In what will likely go down as one of the least surprising stories of 2016, heavyweight top contender Cain Velasquez is pulling out of the UFC 196 heavyweight championship match with Fabricio Werdum. His replacement? No. 2-ranked Stipe Miocic.
UFC President Dana White made the announcement on Twitter:
Cain Velasquez is out with a back injury. Stipe vs Werdum for the heavyweight championship February 6th. pic.twitter.com/vPRJYJvOjL— Dana White (@danawhite) January 24, 2016
Velasquez's injury is a huge break for Miocic. While the Cleveland native has long been one of the heavyweight division's best fighters by combining an under-appreciated wrestling base with solid, technical boxing, poorly timed losses and a lack of name recognition have kept him along the periphery of the heavyweight title picture.
While White has previously suggested decision-makers were on-board with a Miocic title shot following UFC 196, the value of the UFC president's word is at an all-time low. What's more, current free agent Alistair Overeem, who owns a recent win over Werdum, was poised to cut in front of him, should he re-sign with the UFC. Replacing an injured Velasquez was one of the few ways Miocic could have ended up in a title fight without taking on another incredibly high-risk fight.
Seriously, Cain’s career is one of so much potential derailed by injury. Sad.— Jeremy Botter (@jeremybotter) January 24, 2016
As for Velasquez, this is another hard blow for the former champ. Many questioned whether or not it was wise to give an oft-injured fighter a bout for the title with other viable options available, and even more debated whether or not he was even deserving, given Werdum's history with veterans like Andrei Arlovski and Junior dos Santos.
This latest issue, however, robs him of the opportunity to become a three-time UFC heavyweight champion. He issued a statement on Facebook detailing why he pulled out of the fight. "Training camp has been difficult for the last few weeks," he said. "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."
Velasquez fans can rest easy, however as he promised a comeback by saying, "I will get this taken care...I will heal and will come back and show you the Cain Velasquez you all deserve to see." When and where he comes back, however, will likely remain a mystery for several months.