It’s déjà vu all over again, with apologies to Yogi Berra.

When Dan Henderson pulled out of UFC 151 due to injury back in 2012 with little over a week to go until the event went down, the UFC went scrambling looking for a replacement. They found one in Chael Sonnen, a fighter with the “anywhere, anytime” philosophy. Unfortunately for the UFC and fans who had purchased tickets to the event, Jon Jones refused the fight, on the advice of coach Greg Jackson, who UFC President Dana White would later call a “sport killer.”

Jackson felt the short-notice change in opponent created a risky situation for Jones, and cautioned the young champ against it. The refusal led to the cancellation of an entire event, as the undercard for UFC 151 had not a single other bout capable of headlining a pay-per-view. In fact, there was barely another noteworthy fight on the card and it certainly paled in comparison to some FOX cards.

Looking at that card, the co-main event of the evening happened to be Jay Hieron vs. Jake Ellenberger. Hieron was returning to the promotion after a successful run outside the UFC that included winning records in the IFL, Affliction, and Bellator – where he would lose to welterweight champion Ben Askren before taking a single fight in Legacy FC, which he won, then jumping back to the UFC. Ellenberger, meanwhile, was coming off a loss to Martin Kampmann. In other words, the fight was of little relevance at the time to fans, and involved a fighter making his first UFC appearance in years.

The two would eventually square off later in the year – Ellenberger taking the win via unanimous decision at UFC on FX: Browne vs. Bigfoot in Oct. 2012. Hieron would go on to lose his next fight, against Tyron Woodley, then retire earlier this year, while Ellenberger is currently on a two-fight losing streak.

The rest of the undercard? Dennis Siver was on there, and Dennis Hallman vs. Thiago Tavares, and John Lineker was making his sophomore appearance in the UFC.

On the prelims? Takeya Mizugaki has put together a fantastic five-fight win streak since the fall of 2012. His bout with Jeff Hougland was moved to later in the year just as the Ellenberger/Hieron fight was, and began his streak. But he’s not the most thrilling fighter to watch at times, and certainly hasn’t proven to be a big draw yet.

With nothing left to entice fans after the loss of Jones, the UFC was forced to scrap the card, and for the first time in Zuffa’s history of owning and operating the UFC an event was cancelled.

Last month, lightning struck twice. In July, we learned that due to an injury to featherweight champion Jose Aldo, UFC 176 was lost. The UFC tried to position it as a “postponement” – but let’s call a spade a spade. Aldo vs. Mendes 2 was postponed. UFC 176? Cancelled entirely.

UFC 176 actually had a much better co-main event supporting it, with Ronaldo Souza taking on Gegard Mousasi in a fight with actual relevance to the title picture in the middleweight division. It also had something of a grudge match between Bethe Correia and Shayna Baszler. Correia has vowed to take out all of Ronda Rousey’s stable, otherwise known as the Four Horsewomen.  It also featured the anticipated return of Gray Maynard. Even still, Souza vs. Mousasi wasn’t enough to carry a pay-per-view, though it could easily anchor a Fight Night, which it is now doing as the headliner of UFC Fight Night 50.

All this brings us to the current UFC 177/178 debacle. With Jon Jones pulling out of UFC 178 with injury, that card – which is actually pretty stacked, all things considered, with Dominick Cruz’s return against Mizugaki, Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero, Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes, and budding Irish superstar Conor McGregor against Dustin “Diamond” Poirier – needed a new headliner. Cruz has headlined before, of course, but after years rehabbing various injuries, and no title to his name, bumping him up was a questionable option. So Demitrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso, the flyweight title bout that had been set to co-headline UFC 177, was moved over, leaving UFC 177 with, wait for it, Tony Ferguson vs. Danny Castillo as the co-main event of the T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao II card.

In saying this, I’m not knocking the in-cage ability of Ferguson or Castillo, but neither fighter is at a point where they should be in a co-main event. They simply aren’t draws at the box office. A co-main event needs to be something that a) draws in additional paying fans and b) can be bumped up to main event status in the event that the planned main event falls apart.

That’s an area where the UFC has lacked recently. As The MMA Corner’s Eric Reinert pointed out back in July in his piece “Promotional Crossroads,” numerous fights that would make suitable co-main events have been tied up on free Fight Night/UFC Fight Pass cards of late, including Michael Bisping vs. Cung Le, Tyron Woodley vs. Dong Hyun Kim, and Benson Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos as well as Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson in September. With so many fights with quality names being spread to these cards, the safety net that pay-per-view shows once had is dwindling, if it’s still present at all.

You could argue that the “Mighty Mouse” fight originally set for UFC 177 was the safety net, but even with that fight, the rest of the card is lacking in name value, and even that fight was added somewhat late, with the announcement being made in mid-July since Johnson had defended his flyweight title against Ali Bagautinov in June.

So now we’ve just about reached critical mass. An injury to Barao in the next week or so could be devastating as far as viewers who are tuning in to see a highly anticipated rematch go – and could will be many, given how surprising Dillashaw’s May win over Barao in their first fight was. That said, the event could survive with a last minute replacement, and rest assured that Dillashaw, having seen what happened to Jones in the court of public opinion back when he turned down the Sonnen fight, will not say no, no matter who is thrown his way. An injury to Dillashaw however? That could be devastating. With no other title fight available to drop onto the card, and no marketable co-main event for UFC 177 at all at this point in time, the event is really just an injury, likely to Dillashaw, away from cancellation.

We’re all hoping it won’t happen, but the loss of two pay-per-view events in a row would be a huge hit both financially and to the good graces of UFC fans, who have been relatively patient with the number of tepid cards offered so far this year. The fact that it’s even within the realm of remote possibility is shocking, and shows just how thinly spread the organization truly is at the moment.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.