
No matter what you may think about Romero and his inability to make weight Down Under, his decision to jump the gun and step into the cage earlier than anticipated paid massive dividends. Win or lose against Whittaker, the risk was worth the reward for a 40-year-old who does not have time on his side.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.