The highly anticipated bout in Abu Dhabi next month between Islam Makhachev and Rafael dos Anjos is reportedly off after the latter was forced to withdraw through injury.
The lightweight clash, which pitted the division's No 5-ranked contender against the No 7, was scheduled for UFC 267 at Etihad Arena on October 30. However, reports emerged early on Monday that the bout was in jeopardy, with the athletes then exchanging messages on social media indicating it was indeed cancelled.
Dos Anjos, a former champion, confirmed he was recovering from a “terrible injury”. It represents the third time a bout between the two athletes has been called off.
The National understands the UFC are currently working on a replacement for Dos Anjos, with MMA Junkie reporting Makhachev’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, citing Tony Ferguson or Dan Hooker as preferred candidates to step in.
Ferguson, a long-time rival of Makhachev’s close friend Khabib Nurmagomedov, has been beaten in his past three fights, while Hooker fought only on Sunday morning, when he registered a unanimous decision victory against Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266 in Las Vegas.
Dos Anjos, 36, is believed to have undergone an arthroscopic procedure on his knee earlier this month – his second surgery this year following an abdominal hernia in March.
Makhachev, meanwhile, rides an eight-fight win streak and is considered one of the best talents at lightweight. He has competed in Abu Dhabi before, sealing a dominant decision victory against Davi Ramos at UFC 242 in September 2019. Having last fought in July – his second outing this year – Makhachev’s professional mixed martial arts record stands at 20-1 (9-1 UFC).
The card for UFC 267 is already being revised after bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling was forced on Saturday to withdraw from his rematch against former belt-holder Petr Yan. The UFC are understood to be seeking a replacement for an interim title bout against Yan.
In a video on Sunday night posted and translated by RT Sport, Yan said: "You all know what's just happened to my fight. You all know that Aljo just ran away like a sneaky coward.
“I am not going to sit and wait for him. I am going to fight on October 30 in Abu Dhabi. And I would like to address the UFC: UFC, give me any fighter: top five, top seven, top 10. Anyone who deserves to fight for the belt. And I will get the job done. I [will] show you who here is really [the] champ.”
UFC 267, the promotion’s return to Abu Dhabi following a third Fight Island series in January, is headlined by Jan Blachowicz’s light-heavyweight title defence against Glover Teixeira, the division’s No 1-ranked contender. Other prominent names to feature on the Saturday card include Khamzat Chimaev , Alexander Volkov and Amanda Ribas.