LOS ANGELES — Heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum says he is pulling out of his title fight at UFC 196 on Feb. 6.
Werdum announced his decision Monday, one day after Cain Velasquez pulled out as Werdum’s opponent at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The injured Velasquez was swiftly replaced by Stipe Miocic. After a day to think about it, Werdum decided he couldn’t continue to fight through his own injuries while formulating a game plan against a new opponent.
The UFC didn’t immediately confirm a change or announce a replacement fight for the main event of its traditional Super Bowl weekend show.
"I was already injured," Werdum told MMAFighting.com. "I have a foot injury and haven’t been able to throw kicks in training for two weeks. I would still fight Cain because I was injured the last time, but I also hurt my back last Friday. I went to the doctor, tried to continue training, but couldn’t spar as I should spar. I decided not to fight because I’m not 100 per cent. If Cain was the opponent, I would go on."
The 38-year-old Werdum (20-5-1) claimed his title in Mexico City last year with a submission victory over the injury-plagued Velasquez (13-2), who has fought just once since October 2013.
Velasquez cited a back injury Sunday when he dropped out of the rematch. Werdum initially agreed to fight Miocic (14-2), a veteran contender who beat Andrei Arlovski by opening-minute knockout last month.
But the Los Angeles-based Werdum changed his mind and left the UFC scrambling for a centerpiece to an important pay-per-view show.
The penultimate fight at UFC 196 matches former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks against Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson — a solid mixed martial arts matchup, but likely not a heavy pay-per-view seller.
Veteran heavyweight Josh Barnett immediately volunteered to fight Miocic for an interim title belt. Barnett is scheduled to take on Ben Rothwell at a UFC show in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday.
"If they want a heavyweight championship main event, I’m your man," said Barnett, who returned from a 21-month cage absence with a win over Roy Nelson in September. "I’ll go in. I’ll take care of business, and I’ll give them what they want, what they need, which is a healthy, motivated championship fighter."
Miocic is the No. 2 heavyweight contender in the UFC’s internal rankings, while Barnett is No. 8. But Barnett has a championship pedigree: He held the UFC heavyweight title after beating Randy Couture in March 2002, only to lose it due to a failed drug test.
The loquacious Barnett has lost only to Travis Browne and UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier since 2006, and he hopes Werdum’s misfortune creates an opening for another shot at his former title.
"It’s just like when you see a hot chick break off from some other dude trying to talk to her and roll up to the bar solo," Barnett said. "Opportunity, man. Opportunity — to get shot down again, but this time it’s fighting, so I won’t fail."