When the news broke that UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre had sprained his MCL and would be forced to pull out of his UFC 137 headlining bout with Carlos Condit, UFC fans everywhere muttered a collective "oh no, not again."
It's been a long year for UFC fans and an even longer year for UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva. The promotion has been forced to cancel the main events of at least six pay-per-views in 2011, some of them multiple times.
Let's run through the damage:
UFC 126: February 5, 2011, Las Vegas, NV "The SuperBowl Weekend Show"
- The Plan: Middleweight Title Fight Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 2
After Sonnen backed up his ample pre-fight trash talk by thrashing Silva for 4.5 rounds only to get submitted with less than 2 minutes left, fans were hungry for an immediate rematch. Unfortunately Sonnen failed a post-fight drug test and his suspension precluded this fight from even being officially announced.
- The Reality: Middleweight Title Fight Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort
Belfort had sat out all of 2010 with injuries and had never fought for the UFC as a middleweight, but he was the best available option. According to published estimates the card ended up doing a respectable 725,000 buys, more than Silva vs Sonnen did at UFC 117, but some believe Silva vs. Sonnen 2 would have broken 1 million buys.
UFC 128: March 19, 2011, Newark, NJ
- The Plan: Light Heavyweight Title Fight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs Rashad Evans
Rashad Evans had been waiting for Shogun to recover from knee surgery since May of 2010 when he beat Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to earn the title shot. Ironically, Evans had to pull out of the fight in February with a knee injury of his own.
- The Reality: Light Heavyweight Title Fight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Jon Jones
Fatefully, Evans' long-awaited title shot went to his teammate and then-friend Jon Jones who proceeded to maul Shogun and take the title. Evans is still waiting on his title shot. The event did an estimated 445,000 PPV buys and would certainly have sold more with Evans -- well known from two stints on The Ultimate Fighter and coming off headlining the million-selling UFC 114.
UFC 130: May 28, 2011 Las Vegas, NV
- The Plan: Lightweight Title Fight Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 3
Edgar and Maynard fought to a draw at UFC 125 on New Year's Day and Dana White promised fans an immediate rematch. Unfortunately both fighters were injured in training and had to pull out of the fight. Their first bout only did an estimated 270,000 PPV buys so it's questionable how much losing this fight hurt sales.
- Plan B: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Thiago Silva
Technically this was never planned as the headliner since Silva was suspended in February for failing a UFC 125 drug test and Edgar vs Maynard 2 wasn't pulled off the card until May 9. Still, it would've been a great fight.
- The Reality: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Matt Hamill
When Silva was pulled from the card, initial rumors had Rampage re-matching Rashad Evans, but that turned out to be false. Instead we got Rampage against an over-matched Hamill. The card did an estimated 325,000 buys.
UFC 131: June 11, 2011 Vancouver, British Columbia
- The Plan: Heavyweight Title Fight Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos
This fight never even got announced since Velasquez' surgery for a torn rotator cuff killed plans for Cain and JDS to coach The Ultimate Fighter season 13 by mid-December 2010.
- Plan B: Brock Lesnar vs Junior dos Santos
Dana and Joe Silva had a great fallback -- put recently dethroned champ Lesnar on the reality show opposite JDS and book a title-eliminator fight for the two of them in June after the TUF season. Unfortunately Lesnar's diverticulitis flared up and he had to have a foot of his colon surgically removed in May.
- The Reality: Junior dos Santos vs. Shane Carwin
Being resourceful fellows, White and Silva gave us a title eliminator fight between JDS and the last man Lesnar beat, Shane Carwin. The bout did an estimated 325,000 PPV buys, certainly much less than it would have had Lesnar been able to fight.
UFC 133: August 6, 2011 Philadelphia, PA
- The Plan: Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans
After Jones took the title from Shogun, he and Evans, his former training partner and supposed friend, quickly dropped their mutual pledge to never fight one another and began an acrimonious public feud. Conveniently for the UFC, that's exactly the kind of drama that sells fights.
- Plan B: Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis
Then Jones turned up with a hand injury that needed surgery, well maybe not surgery, but definitely lots of time off. Evans was furious but elected not to wait. He was promised the undefeated up-and-comer Davis in a #1 contender's bout.
- The Reality: Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz
Then Davis hurt his knee in training and Ortiz, fresh off a big win over Ryan Bader at UFC 132, agreed to take the fight on 10 days notice. The card did an estimated 310,000 buys.
UFC 137: October 29, 2011 Las Vegas, NV
- The Plan: Welterweight Title Fight Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz
Another audacious and exciting matchup that had fight fans salivating, GSP vs. Diaz promised to unify the UFC and Strikeforce belts. Even better, the mercurial and outspoken Diaz promised to be a perfect foil for the uber-professional GSP. Then Diaz skipped out on two press conferences in one week and got himself pulled from the card.
- Plan B: Welterweight Title Fight Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit
Conveniently, Carlos Condit was already on the card and training for a bout with B.J. Penn. Sure much of the sex appeal of Diaz vs. GSP was lost due to Condit's much lower profile with fans, but it remained a very credible title fight featuring the UFC's most popular champion.
- Plan C: B.J. Penn vs. Nick Diaz
Cross your fingers fight fans. Hopefully no one gets injured and Diaz shows up for all his press engagements and this bout will go off as planned, but as we've seen, it's never too late to have to adjust a fight card.