Late replacements Pereira and Prochazka face off in rematch for light heavyweight title in UFC 303

LAS VEGAS (AP) — When Conor McGregor’s broken toe forced him to pull out of UFC 303, UFC President Dana White knew he didn’t have time to waste.

Promotional materials needed to be changed and a new marketing strategy created.

And he had to find a new headline fight.

Light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira was on vacation in Australia and No. 1 challenger Jiri Prochazka on a three-day meditation retreat when his coach banged on the door about the fight opportunity. Now they will face each other Saturday in a rematch from less than a year ago.

Even without McGregor, White said he expected to break the gate record of $17.7 million for UFC 205 in November 2016 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“We’re right on the cusp now of breaking the record,” White said. “This is the business. These things happen. Nobody’s better at replacing the fights than we are.”

Getting the late offer to headline this weekend’s card that is part of International Fight Week was quite a challenge to both contestants.

“Normally, I have two months for camp,” Prochazka said. “I put everything into 1 1/2 weeks.”

The short turnaround is not unfamiliar to Pereira, who often was given little time to prepare when he was racking up victories as a kickboxer before transitioning to mixed-martial arts in 2015.

“Kickboxing for me was a school, made me go through all and sometimes even worse scenarios that I’m fighting now Saturday,” the Brazilian champ said through an interpreter. “So I’m just going to focus on the fight.”

The bout is a rematch from Nov. 11 at Madison Square Garden when Pereira won the championship with a technical knockout at 4:08 of the second round and earned the performance of the night bonus. That was his second title belt in just his seventh fight for the UFC.

Pereira also ended Prochazka’s 13-match winning streak, including three in the UFC.

That fight was made possible when champion Jamahal Hill vacated the title after getting hurt playing pick-up basketball. Pereira followed his TKO over Prochazka with a first-round stoppage of Hill in UFC 300 on April 13 in Las Vegas.

Now Pereira (10-2) returns to T-Mobile Arena on short notice facing a familiar opponent with the hopes of further cementing his UFC credentials.

“I feel very good good, short notice of not,” Pereira said. “I’m just very happy to be here.”

How much time Pereira, who turns 37 on July 7, has left to be at the top of his game remains to be seen.

Pereira was the unexpected headliner this week, and how many more opportunities he will receive is unknown even to him.

“I feel good now,” Pereira said. “I want to defend my belt. I don’t know how long I’ll be in this sport or how long I’ll be fighting.”

Prochazka (30-4-1), who is from the Czech Republic, would love to quicken Pereira’s move into retirement, which would mean a far different fight from the one at MSG.

Not that it was a total disaster. Prochazka, 31, had his moments when he was competitive with Pereira, and maybe he can string some more of those together in the rematch to make enough of a difference.

“No matter the result, I saw that fight many times and I will not change anything,” Prochazka said. “This Saturday, I want to do the same thing but better. Be more precise in the details. Watch the calf kicks. And win.”

Featherweight fighters Brian Ortega and Cub Swanson said they thought the card — despite missing McGregor’s star power that draws in casual fans — was better now that it has been reconfigured.

Ortega (16-3), the third-ranked contender, faces No. 14 Diego Lopes (24-6) in the co-main event.

“The co-main and the main event, there’s no way one of them’s not the fight of the night,” White said. “I’d put anything up on it right now. I don’t know which one it will be, but it will be one of those.”


AP sports:

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up