Split decision: Is Fabio Maldonado a fair replacement fight for Stipe Miocic?
MAY 07, 2014 2:07p ET
Nearing a top five ranking, Stipe Miocic got thrown for a loop earlier this week when opponent Junior dos Santos withdrew from their May 31 fight with an injury. After a 24-hour search, the UFC came up with a surprise replacement: Fabio Madonado.
While he's riding a three-fight win streak, Maldonado isn't even ranked in his own division, so what exactly will a win over him get Miocic? Does the fight make sense in any way?
Our FOX Sports UFC writers Damon Martin and Mike Chiappetta have differing takes on the subject.
Mike Chiappetta: Heavyweight is a historically thin division in combat sports, so when Junior dos Santos was pulled out of the fight with a broken hand, we knew the pickings were slim. What Stipe Miocic got wasn't even a heavyweight. It's Maldonado masquerading as one for one night. But a look at the heavyweight roster doesn't show much available in the way of comparable talent. Does Miocic deserve better? Probably, yes. But the potential solutions were almost nonexistent. The UFC's next best option would have been pulling Miocic off the card, and after a training camp, that seems even more unfair than an admittedly bizarre matchup.
Damon Martin: Injuries have dismantled some pretty amazing fights in UFC history, but the sad truth is they are part of the sport. There's no way to predict them and there's no easy answer or back-up plan when one occurs just weeks out from a show. Junior Dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic was a great headline bout between two top 10 heavyweights set for the main event at UFC Fight Night in Brazil. Unfortunately, Dos Santos got injured and the UFC was left with very few options so they called upon light heavyweight Fabio Maldonado to step up a weight class and take on Miocic on short notice. Kudos for doing everything possible to save the card and the main event, but when it gets to the point where a fighter like Maldonado, who could probably be a middleweight on the Dolce Diet, is the only option left, maybe it's time to start reevaluating how cards are made and replacements are found in the first place.
Chiappetta: Fine, that's a discussion worth having. It's a legitimate topic. Here's my question: Do people watch other sports? The thing about elite talent is that it can't be replaced in any meaningful way. Who exactly is going to be a good replacement for dos Santos, the No. 2 heavyweight in the world? No one. No replacement would have been an equal one for Miocic.
But that's how it is in sports. Take a look at the NFL. How many teams have good backup quarterbacks? You only need two or three QBs on your roster in a sport that is played by millions of boys across the country, but they can't find them. The dropoff from starter to backup is generally enormous. Just ask last year's Green Bay Packers. Football is a sport that is far more developed than MMA, yet they have the same depth problem, and the games go on, and people pay their money to watch.
Again, I'm not saying that this is a matchup to be celebrated. As Damon suggests, Maldonado isn't a heavyweight in any sense of the word, but given the sensitivities of the event market, they needed a Brazilian opposite Miocic, and they found a taker. It's not great, but like the backup situation in football, sometimes you have to settle for good enough.
Martin: Of course there's no easy way to replace Junior Dos Santos. The only person above him is the champion so no matter who they got, it wasn't going to be as good as him. But at least find an actual heavyweight to fill the spot or as hard as it may be to say it, just scrap the fight.
“It's not the fight everybody wanted to see, but given the available talent pool and the local market -- two very important variables in the equation - it's a more understandable pairing than initial reaction would suggest. ”
You are absolutely correct with your assessment of the NFL and backup quarterbacks. But in relation to what we've now been dealt with Fabio Maldonado being pulled into the fight with Miocic, it's the equivalent to Tom Brady going down, the backups are all injured so Bill Belichick calls up Jameis Winston from Florida State to fill the position just ahead of Sunday's game. He's a quarterback and a stud in college so technically he's a replacement, but is this really the best answer even in the worst case scenario?
If there are literally no options open, then that's that. Maldonado is going to be a bloated heavyweight at best facing a 6'4", 250lb monster in Stipe Miocic. If that's the best there is, then we need to start asking for better.
Chiappetta: If this was a pay-per-view event, I'd agree with you. That designation suggests a premier, top of the line product. But it's not. It's a free show designed mostly to feature upcoming talent, so the only thing it will cost you is time. If you bought tickets to watch live, I'd feel sympathy for you, except for the fact that the UFC has offered refunds to anyone disappointed by the replacement headliner. So what is the harm? Miocic gets to fight instead of going back to the sidelines and waiting for someone else to come available, Maldonado gets a great opportunity, and the fans get to decide whether or not the whole thing is worthy of their time. You may well decide it's not, and that's fine, but let's not pretend it's some grave tragedy or injustice. It's not the fight everybody wanted to see, but given the available talent pool and the local market -- two very important variables in the equation - it's a more understandable pairing than initial reaction would suggest.
“Hard choices have to be made sometimes, and in this case you bite the bullet and either find a viable heavyweight or go to Plan B, C or D. This fight should have been somewhere around Plan Z. ”
Martin: It's an injustice because Maldonado has no business fighting a top 10 heavyweight. The fact is Maldonado has taken a ton of damage in his fights at light heavyweight, and now he's going to get punched in the head by one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division. He's going to give up size, reach and about 30 to 40 pounds in the Octagon. There's nothing about this fight that doesn't say mismatch. Now if we're back in the PRIDE fighting days and this was the Super Hulk tournament, fine, but that's not where we are right now. This isn't Minowa-man vs. Hong Man Choi. I have nothing but respect for Maldonado offering to take this fight, and in theory we should applaud that. But then again, shouldn't we offer to save this guy from himself? Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone is always willing to take a fight, but should he take on Vitor Belfort on short notice just because he's available? Hard choices have to be made sometimes, and in this case you bite the bullet and either find a viable heavyweight or go to Plan B, C or D. This fight should have been somewhere around Plan Z.