NSAC’s Jeff Mullen Details Last-Minute Change in UFC 303 Co-Headliner

June 30, 2024
A lot went into the making of the eventual matchup for the co-main event at UFC 303.

Khalil Rountree and Jamahal Hill were the originally scheduled co-main event for UFC 303 at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday before Rountree was forced out due to a failed drug test. Carlos Ulberg stepped in to replace Rountree but that matchup was eventually scrapped entirely when both Hill and Ulberg withdrew from the card. Eventually, Diego Lopes vs. Brian Ortega was booked as the featherweight co-main event. However, Lopes agreed to lightweight matchup against Ortega when he learned that “T-City” wouldn’t be able make the weight cut.

However, it was announced during the UFC 303 broadcast that the card was to have a new co-main event, as a fever forced Ortega out of the fight. Dan Ige, who trains in Las Vegas at Xtreme Couture, stepped in to replace Ortega on a few hours’ notice. And Lopes accepted the fight at a 165-pound catchweight.

Jeff Mullen, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, explained how the last-minute booking was put together. Ige was also medically cleared to fight in Nevada from his first-round knockout win over Andre Fili at the Apex in Las Vegas in February. “50K” was also in fighting shape as he was preparing for a scheduled UFC Fight Night co-headliner clash against Jose Mariscal on July 20.

“Brian Ortega was medically unable to compete today. So, they immediately started looking for opponents and fortunately Dan Ige, who the 14th-ranked contender, is right here in town,” Mullen told ESPN. “He was already licensed, he fought here in February, won by first round knockout. So, we already had all of his medicals, all of his requirements completed. So, he was available, they made the fight where he’s ranked 14th and Diego is ranked 15th, so it’s a perfect matchup. Perfectly approvable matchup.

“And again, we had everything. I checked with our attorneys, make sure everything’s in order. He weighed in [Saturday]. He’s gonna have a pre-fight physical today. And everything is in order. Plus, he was already training for a fight on July 20. So, he was prepared and ready to go. First thing I did when they proposed this was, I talked to his trainer Eric Nicksick, and I said, ‘Is he ready?’ And he [Nicksick] said, ‘Yeah sure, he is ready to fight tonight.’”

Mullen also noted that this wasn’t completely unprecedented in the promotion’s history. Junior Tafa had replaced his brother Justin Tafa on one day’s notice against Marcos Rogerio de Lima at UFC 298 in Anaheim, California, this past February.

“There was a similar situation in Anaheim, California,” he said. “One of the Tafa brothers stepped in for the other one on the day of the fight when there was an injury.”

Lopes survived a third round scare from Ige to earn a grueling unanimous decision win. Despite the loss, Ige is glad to have forever etched his name in the history books by stepping up under the conditions that he did.

“It doesn’t matter: eight weeks, six weeks, four weeks, four hours. It doesn’t matter,” Ige said during his post-fight interview. “This is what I live for, this is my dream. I get to wake up and do what I love, I was literally getting a massage and I had a call from Hunter [Campbell], Ali [Abdelaziz] and a bunch of people. They said, ‘Hey do you want to fight tonight?’ And I was like, ‘Man this is an opportunity to become a legend. This is the story I want to tell my grandkids.’ I love fighting at the Apex, don’t get me wrong, but to show up on four hours’ notice on International Fight Week, on one of the biggest cards of the year, on the co-main event, man I couldn’t be happier with my performance.”

Reference: https://www.sherdog.com/news/news/NSACs-Jeff-Mullen-Details-LastMinute-Change-in-UFC-303-CoHeadliner-194200

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