As was reported on Monday of last week, No. 2 ranked UFC heavyweight Junior dos Santos was forced to scratch from his upcoming The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Brazil 3 with Stipe Miocic, as he sustained a broken hand while training for the match.
With “Cigano” sidelined, the senior circuit quickly announced that the brand had tapped light-heavyweight Fabio Maldonado to replace “JDS” in the March 31 Sao Paulo, Brazil fight.
With the announcement, many fans were left scratching their heads as to how Maldonado won the assignment. Un-ranked and moving up from a smaller weight class, “Caipira De Aco” (Hillbilly Steel) would appear to be an odd choice to give to a No. 7 ranked heavyweight that’s on the rise, and one that's ready to move into title contender status.
Perhaps more accurately, it puts Miocic in a very awkward position and the point hasn’t been lost on the American fighter. In short, he sees a fight with Maldonado as a “lose-lose situation.”
As Dana White commented at last night’s Ultimate Fight Night: Brown vs. Silva post-fight media scrum, Miocic knows that he’s gone from fighting the best fight in the heavyweight division – outside of Cain Velasquez – to fighting a “lunatic that’s from another weight class.”
However, and with few options available to him (White) for consideration, the UFC’s President noted that Miocic stepped up to save the card, and as against a very popular Brazilian fighter that “begged” for – what will be – a hometown fight.
“Yeah, they called and asked for that fight. He called and asked for that fight. And Stipe was like ‘This is a lose-lose situation for me. I think I’m fighting Junior dos Santos, the best heavyweight in the world that isn’t Cain Velasquez, and now I’m fighting this lunatic; that’s from another weight class. If I destroy him I should have destroyed him, and if I don’t it’s kind of like a step back for me.’ But the kid is stepping up and taking the fight, and keeping the card together, and we appreciate it. But yeah, Maldonado begged for the fight.
“(And) who ya gonna get on such short notice? (And finding a Brazilian) That’s tough. And they love him (Maldonado) in Brazil; love him in Brazil. This guy has become a (star). He begged for this fight. So, he got it. And I appreciate Stipe for sticking with it and taking it.”
In terms of the match it’s easy to see why White gave Maldonado the fight. The brand was under the gun as far as timetable goes, and there really were few other options available to him; certainly not any quick and easy ones. On top of that, Maldonado is a growing star in Brazil and the nation is a hugely important market to the brand. As such, it makes sense that they’d want to replace one Brazilian fighter / star (“JDS”) with another Brazilian fighter / star (Maldonado), and in an effort to keep faith the Brazilian audience.
Finally, Maldonado speaking up and requesting the opportunity to take a short-notice fight is a quality that White has always respected and appreciated.
As to whether or not Miocic will lose by beating Maldonado, or lose by actually losing to Maldonado, is anyone’s guess. However, what is not a guess is that Miocic should be applauded for laying it on the line against “Hillbilly Steel,” and Maldonado should be applauded for volunteering to face a very dangerous and considerably larger opponent, while the pair collectively should be applauded for (jointly) saving the Sao Paulo card.