UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum has withdrawn from UFC 196.
Werdum made the announcement to Brazilian media on Monday, less than 24 hours after challenger Cain Velasquez pulled out of the event.
With Velasquez injured, Werdum was slated to face late replacement Stipe Miocic in the Feb. 5 card’s headliner. Now, the pay-per-view is left without a championship main event. UFC has not announced whether Miocic will remain on the card, or which bout will fill the main event slot. Currently, the co-main event position features a welterweight duel between Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson.
Werdum explained that a back injury suffered in training last week would not allow him to compete against Velasquez, who also went down with a back ailment.
“I’ve been training without kicks for the last two weeks due to a fissure in my toe,” Werdum said. “Even with that, I decided to fight Velasquez. Last time we fought, I had a serious head injury, went 40 days without sparring and fought him.
“Last Friday, I pulled my back. I went to a doctor and did some massage, but today during sparring, I felt a lot of pain and couldn’t train well, so I decided to not fight, since I’m not 100 percent. If Cain fought, I would fight anyway, because we have a story and because Cain has canceled the fight [three times]. First, it was when I fought Travis Browne, the second time was Mark Hunt, and then it happened again.”
Noting that he is not prone to pulling out of bouts, Werdum stated a fact with which MMA fans are all too familiar: injuries are part of the sport. “Vai Cavalo” also said that his current status as champion played into his decision to withdraw.
“It’s not Cain’s fault or anybody’s fault. We all train really hard, and getting hurt is part of our job,” said Werdum. “I’m sure that many fighters have fought out of necessity or not having another option. I’ve always faced everyone and never had a problem to fight. I’ve never chosen opponents. I’ve always accepted all opponents that UFC gave me.
“I took too long to reach the point I’m at now to throw everything away. I’m not a 20-year-old kid anymore. I’m 38 years old, I’m the champion, and it was hard to reach this point. I can’t face an opponent with two weeks to train and not being 100 percent... When I recover in two or three months, I’ll be ready to fight Cain, Miocic or anyone else.”
Marcelo Alonso contributed to this report.