The UFC’s July pay-per-view is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of its yearly schedule. A major numbered event is often the highlight of “International Fight Week” festivities, but in recent years something has almost always come up to derail original plans.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has scratched the traditional “International Fight Week” setup, the promotion still planned to blow the doors off on July 11 with UFC 251, which originally featured three championship bouts to begin the four-event “Fight Island” run in Abu Dhabi.
It seemed things were trending in the right direction, but then eight days out from the event, MMA Junkie first reported the planned welterweight title main event was off after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled ineligible to challenge champion Kamaru Usman. Fortunately, Burns said he’s already feeling better, which is most important.
It’s the fourth time in the past five years the organization’s July pay-per-view has been hit with hard times. On this occasion, however, the UFC rode the wave and made it into something better by having Jorge Masvidal step in on six days’ notice to challenge Usman.
The “curse” really started to pick up steam back in 2015, when Jose Aldo pulled out of his highly anticipated title defense against Conor McGregor at UFC 189, only to be replaced by Chad Mendes.
2016 was the wildest year of all. The UFC originally hoped a rematch between McGregor and Nate Diaz would headline its landmark UFC 200 event, but a rollercoaster of changes saw things shift to Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones only to have that fall apart days out and land on Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes as the headliner.
It was a rough one in 2017, too. After a bantamweight title fight between Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw fell through due to injury, a women’s bantamweight title fight between Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko was placed as the main event of UFC 213. Nunes fell ill on fight day, though, and Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero took the headlining bout. That fight turned out to be a classic, but it should’ve been complimented by another title bout.
In 2018, the main event of “International Fight Week” went untouched as Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier went down without a hiccup at UFC 229. The co-headliner of that card was arguably more anticipated, and it didn’t come to fruition as Max Holloway experienced an unknown medical issue that caused him to be hospitalized and pull out this featherweight title defense against Brian Ortega.
The curse opted to take a hiatus in 2019, apparently. UFC 239 was loaded with solid fights, and all of them went off without a hitch.
One year off was seemingly enough, because 2020 saw the return of this recurring theme when Burns was forced out of the event. UFC could’ve easily just taken it on the chin and proceeded with the two other title fights scheduled at UFC 251, but it successfully scrambled and salvaged the situation to book a bigger fight.
It’s an all-time late replacement job, and although a ton has to happen before Usman and Masvidal are locked in the octagon at UFC 251, it seems the MMA Gods might just allow it.
There are no guarantees on this historically turbulent fight week, though, and at this point it might be better named “International MIGHT Week,” as history shows there’s a million things that can go wrong, and they usually do.
We all hope that doesn’t happen, because UFC 251 looks like it could be something special.