The UFC’s effort to rebound from a disappointing 2017 pay-per-view schedule suffered another hit this weekend when featherweight champion Max Holloway revealed he has a leg injury that will scratch him from the UFC 222 main event on March 3.
That news comes after No. 1-rated heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou failed to post a breakthrough title win last month while being dominated by champion Stipe Miocic and after middleweight champion Robert Whittaker backed out of his homecoming title defense in Perth, Australia, on Saturday because of an injury.
UFC President Dana White was mum Monday when asked about how he’ll fill Holloway’s spot against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.
Hawaii’s Holloway posted on Twitter, “I asked the docs if we could cut off my leg then ask the commission if I could fight … I know it sucks but hang in there. We’re going to reschedule asap.”
Among the options are placing Edgar (21-5-1) in a main event against No. 3-rated featherweight contender Brian Ortega (13-0) of Los Angeles. On Dec. 9, Ortega defeated Palm Springs’ Cub Swanson by second-round submission in Fresno.
Or, with far more interest, the UFC could open its vault and convince Stockton’s highly popular Nate Diaz to return after his two immensely popular 2016 pay-per-view fights against Conor McGregor.
A UFC 222 main event hyped by Diaz’s return could create strong sales, a necessary event given WME/IMG’s interest in recouping some of the $4 billion it spent to buy the company in 2016.
Diaz, contacted by The Times through text messages Sunday, said he was “100%” interested in stepping in for Holloway in a new main event. When he was asked if he’d take that fight against former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, Diaz said “no” in a blunt manner.
White says that pickiness is Diaz’s problem.
In another text message exchange with The Times, White sent back the rolled eyes emoji when asked if a Diaz return would be considered to compensate for Holloway’s loss from the event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Then, White repeated a statement he gave The Times last week: “He [Diaz] doesn’t want to fight.
“We have made around five or six fights in the last six months and he has turned them all down. Alvarez, [Justin] Gaethje, [Edson] Barboza and [interim lightweight champion Tony] Ferguson multiple times.”
Diaz told The Times at last month’s Bellator event that he doesn’t consider himself a lightweight.
The problem with fighting as a welterweight is that champion Tyron Woodley is also sidelined by an injury. Former champion Robbie Lawler doesn’t have a date on the books, and while entertaining Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone does next week, switching him to the pay-per-view for Diaz could improve buys and get Diaz back in the fold to set up more appetizing action later this year.
Beyond that, a third fight with McGregor is at the mercy of the Irishman informing the UFC when he’ll fight again, and nothing appears set until at least June on that front.