As recently as a week ago, UFC 213 shaped up as perhaps the first great MMA pay-per-view of 2017.
Now? Well, maybe not quite so much.
Saturday’s fight card from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas still looks perfectly fine, headlined by a women’s bantamweight title fight in a rematch between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko as well as Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker for the interim middleweight championship.
But with just a handful of days left before we all plunk down $60 to watch on PPV, the ghost of Robbie Lawler’s welterweight slobber-knocker against Donald Cerrone still haunts our dreams.
It was six days ago that MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas broke the news that Cerrone was injured and out of the hotly anticipated 170-pound fight. Since then, the bout had been shuffled off the UFC 213 card and onto UFC 214 on July 29.
“Here’s the deal. ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is a stud. He’s too tough for his own good. He absolutely wanted to fight. The kid’s got a pulled groin; he’s got a bruise from his knee to the inside of his groin. And his other knee is blowing up; he’s got staph infection. Could he come out and fight? Probably. Should he come out and fight Robbie Lawler with a pulled groin? No, he shouldn’t. We’re going to get him healthy and remake the fight.”
Here’s what Cerrone had to say to fans in an Instagram post shortly after his withdrawal was announced:
This is the second time Lawler vs. Cerrone has been postponed. The first time, the bout got called off just days after it was announced in November 2016, when Lawler reportedly decided he needed more time to prepare.
This time, we got so, so close.
To add to UFC 213's troubles, Lawler vs. Cerrone wasn't the only high-profile bout to fall by the wayside, either. UFC events typically lose a few proposed scraps between their announcement and fight night, but this time the losses hit especially hard.
Remember, T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt were originally intended to settle their feud with a fight for the men's bantamweight championship here. Of course, that was before Garbrandt pulled out with a back injury, leaving Dillashaw to hunt around for another fight.
Still, the disappearance of Lawler vs. Cerrone is the biggest disappointment. Because make no mistake, seeing these two high-energy, no-nonsense headhunters go at it is the stuff MMA legends are made off.
At the moment, Cerrone stands at 4-1 since moving up to welterweight in February 2016. His most recent appearance was a second-round TKO loss to Jorge Masvidal in January 2017, but 17 performance-based fight-night bonuses to Cerrone's name during his UFC/WEC career attest to the fact the Cowboy is one of White and Co.’s most popular attractions.
That popularity is as durable as Cerrone himself. Even after the Masvidal loss and now this delay, expect his momentum to merely keep on trucking.
The same can be said for Lawler, who spent a year-and-a-half as 170-pound champion from December 2014-July 2016. Lawler was also going off as the slight favorite, according to OddsShark, leading up to the moment their UFC 213 clash got scratched.
OddsShark analyst Justin Hartling summed up our expectations for this bout about as well as anybody could when the first five words of his breakdown were: “I hope you like violence.”
What MMA fans will likely get from Lawler and Cerrone—whenever they finally make it to the cage together—is nothing short of full-scale warfare.
Now, though, UFC 213 will have to soldier on without this attraction, and it remains unclear how much sights (or the event's PPV buyrate) will be lowered because of it.
Nunes is nearly a year into her reign as 135-pound champion, but so far doesn’t seem to have been launched to superstardom by either her championship win over Miesha Tate at UFC 200 or her first-round TKO over Ronda Rousey at UFC 207.
Likewise, Shevchenko shapes up as a bit of an enigmatic challenger in Nunes’ first title defense. The fact she just lost to Nunes in the pair's first fight at UFC 196 in March 2016 doesn't do the marketability of this matchup a ton of favors, either.
It’s probable that matchmakers would’ve rather had either Holly Holm or Juliana Pena vying for the title in this spot, but Shevchenko beat both of them in back-to-back appearances.
Nunes vs. Shevchenko is an interesting clash between two high-level strikers and will likely be a good enough scrap to delight hardcore fans, but—in the parlance of White himself—it’s unlikely to move the needle on PPV.
The same could be true of Romero vs. Whittaker.
This interim middleweight title fight is as intriguing a pure physical matchup as we’re likely to get in the Octagon all year, but it features two men who haven't proved themselves as significant draws.
The 26-year-old Whittaker is riding a seven-fight win streak, but is a freshly minted title contender after his second-round TKO over Jacare Souza in April 2017. Meanwhile, Romero has been circling a championship opportunity like a shark since soon after his UFC arrival in 2013.
But can the hype for this matchup carry a fight card on its own? No way.
Add a heavyweight fight between Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem and a lightweight tussle pitting Anthony Pettis against Jim Miller to its four fight card and you've got all the makings of a fine Saturday night.
UFC 213 is a decent PPV. It’ll be a good event—better than average, considering the way 2017 has gone so far.
But it’s no longer the blockbuster it looked like a week ago.
And we have the loss of Lawler vs. Cerrone to blame for that.