While it wasn’t quite the debacle that UFC 151 produced, another last-minute injury to a main-event fighter sent UFC on Fuel TV 9 into a tailspin last week.

For the second time in less than a year, the UFC had a highly anticipated main event get scrapped less than a week before fight time, and although last weekend’s card went on as planned, the UFC can’t risk another major event getting canceled like UFC 151 was in June.

The Fuel TV card was never in danger of being scrapped like that pay-per-view event was last summer, but when headliner Alexander Gustafsson was ruled out of his fight with an injury just days prior to the event, the amount of intrigue for the fight card was basically cut in half.

Although the UFC did find a replacement fighter in Ilir Latifi to fight Gegard Mousasi, the bout was widely criticized by MMA fans due to Latifi’s lack of big-fight experience and general lack of competition heading into the bout. There wasn’t much the UFC could do about the situation on short notice, especially with the event taking place overseas, and in all honesty, the fact that the promotion even found a replacement on such short notice is a small victory in itself.

However, the UFC will run into serious trouble if another fight card is decimated by injury late in the game, and it’s time to start taking precautions to make sure another event isn’t canceled in the future.

The most obvious way to make sure a fight card still has a meaningful main event after a last-second injury is as simple as making sure that the original co-main event is good enough to step in and headline. Making sure there are two viable headliners on every card would not only give the UFC some injury insurance, it would also make every fight card a must-see for fight fans. But, as great as stacking every fight card sounds, the fact is that the UFC has too many events to throw more than one high-profile fight on every card.

The fight business is still all about money, and it doesn’t make sense for the UFC to give fans two major fights for free and then turn around and give them the same amount of meaningful bouts on pay-per-view for $60. Those pay-per-view events still have to feel special, and throwing three or four big-time fights on a single card is going to make more money than doing the same on free television.

So, although the dream scenario of every fight card being stacked is out of the question, the UFC still has another option if it wants to make sure another card doesn’t suffer due to a thrown-together main event.

Adding an alternate to every main-event fight could easily help the promotion avoid having to sign a local fighter on short notice (like it was forced to do with Latifi), and having another top fighter ready to go in case of injury could save a lot of fight cards going forward. For example, if Wanderlei Silva was already the designated alternate heading into last week, the card could have been headlined by Silva and Mousasi and taken half of the criticism that it did.

Obviously, this strategy wouldn’t work with every event, for pretty much the exact same reason the UFC can’t always book a high-profile co-main event: there are just too many fight cards. However, it’s much easier to find a fighter to step in on short notice for a fight in Vegas than it is for a fight in Sweden, so an alternate is something the promotion should look at for international events going forward. If someone like Silva could have made it overseas without having to deal with Visa and licensing issues on short notice, odds are the UFC could have found a better replacement.

A main-event fighter suffering an injury so close to fight time doesn’t happen often, but when it does the UFC has to be better prepared for it than it has been over the last year. Whether it’s making sure there’s a replacement fighter nearby or just throwing together fight cards with more than one possible main event, Zuffa needs to make a change before it gets hit by another fighter having to withdraw at the last moment. If the promotion doesn’t, it may not be long before we see another event with a lackluster main event, or worse, one that suffers the same fate as UFC 151.

Photo: Alexander Gustafsson (Ryan O’Leary/Sherdog)