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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
The UFC is in a rough spot right now for their pay-per-view schedule. Injuries have already delayed UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, new UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks, and UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis to the fall/winter, and now UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman has suffered an injury, moving him from May to July.
It's another significant blow, taking out a marquee main event from one of their pay-per-view events and leaving them with precious few options to replace it with.
Given the hierarchy of UFC events, not to mention the sheer number of fight cards, they need to have title fights headlining their pay-per-view events. Non-title fights are simply not acceptable as pay-per-view headliners when the UFC has similar level fights on free cards consistently. So what does that leave them with for not only UFC 173 on May 24, but UFC 174 just three weeks later in Vancouver?
Division by division, here's where they're standing in the title picture:
Heavyweight: Velasquez is hurt, rehabbing his shoulder after surgery, while top contenders Travis Browne and Fabricio Werdum square off at UFC on Fox 11 next month.
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones is fighting Glover Teixeira next month at UFC 172.
Middleweight: As mentioned, Chris Weidman's injury pushes his fight with Lyoto Machida to UFC 175 on July 5.
Welterweight: Johny Hendricks' newly won title won't be defended until October or November after he suffered a leg fracture and a torn bicep.
Lightweight: Anthony Pettis was initially targeting the July 5 event for his return, but Gilbert Melendez's re-signing and an announced coaching stint on TUF push that Title fight to December.
Featherweight: Jose Aldo is likely to fight Chad Mendes for a second time in his next outing, and is an option for one of these cards.
Bantamweight: Renan Barao expects to fight Raphael Assuncao next, though he's said he's targeting a late June to July return.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson is awaiting his next booking, having last defended his title in November. No clear contender is set, but if the UFC chooses a name he could be an option.
Women's Bantamweight: Ronda Rousey just defended her title twice in the quickest span ever for a UFC Champion, and she's currently filming a role in the upcoming "Entourage" film. That said, if Alexis Davis or Cat Zingano is ready to go for either of these two dates, this is an option.
That leaves the four lower weight classes as somewhat realistic options for these two cards if they can keep a title fight on them both. Aldo-Mendes seems like a lock for one or the other. It's an easier sell to a Vancouver crowd wanting a big event after a few years away than it likely is to Las Vegas patrons on Memorial Day weekend, but it could still be among the most likely options here.
If Barao can move up his timeline a couple of weeks to fight at UFC 174 in Vancouver, the fight with Assuncao is a worthy headliner, even if it's not going to be a massive draw. Demetrious Johnson could be another option after three successful title defenses on Fox last year, and they could even combine the two on that card. That said, the June pay-per-view shows are historically low draws given they're sandwiched in between two "event" shows in Las Vegas on Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends.
For UFC 173, the UFC is going to try to place the bigger fight of these two shows, so if Ronda Rousey is ready, willing, and able to step up, a fight with either Alexis Davis or Cat Zingano in a pinch could be big for the UFC. That's the outside shot right now, and if it doesn't happen, I'd expect to see Aldo-Mendes in that slot should both be healthy and ready to go.
If Aldo-hits UFC 173, it leaves UFC 174 with Barao-Assuncao and Johnson against whichever flyweight contender the UFC wants to book as the top, and only, title options for UFC 174.
These are the most likely options, but there are of course a few wild cards the UFC could put forth into the mix. An out there idea could be the UFC throwing money at Georges St-Pierre, perhaps in a rematch with Nick Diaz (thanks Rich Hansen), or perhaps the UFC will run with a different non-title fight. Could they get Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson to fight after all? It'd be a somewhat passable option for Vancouver, but not among the best the UFC can run for pay-per-view.
Obviously, this is a far from ideal situation for the UFC, and the options aren't necessarily attractive to replace Weidman-Machida. But these are some realistic possibilities for the UFC to run with.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
Frank Hyden - Rich Hansen
Chris Park - Matt Pelkey
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