A knee injury has forced Rafael Silva (21-3) to withdraw from his scheduled title challenge against Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas (15-3) at Bellator 111, promotion officials announced Wednesday.
Anthony Leone (13-6), the man who Silva defeated via unanimous decision to win Bellator's 2013 Summer Series last October, has been tapped as a late replacement to face Dantas in the night's main event, which takes place March 7, 2014 at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, OK.
Leone, 26, who also carries a win over former champ Zach Makovsky under the Bellator banner, submitted Frank Baca via third-round rear naked choke in last year's bantamweight semifinals prior to falling short against Silva.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for me and when I got the call from Bjorn, I jumped at the opportunity," Leone said in statement. "Dantas is incredibly tough and I'm in for a tough fight, but I'm ready for this title fight, and I'm going to make the most of the opportunity."
Bellator officials initially considered season nine bantamweight tourney winner Joe Warren (10-3) to fill Silva's vacant spot, however Warren is currently undergoing rehabilitation for his own injured knee.
"It's always our goal to keep our fighters as busy as possible, and we didn't want Eduardo sitting on the sidelines," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said. "With our Tournament Champion Replacement Clause in place, we contacted Anthony and are moving full steam ahead with our bantamweight title fight on March 7th to headline a huge night of fights."
Despite his current status, Warren is still expected to challenge the winner of Dantas vs. Leone for the Bellator bantamweight title on May 2, 2014 in Atlantic City, NJ.
"It was really hard to have to Bjorn call me and have to turn down a fight, but my knee just isn't at a place I'm comfortable with, and my timeline has always been to get back in the cage in May," Warren said. "You know ‘The Baddest Man On The Planet' will step in against anyone, and it would have been nice to take that belt away from Dantas a few months early, but I'm going to heal up, train like a madman, and whoever has that belt come May, they better shine it up for me, I'm taking it home."
Bellator 111 is also expected to feature the opening round of season 10's heavyweight tournament, with a main card set to broadcast on Spike TV.