With hours to spare ahead of his UFC debut, Georgian featherweight Levan Makashvili was astonished to discover that his opponent, Top ten ranked Nik Lentz, had withdrawn from their scheduled fight with an undisclosed illness.
It was the latest in a slew of withdrawals that plagued the UFC over the past few months. Illnesses and miscalculations were impacting a fighter’s ability to make weight, and it seemed as though Lentz was merely the latest in a string of bad luck.
However, Makashvili, as well as his management team, were suspicious of Lentz’s surprising withdrawal. The news came to them an hour before the weigh-ins. Levan was one pound away from making weight and had planned to go out for a walk to keep his blood flowing and regain energy. Once they stepped out of their hotel room and went downstairs, they ran into UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, who informed them that Lentz had withdrawn from the fight with an illness.
“As you can imagine, we were floored,” Makashvili told BloodyElbow.com through his manager and translator Tengo Sepyashvily. “I just didn’t believe it, considering Nik was posting on Instagram about how happy he was and how awesome he is. He was taking pictures of his body and all these things.
“The strangest part about this is that our lawyer – he came to the fights for support – heard a doctor speaking about someone being ill. We put two and two together. I don’t think Nik had any interest in going to the weigh-ins. He made such a stink, and he cried so much, that the doctor had to go up to his room to check him.”
In their official statement, the UFC revealed that Lentz was “stricken by a case of the flu” and was forced to withdraw from the fight. To the average reader, it appears to be a clear case of bad luck, but according to Levan’s management team, it was a calculated decision to protect his ranking.
“I’ve done this for so many years already that I can send a perfectly healthy fighter to a doctor and say things, then the doctor won’t let him fight,” explained Sepyashvily. “So we don’t believe that this guy had any intention of fighting. It was a strategic decision from him and his team, since Levan will beat him. He knows it. Nik Lentz is a one-dimensional fighter, and that dimension is one that Levan can overcome.”
According to Levan’s team, the difference between Lentz’s withdrawal and other fighters such as Kelvin Gastelum and Diego Sanchez was that the latter two fighters displayed the “warrior” spirit expected of professional fighters and attempted to fight through their respective situations instead of pull out.
“You have a guy like (Kelvin) Gastelum, who was so ill that he couldn’t make weight and was in the hospital, still fights; a guy like Diego Sanchez, who was so ill from food poisoning that he was yacking (sic) before and after the bout, still fights. Levan’s training partner, Andre Harrison, was coughing up blood before his debut at Titan FC, and still fought. It is a warrior mentality. Levan’s one loss came during a fight that he went into with a broken thumb and broke his foot on the guy’s head in the first round and still fought for five rounds.
“We’re talking warriors here.”
Since Lentz was faced with the tough decision of fighting an opponent who is unranked and would not benefit his own rise through the division, Levan believes that the choice to pull out of the fight was an easy one to make.
“A guy who doesn’t deserve to be No. 8 pulls out because he knows he doesn’t deserve it. Why fight a guy like Levan? How come he spoke all that trash and is now cowering away? He is quiet – mute. He knows he doesn’t deserve to be at No. 8. He knows that Levan would take it away from him.
“He’s fought people who have great records and should have been in the UFC. He’s fought guys with over 20 fights. You can’t gauge Levan easily. They probably did their research on him, maybe noticed that stuff, and advised their guy not to fight because Levan would beat him. That’s a promise.”
Following their anti-climatic trip to Colorado, Levan flew home and immediately requested that the fight against Lentz be rescheduled for a different date. Given that Lentz is ranked within the Top 10, a win against the American would likely guarantee his debut in the UFC featherweight rankings.
“That is exactly what we want. Not only is the featherweight division fired up because of Conor McGregor, but a guy like Levan coming in and shocking the world like could turn the division on its head.”
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