UFC 239: The curse of International Fight Week lingers with star-studded card on deck
With a pair of champions and a loaded main card set, one has to hope it all holds together
The only thing separating a superstition or wive's tale from becoming an outright curse might be the consistency upon which what is feared actually turns out to be real.
In the case of International Fight Week, UFC's annual summer celebration of all things mixed martial arts in Las Vegas, the idea that the annual fight card might be cursed was something immediately dismissed by Daniel Cormier.
In some ways, Cormier's speak-it-and-receive-it approach turned out to be true as the then-reigning light heavyweight king moved up to one division at UFC 226 and knocked out heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic to cement his legacy as a simultaneous two-division champion.
The problem for those who insisted the curse wasn't true, however, was that other fighters on the card -- namely a scheduled featherweight title bout in the co-main event between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega -- weren't so lucky, especially after undisclosed medical concerns pulled Holloway from the card just days before.
The truth of the matter is that July 6, when UFC 239 invades T-Mobile Arena with another stacked card, it will mark the 10th consecutive year in which the promotion has put on a major pay-per-view card on the first weekend of July in Sin City and the eighth straight time it has shouldered the event with fanfests and Hall of Fame ceremonies under the IFW banner.
Each year, a marquee fight expected to be either the co-main or headlining bout of this annual supershow has failed to come off as expected. Some years, the result has been disastrous, forcing UFC to scramble at the last minute to save the card.
UFC 239 is expected to deliver the goods with a pair of title fights and two of the greatest fighters in history (Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes) on the marquee. But don't forget that this card has already felt some ill-effects. Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou were expected to be on this main card, but were moved to the main event of UFC Minneapolis when Tyron Woodley suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from his bout with Robbie Lawler.
Not to mention, Jones and Nunes have had their own chances in a headlining role for this annual weekend, only to be pulled or withdraw at the last second. But here's to hoping the curse is broken on July 6 with plenty at stake for everyone involved.
From Luke Rockhold's light heavyweight debut to Diego Sanchez's unlikely evolution at 37, UFC 239 has no shortage of storylines. That's not even mentioning the fight that could be the most anticipated of all when welterweights Jorge Masvidal and Ben Askren go from trading words to trading blows with a possible title shot at stake.
Looking in the mirror and saying "BeetleJuice" three times may or may not be the secret in lifting the IFW curse. Regardless, let's take a look back at what has gone wrong in past years.
UFC 175 (2014): Curiously held on Friday night thanks to "The Ultimate Fighter" finale taking place on Saturday, the original headliner of TUF coaches Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen capitalizing on the buzz of their gym brawl never came to be under the UFC banner. Silva failed to submit a fight application to Las Vegas and then refused random drug testing, which brought an end to his UFC career. After Vitor Belfort was announced as the late replacement, Sonnen then failed a random drug test of his own to signal both a retirement from fighting and, like Silva, the end of his UFC run.
UFC 226 (2018): Holloway slurred his speech visibly in television interviews during fight week and was pulled from his co-main event title defense against Ortega just three days out despite doctors being unable to pinpoint a medical reason.
UFC 213 (2017): Women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes pulled out of a scheduled main event rematch against Valentina Shevchenko just hours before following complications due to a difficult weight cut. A scheduled Robbie Lawler-Donald Cerrone was also postponed due to a Cerrone injury.
UFC 200 (2016): Two days before the landmark card, then-interim light heavyweight champion Jones tested positive for a pair of banned substances to cancel his unification rematch with Cormier (who fought Anderson Silva instead). The original main event, a Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz rematch, was also postponed three months earlier after McGregor refused to fly in from Iceland for a news conference and subsequently "retired" over Twitter. (Adding insult to injury, Brock Lesnar also tested positive for steroids after his decision win over Mark Hunt.)
UFC 189 (2015): Featherweight champion Jose Aldo withdrew from a marquee showdown against McGregor with just two weeks to go because of a rib injury. McGregor defeated late-replacement Chad Mendes for the interim 145-pound title.
UFC 162 (2013): Top featherweight contenders Ricardo Lamas and Chang Sung Jung were supposed to meet in the co-main event supporting Anderson Silva's middleweight title defense against Chris Weidman in their first meeting. Instead, Jung pulled out due to injury and Lamas was given a title shot one month later against Aldo at UFC 163.
UFC 148 (2012): The UFC's first International Fight Week, headlined by the much-anticipated Anderson Silva rematch against Sonnen, also saw its co-main fall apart when bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz tore his ACL, canceling a trilogy bout with fellow TUF coach Urijah Faber. Renan Barao was named the replacement and an interim title fight against Faber was booked for UFC 149 instead.
UFC 132 (2011): A rematch between BJ Penn and Jon Fitch that was expected to challenge for the co-main event slot behind Cruz's bantamweight title rematch with Faber was shelved months before thanks to injuries to both. The bout was originally booked to produce the next contender for Georges St-Pierre's 170-pound title.
UFC 116 (2010): Most will remember this loaded card for the dramatic Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin heavyweight unification bout and the co-main event of middleweights Chris Leben and Yoshihiro Akiyama that shared fight of the night honors. But Akiyama's original opponent, Wanderlei Silva, pulled out due to a pair of injuries just weeks before.
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