Two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez has withdrawn from the main event of UFC 196, citing a back injury.
UFC officials on Sunday announced that Velasquez, who was set to rematch current champion Fabricio Werdum, will be replaced by Stipe Miocic in the pay-per-view headliner. UFC 196 takes place Feb. 6 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, with a three-round welterweight contest between Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson serving as co-main event.
Injuries are nothing new for Velasquez, whose most recent title reign lasted two and a half years but saw the 33-year-old defend his belt only twice before surrendering it to Werdum in a June 2015 submission loss. Velasquez has previously undergone surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and has also been sidelined with a knee injury.
Shortly after the news was announced, Velasquez authored a Facebook post in which he apologized to fans and Werdum, and stated that he would have risked long-term damage if he chose to fight through the injury.
“Training camp has been difficult for the last few weeks,” Velasquez wrote, “But sometimes no matter how much the heart and mind want to fight through an injury, healing has its own timeline. We thought we’d get through it, but we had to face the truth that it wasn’t going to be OK in time to fight.
“All of us fighters have all fought injured at one time or another, but I can’t ignore this injury, as my doctor has indicated that not addressing the problems with my sciatic nerve could have longer-term consequences.”
Werdum, 38, sits atop the UFC throne with a six-fight winning streak, unbeaten since transferring to the promotion from Strikeforce in February 2012. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace has showcased improved striking in recent outings, battering Velasquez on the feet before securing a choke and scoring a knockout win against heavy-handed kickboxer Mark Hunt.
Miocic, 33, comes fresh off a Jan. 2 victory against Andrei Arlovski which saw him knock out the onetime UFC champ in just 54 seconds. The Ohioan has won five of his last six, including three stoppages, with the only defeat coming in a December 2014 setback against Junior dos Santos.