The injury bug that wreaked havoc on the UFC in 2012 has been relatively quiet in the new year. In the first three months of 2013, only one major bout has been affected by injury, with Rory MacDonald being forced out of his rematch with Carlos Condit at UFC 158. While the talented young Canadian was the first high-profile fighter pushed to the sidelines, he certainly won't be the last.
When Swedish media outlets Sportspegeln (Kimura.se) and SVT.se reported yesterday that Alexander Gustafsson would be unable to compete in his bout against Gegard Mousasi due to a cut suffered, it appeared as if another name had been added to the injury list.
The news spread quickly throughout the MMA community, and as the story developed, reports varied regarding whether or not "The Mauler" would be medically cleared in time for his main event showdown at UFC on Fuel TV 9. Despite speculation the bout would be called off, UFC President Dana White told ESPN the scrap between Gustafsson and Mousasi was still intact.
Whether White is biding time, doing damage control or providing fans with an honest update on the situation remains to be seen. But where there is smoke there is typically fire, and the promotion is yet to offer any official information on the matter.
If the scenario does end up being true, and Gustafsson can't compete this weekend, the UFC will be faced with limited options and a very short amount of time to rectify the situation. It is undoubtedly an unenviable situation to be faced with and one that could certainly occur again down the road as the promotion's summer schedule ramps up.
A Packed Agenda and Thin Fight Cards
For starters, injuries can occur at any time and are impossible to forecast. While that sounds simplistic and is most likely an understood truth, it is best to get that out of the way from the jump. That being said, fighters becoming injured and pulling out of scheduled bouts has become somewhat commonplace in mixed martial arts, and while these circumstances can't be avoided entirely, there are things which can be done to ensure the fallout isn't disastrous.
It is a unique case at UFC on Fuel TV 9 because the event was targeted in a specific international region with the card being built around that country's most popular mixed martial artist. Both events the UFC has held in Sweden have sold out rapidly, and losing Gustafsson less than a week out from the fight would be a problem that could not be easily solved.
The best the UFC could hope to do would be to deliver a solid card despite the main event being scrapped, but a quick look at the lineup reveals the next big issue in the situation.
In the past when the UFC has lost a main event fighter on one of their cards and there hasn't been enough time to find a suitable replacement, the promotion has bumped the co-main event up into the headlining slot and moved every additional bout on the card up from its previous position.
With this weekend's event in Sweden, there is no good option outside of Gustafsson and Mousasi. If the promotion cannot find an opponent for the Dutch-Armenian to face, moving TUF alum Ross Pearson and Strikeforce convert Ryan Couture would be a tough sell. Granted, when there are few options available, you have to work with what is in hand, but it would be a difficult pull nevertheless.
In all honesty, when the bout between Gustafsson and Mousasi is stripped away, the lack of depth on the card at UFC on Fuel TV 9 becomes painfully obvious. Two of the bouts feature fighters coming off losses (Mitrione/De Fries and Pickett/Easton), where the remaining two fights involve fighters who lack name recognition.
The issue of depth on this particular fight card could very well be the result of it being a regionally targeted event, but with the UFC beginning to fill out the rest of the calendar year, the promotion will likely face a handful of scenarios where the cards aren't lined with stars. There simply aren't enough established names in the sport to guarantee multiple high-profile bouts per card, but a solid co-main event would at least provide a safety net should problems arise.
A New Target for "The Armenian Assassin"?
If Gustafsson is ultimately pulled from the card due to the cut he suffered in training, this would leave Mousasi standing alone at the top of the event's billing. The task of finding a suitable replacement in high-profile bouts is difficult enough when there is time to spare, and next to impossible to pull off when the clock is ticking.
Mousasi is one of the most dangerous strikers in mixed martial arts and finding an opponent to step in against him without time to prepare is a reach. Not only that, but also finding a matchup that is worth the 27-year-old's risk has to be factored in as well.
When news of Gustafsson's injury hit the headlines yesterday, TUF alum Tom Lawlor took to his Twitter account to announce he would be willing to step up and fight Mousasi. "Filthy" is slated to face Michael Kuiper on the preliminary portion of the card, but the biggest issue at hand is the respective divisional standing of each fighter.
Mousasi has won three consecutive bouts and five out of his last six, while Lawlor came up short in his most recent showing. It is understandable that the promotion has to use what is available, but a potential matchup between Mousasi and Lawlor doesn't make any sense.
Another issue at hand would be the availability of the other top-ranked light heavyweights under the UFC banner. Every 205-pound fighter with several wins collected or name recognition is either booked up or is just coming off a fight. This makes the possible options to face Mousasi extremely limited.
Another option would be to reschedule the bout between Gustafsson and Mousasi for a later date. The Team Alliance fighter's cut won't take long to heal, and when the importance of the bout to the lightweight title picture is factored in, moving the fight to an upcoming card makes tremendous sense.
Then again, this could all work out if Gustafsson is able to fight on Saturday and the event goes off without a hitch. While this scenario would undoubtedly be the best outcome imaginable, the situation has shed light on issues that need to be faced as the year goes on.