Saturday, May 18, 2024

UFC 294 fight card: Former welterweight champ Kamaru Usman replaces Paulo Costa for Khamzat Chimaev clash

One day after scrambling to save, and possibly upgrade, the main event of the blockbuster UFC 294 pay-per-view card in Abu Dhabi set for Oct. 21, UFC president Dana White announced another major change Wednesday to the event’s co-feature. 

Amid health concerns surrounding Paulo Costa (14-2) ahead of his middleweight clash with unbeaten phenom Khamzat Chimaev (12-0), White shared in a video on social media that the promotion has booked former welterweight champion and pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman (20-3) to replace the Brazilian slugger in what will be Usman’s 185-pound debut. 

“We got it done,” White said excitedly, from the matchmaking “war room” inside UFC’s Las Vegas headquarters.  

The 29-year-old Costa had elbow surgery just three weeks before the fight and shared on social media Wednesday that doctors pulled him from the event due to the presence of staphylococcus bacteria, which causes staph infections. The fight was expected to have an impact on the middleweight title picture thanks to Costa’s No. 6 ranking and Chimaev’s recent full-time move up to 185 pounds after badly missing the welterweight limit last September.

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The fight will act as the chief support to a lightweight title rematch pairing champion Islam Makhachev (24-1) against featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski (26-2), who accepted the fight Tuesday on 11 days’ notice after former champion Charles Oliveira pulled out due to a cut above his right eye suffered in sparring. 

Chimaev, a 29-year-old from the Chechen Republic of Russia, has long been targeted for stardom since he rifled off a trio of dominant wins in 2020 while making his UFC debut. At first, it looked like Chimaev could be a title threat in two divisions until he missed weight by nearly eight pounds ahead of a scheduled PPV main event against Nate Diaz last year, which forced a chaotic switch of opponents atop the card in order to save the event. 

The 36-year-old Usman is fresh off a pair of losses to Leon Edwards, the first of which — a fifth-round knockout at UFC 278 in 2022 — cost him his welterweight title. The native of Nigeria had previously won all 15 of his trips to the Octagon and was beginning to gain consideration as one of the greatest fighters in promotional history. 

Usman, who dropped a majority decision to Edwards in their March rematch, will look for a reinvention at middleweight. He was previously hesitant to move up to 185 pounds out of respect for his countryman, and former champion, Israel Adesanya. 

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