Injuries changing cards has been one of the biggest themes of the UFC in 2012, so why should Saturday’s year-end show be any different?
A fighter withdrawal has affected three of the five main card bouts (thankfully not the main event). This presents a tremendous opportunity for three fighters who stepped in as late replacements.
One-time highly-ranked lightweight Jim Miller has not fought since May, when he lost to Nate Diaz in a bout that could have potentially earned him a title shot (Diaz went on to fight Benson Henderson for the belt earlier this month). It was Miller’s second loss in three fights, his other coming against Henderson in August 2011; that snapped a seven-fight win streak which had people talking potential title consideration for the Jersey fighter.
Suddenly, Miller had fallen from people’s consciousness and he didn’t even have another fight scheduled for 2012.
Then, an injury to former No. 1 contender Gray Maynard opened the door for him to step in and take on the popular veteran Joe Lauzon, who has won three of his past four (his only loss was to former WEC champion Anthony Pettis). Not only that, but because of an injury to Forrest Griffin, the new matchup was elevated to second billing.
From limbo to co-main event. Not a bad way to celebrate the holiday.
Of course, it meant getting whipped into shape, and not enjoying traditional Christmas grub. But considering the AMA Fight Club product’s work ethic and focus, that shouldn’t be a problem. And now he has a chance to get back to the forefront in the UFC’s 155-pound class.
And the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt could find himself in an advantageous position. While Lauzon is no slouch in the grappling department with 18 career submissions, you’d have to give Miller the edge on the ground, especially over Lauzon’s original opponent Maynard, who is primarily a wrestler. If Miller returns to his old form, he has a chance to really make Lauzon look bad. In fact, that’s his plan.
Meanwhile, getting a chance to really catapult himself up the middleweight ladder is Constantinos Philippou. The man who goes by Costa has been making noise for some time, riding a four-fight win streak since a loss in his UFC debut. But that was a catchweight bout — and also late-replacement duty — and he is undefeated in the Octagon at 185 pounds.
Philippou missed out on his first shot at the big show when he lost his opening elimination bout on The Ultimate Fighter 11. But he’s made the most of his second chance, including beating eventual TUF 11 winner Court McGee in March, followed by another decision over Riki Fukuda in July.
He was then supposed to fight Nick Ring at UFC 154 in Montreal before the Canadian became sick the day of the fight. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Philippou. When top contender Chris Weidman came down with an injury, the Cypriot was available to slip in for the biggest fight of his life against Tim Boetsch.
What was supposed to be a potential title eliminator between Weidman and Boetsch now has a slightly different tone. If Boetsch wins impressively, he’ll keep his spot “in the mix,” as UFC president Dana White likes to say. But should Philippou pull off the “upset” (some oddsmakers have him at even money), he’ll quite possibly supplant Boetsch in the rankings.
That would make for quite a 2012 for Philippou — and a nice consolation prize after thinking he’d have to settle for just two wins on the year.
While Miller and Philippou find themselves with good fortune, the man with the biggest opportunity is undoubtedly Derek Brunson. It was an extremely tough year for the former Strikeforce fighter. Undefeated heading into 2012, he was supposed to fight former champion Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza in March but couldn’t because Ohio wouldn’t let him compete while wearing contact lenses.
He immediately rectified the situation, getting a Lasik procedure to rectify his eyesight. But before getting his shot at Souza, he took a last-minute fight in June against Kendall Grove in ShoFight for a title and lost, by controversial split decision. He then returned to Strikeforce in August and was subsequently KO’ed in 41 seconds.
A two-fight losing streak isn’t the kind of record you expect to afford you big opportunities. But he was set to be part of the cast of the next TUF season. That is, before he was pulled due to a contractual issue.
A vocal Christian, Brunson must have held on to faith that when one door closes, another opens. An injury to Karlos Vemola just last week meant the UFC needed a late replacement for a fight against Chris Leben, and they called on the 28-year-old.
He’s going from losing two in a row to a main card appearance on the year-end show, so you can understand if he got a little pumped about his early Christmas present.
UFC 155 Derek Brunson vs Chris Leben . Words can’t express how excited I am . Thank you Jesus !!! Time to show up… fb.me/14div5o8A