Coming Up Short: A Look Back On Short-Notice Risk Takers

Short-notice fights are a high-risk, high-reward affair: if you win, you earn an unexpected paycheck and impress the UFC brass. If you lose, it’s another setback on your record and you may have taken the risk for nothing.

Since UFC fighters only compete a few times a year, a chance to fill in when a slot opens can be a golden opportunity for those with optimistic flair. Let’s take a look at a smattering of fighters who decided to take a leap of faith, with wild results.

(For clarity, the fighter who fought on short notice will be listed first.)

Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama – July 3rd, 2010 – UFC 116


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Chris Leben had a pretty awesome 2011. He went 3-0 that year, finishing two of his opponents and garnering two "of the night" bonuses for his troubles. His first bout of 2011 was a grappling-heavy decision win against Jay Silva at UFC Fight Night 20, and Leben extended his streak by punching Aaron Simpson halfway across the cage at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale. Two days after the Simpson win, as Leben trudged his way through a pizza-infused food coma, the UFC came calling: Wanderlei Silva had pulled out of UFC 116 and they needed a replacement. That would, of course, mean fighting for the second time in two weeks, but would you really expect somebody nicknamed "The Cat Smasher" to say no?

The bout didn’t start off well for Leben though. He was taken down and controlled by Akiyama in the first round and nearly finished with strikes in the second, but, in a FOTN performance, he battled back to pull off a desperation triangle choke on the judoka in the third. Including his post-fight bonuses, Leben took home $256,000 in disclosed payouts in 14 days. That’s a lot of pizza.

Matt Hughes vs. Thiago Alves – June 7th, 2008 – UFC 85


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If you asked a hundred people what the most cursed UFC event ever is, you might just hear "UFC 85" a hundred times. The list of injuries for the card is ridiculous: Chuck Liddell was scheduled to fight Mauricio Rua in the main event, but Rua pulled out due to a knee injury and was replaced by Rashad Evans. Liddell then was sidelined by a hamstring tear, only to be replaced by James Irvin, who subsequently hurt his foot, and the main event was scrapped altogether. On top of that, five more fighters on the card were removed, due to injuries, legal issues, and lack of sufficient training time. Somebody needs to tell Dana White to stop walking under ladders.

Matt Hughes and Thiago Alves both stepped up on just over a month’s notice to fight in the main event, but the hits kept on coming: Alves missed weight by four pounds. However, the bout continued, and Alves dominated the much smaller Hughes, defending the wrestler’s takedowns before winning by vicious flying knee KO in the second round.

Anthony Perosh vs. Mirko Filipovic – February 21st, 2010 – UFC 110


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Anthony Perosh got his second UFC shot the hard way. After going 0-2 in his first promotional run in 2006, the UFC called in a favor after an illness to Ben Rothwell left Mirko Filipovic without an opponent in Syndey, Australia. Perosh happened to live and train in Sydney, making him the only viable candidate for replacement. The UFC doesn’t often call twice, so Perosh accepted the bout. On two days’ notice.

Sadly, there isn’t much of a happy ending for this one. "The Hippo" was battered from pillar to post by the Croatian kickboxer and was stopped by a cut between rounds two and three. Since then, though, life has gotten much better for the Aussie: The 40-year old Perosh is 4-1 with the UFC since and is riding high off a 14-second knockout victory over Vinny Magalhaes at UFC 163.

Jamie Varner vs. Edson Barboza – May 26th, 2012 – UFC 146


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After going 2-4-1 through 2011 and 2012, Jamie Varner knew he had to change something. He’d lost his WEC title to Benson Henderson, and after the organizations dissolved, he, unlike many of his peers, didn’t get a call from the UFC.

Varner’s career was in shambles, and he even considered retirement, posting on Twitter, "I gave fighting another shot I need 2 thank u guys 4 ur support! But I just don't have it anymore. Love u all but ull never c me fight again."

According to Varner, he’d lost his love for the sport. A move to Arizona’s The MMA Lab, alongside former foe Henderson and coach Jon Crouch, seemed to solve that problem, though, and Varner began to accumulate wins.

"I just fell in love with the sport again," Varner told MMAJunkie. "I want to fight. That was the thing before – I didn't want to fight. They'd tell me I had a fight lined up and I was like, 'F---. I've got to fight.' Now I can't wait to fight. I'm training right now to get in shape just in case someone gets hurt so I can step in and fight."

And thus, his return to the UFC materialized. Varner stepped in for an injured Evan Dunham against the undefeated Edson Barboza at UFC 146, and despite entering the cage a 5-1 underdog on less than a month’s notice, he knocked out Barboza in the first round.

Varner’s renewed passion for MMA encourages him to stay in shape and stay ready for anything. He remembers a time when he dreaded stepping in the cage, so with a second wind at his back, he wants to stay as active as possible.

"I have love for this sport again and that was something I was missing for a long time," Varner told MMAWeekly. "If you love golf, you don’t golf once a month or like twice a year, you try to golf as much as possible. I love to fight, I love to compete, so I want to try to compete as much as possible."

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