UFC 294 changes prove backups for title fights are completely pointless

Who would have thought that UFC 294 replacement fighters could be so easily replaced?

By: Evan Zivin | 2 months ago
UFC 294 changes prove backups for title fights are completely pointless

Looks like Paulo Costa’s bursitis wasn’t the only thing threatening the UFC’s next trip to Abu Dhabi.

Dana White announced on Tuesday that, not only is a replacement being sought for the Brazilian’s UFC 294 co-main event against Khamzat Chimaev, the main event has changed as well. Charles Oliveira, who was preparing to exact revenge on Islam Makhachev and reclaim the UFC Lightweight Championship, has been forced out due to a cut suffered in training.

As unfortunate as that is, we have little to worry about because a replacement has been named. Just days ago, Mateusz Gamrot, the surging contender who competed at The Apex last month, claiming victory over Rafael Fiziev (I know it was an injury TKO but a win’s a win), was named the backup fighter for the Makhachev-Oliveira fight. He will hit the scale on October 24th and stay ready in the event anything goes wrong at UFC 294. Anything…

And so, it’s for that reason that why Dana White confirmed the new UFC 294 main event will be Makhachev vs…Alexander Volkanovski?

Huh? Am I missing something here?

UFC 294 still headlined by a great fight, but…

Don’t get me wrong, Makhachev-Volkanovski 2 at UFC 294 is a great fight. It’s truly making the most of a bad situation. It sucks to lose a fighter as popular right now as the King of the Hippodrome but I don’t think anyone would argue that the UFC Featherweight Champion isn’t a worthy replacement. His fight with Islam at UFC 284 was extremely close so it’ll be great to see them go at it again to try and provide clarity as to who the better man really is.

I don’t have an issue with that fight being booked. I do have an issue with the situation Gamrot has been put in because why was he named as the backup fighter for the original main event if the promotion was just going to shove him aside when a replacement was needed? Isn’t the entire point of a backup to have a named replacement ready to go?

If Gamrot was never going to be the choice in case the fight fell apart, then what was he going to be doing? Was this a consolation prize for how the Fiziev fight ended? Dana was just going to pay Gamrot to fly out to Abu Dhabi for UFC 294 to then hit the scale followed by the concession stand, knowing full well he was never going to be used?

The data does not lie: it really is pointless

It’s actually funny because, in looking at all the main events over the last 3 years where a backup fighter was officially announced and weighed in, not a single one has had the opportunity, or been granted the opportunity, to step into a title fight at that event.

So if every backup is cutting weight just for a pittance and a slap on the back, what’s the point of doing it?

Is it to build up karma with the boss, in the hopes Mr. CEO might give you the next title fight? That’s certainly possible. The likelihood a backup fighter gets the next shot is better than the likelihood they fill in for the original main event but the numbers still aren’t spectacular.

In 13 events where a backup was announced for a title fight (UFC 254, 256, 259, 267, 268, 277, 280, 283, 285, 289, 290, 293), 6 of the replacements ended up receiving the next title shot, those being:

  • Michael Chandler (backup for Khabib Nurmagomeov vs. Justin Gaethje, fought for the title at UFC 262)
  • Glover Teixeira (backup for Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya, fought for the title at UFC 267)
  • Jiri Prochazka (backup for Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira, fought for the title at UFC 275)
  • Alexander Volkanovski (backup for Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev, fought for the title at UFC 284)
  • Colby Covington (backup for Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman, is scheduled to fight for the title at UFC 296)
  • Brandon Royval (backup for Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja, is scheduled to fight for the title at UFC 296)

That’s a 46% success rate for backups getting the next title shot, which isn’t a terrible statistic but I don’t know if it’s worth putting together a fight camp and draining yourself knowing your chance of fighting may come down to the equivalent of a coin flip.

Also, Beneil Dariush has really had it rough over the last year, hasn’t he? He went from getting ignored when he claimed he had been told he was the backup for UFC 280 to losing a #1 contenders fight to a man who just had to give up that opportunity, which has now been given to the same guy who beat Benny to the scale a year ago.

Oh well, I guess Arman Tsarukyan is just as lucrative as a title fight…

Where’s the consistency from the UFC?

We all know that determining top contenders comes down to two main factors: timing and how much Dana likes you. That’s why it came as no surprise when Dana said Colby was getting the Edwards fight while a beast like Sergei Pavlovich has to sit and wait while Jon Jones fights some firefighter, wondering if the only way he’ll get the fight he wants is via a short notice step-up while UFC is playing musical chairs with another event.

That’s another thing that makes the naming of backups so odd is that there’s no consistency when it comes to how often they do it. It seems like UFC has been utilizing them more in 2023 than in previous years but not every announced title fight has an announced backup.

Why did they announce a backup for UFC 293 but not one for UFC 292? What would have happened if Sean O’Malley had dropped out of the fight with Aljamain Sterling? What would have happened if Adesanya wasn’t able to rematch Alex Peireira at UFC 287? Would it have caused a ripple in the space-time continuum? Would Jan have still gotten to go to the rodeo?

This isn’t the type of drama fighters should have to be dealing with. It’s bad enough they have to agree to gamble half their winnings over whether a judge knows what a 10-8 round is. They shouldn’t have to make grand overtures like fighting on consecutive Payperviews just in the hopes of getting an opportunity to be a backup to a fighter the UFC favors more because that fighter is a better representative of the type of fan and advertiser they’re trying to attract.

I’m not saying we should do away with backups entirely, although I’ve always been more a fan of the idea of booking top contenders on the same card as the champions so that, even if an opportunity doesn’t open up, at least the contender gets to have a fight at the end of the ordeal (there’s a risk they’ll lose but, if that happens, then they shouldn’t have been fighting for the title in the first place, right?).

Could we just get some consistency please? Either announce backups for every title fight or don’t use them at all. And, if you do name backups but don’t end up using them, have the balls to declare them the number one contender because, if that isn’t what a backup is, then backups serve no purpose.

The fact that Gamrot would even consider still being the backup after what just happened is insane but that’s the way it goes in the worldwide leader of combat sports. If you aren’t a cog in the machine somewhere, then you aren’t of much use. At least he’ll be able to enjoy watching the action. Maybe he can see if Ilia Topuria has any plans that night, or for the next 12 weeks.

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About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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