Rafael dos Anjos’ withdrawal from UFC 196 due to injury has left the UFC scrambling for a replacement to fight Conor McGregor next week.
The Dos Anjos-McGregor title fight was a mouth-watering prospect, and it’s a huge disappointment to be robbed of the chance to see the pair do battle. However, the show must go on, so who will it be that McGregor will face in Las Vegas on March 5?
Who it won’t be
Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar have already ruled themselves out of the fight, with Aldo’s coach stating that his charge is not in condition to fight at such short notice, while Edgar is injured.
Aldo had previously said that he would fight McGregor “any time, anywhere” after losing his featherweight title at UFC 194 in a humiliating 15-second defeat. However, the Brazilian has not been able to back this up.
Aldo’s coach and manager Andre Pederneiras told Combate: “Dana (White) called me, telling what happened and asking if Aldo was in shape to fight.
“I said he wasn’t and that there wasn’t enough time, and unfortunately he wouldn’t be able to fight next week.”
Edgar’s ankle injury is a huge blow for the 34-year-old who was passed over for a title shot last year despite being on a five-fight winning streak.
Ali Abdelaziz, who manages Dos Anjos, Edgar, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, has said that Nurmagomedov would be able to fill the void left by Dos Anjos, but White has said this is not an option as the Russian has not fought in two years due to injury and is already scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson in April.
Who it might be
UFC chairman Dana White has stated that the fight will remain a lightweight bout, and this narrows the field somewhat.
Eddie Alvarez is the number one lightweight contender, but as of yet has not been linked with the fight. The three fighters who have been mentioned as potential opponents are former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, and Nate Diaz.
It would be a quick turnaround for Cowboy Cerrone, who secured a first-round victory over Alex Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 82 on Sunday. That dominant showing was a much-needed one after Cerrone lost his lightweight title fight with Dos Anjos in 66 seconds in December.
Cerrone has said that he is eager to face McGregor next week, and having engaged in some verbal sparring with the Irishman in the past, it’s a match-up that has already a fan following.
Pool time! Anyone, anywhere. I’ll be ready. Just waiting on this call pic.twitter.com/0xwjnenI2Z
— Cowboy Cerrone (@Cowboycerrone) February 23, 2016
Anthony Pettis Pettis is desperate to prove he can get back to the top of the lightweight division after losing his belt to Dos Anjos at UFC 185 last March. That result was followed up with a split decision defeat to Alvarez in December, and despite being on a two-fight losing streak, Pettis remains a quality competitor. The 29-year-old is due to fight Edson Barboza at UFC 197 on April 23, but it’s a bout that can easily be rescheduled if the UFC decide that Pettis is their man. ‘Showtime’ has said previously that he would be happy to “welcome” McGregor to the division, and following the news of Dos Anjos’ withdrawal has stated that he is ready to step into the Octagon in Las Vegas next week.
There will be more than a little feeling in this one. McGregor has trashed Diaz repeatedly, while the American unleashed a profanity-laced post-fight interview aimed at McGregor following his victory over Michael Johnson in December.
McGregor responded to Diaz (and Dos Anjos and Charles Oliveira) calling him out after their wins by posting this…
Line them up on their knees with their hands out. I want them to beg me. pic.twitter.com/YCYf0QslNR
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) December 20, 2015
So is Diaz up for the fight? His response to the question of replacing Dos Anjos:
He’s going to have to get on his knees and beg… — Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) February 23, 2016
Diaz has called the match-up the fight “everybody wants,” and they may just get it.