Five late replacements who won the big one in MMA

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Danny Howard

February 21st, 2022

Unlike boxing, late substitutes are far more common in MMA and are far more dangerous.

There have been many cases of walk-on fighters putting forward a massive performance, but in the case of these five brawlers, nobody did it better. Here are five late replacements who won the big one in MMA.

5. Jon Jones begins his legendary run as a late sub (2012)

When Mauricio Rua suffered an injury and had to dip out for a title shot against Rashad Evans, Jones answered the call with a little over a month to prepare.

As if destiny was calling for him, Jones descended on the Octagon and beat the stuffing out of Evans in three rounds. If it wasn’t obvious from the get-go, Jones’ win was the beginning of a legendary run that has many considering him the G.O.A.T. in the UFC.

4. The Cowboy’s revenge (2015)

There’s never a bad time to get revenge, and that’s exactly what was on the table when Donald Cerrone was rushed to the Octagon to face off against Benson Henderson for a UFC Fight Night main event.

Henderson defeated Cerrone when both fought for World Extreme Cagefighting years before, but Cerrone was ready to avenge his defeat despite only having 15 days notice. In a spirited clash, Cerrone outworked Henderson to win by the slimmest of margins, avenging his previous loss in the process.

3. Michael Bisping finally wins the big one (2016)

After years of languishing in the middleweight top 10 and seemingly always a step away from a title shot, Bisping got the opportunity he had been waiting for when Chris Weidman’s injury opened a door to a rematch with then-middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.

A supremely confident Bisping was sure that with 10 days to prepare, he was going to take Rockhold’s title. In a savage bout that featured a brutal finish, Bisping battered Rockhold to win the middleweight title to finally get past the biggest roadblock of his career.

2. Justin Gaethje destroys a major fight (2020)

Tony Ferguson had a long winning streak and all the momentum behind him as he prepared for a lightweight title clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov, which ended up being delayed four separate times.

Though many thought that Ferguson would not let his title shot go to waste, he opted instead to face off against Gaethje for the interim title after Nurmagomedov suffered yet another delay.

With just six weeks to prepare against one of the best lightweights in the world, few gave Gaethje a shot. To the surprise of many, Gaethje destroyed Ferguson in a lopsided beating that began a shocking decline he has yet to reverse, while Gaethje used the win to propel himself into one of the division’s top fighters.

1. The Nate Diaz special (2016)

There is no bigger moment that proved anything can happen in the UFC than the night Diaz stepped in to face Conor McGregor at UFC 196.

With Rafael Dos Anjos out, McGregor moved up to welterweight to face Diaz, who only had 10 days to prepare. McGregor dished out a savage beating to Diaz in the opening round, but Diaz displayed his trademark grit and managed to survive.

The second round saw Diaz pounce on a rapidly tiring McGregor, beating him to the punch and locking him into a rear naked choke to score the upset of upsets.

Considering the win came against the UFC's biggest star, it’s no surprise this became the signature moment of Diaz’s career and the night all late-substitute fights are to be judged against.