November 23, 2007
It was not a Happy Thanksgiving for Matt Serra, or the Ultimate Fighting Championship, as both sides had to come to terms with the fact that the most hyped match of this year, Serra's welterweight title defense against Matt Hughes for Dec. 29, in Las Vegas, is out due to a herniated disc in Serra's back.
The injury not only affects UFC 79, but also threatens the viability of the long-term plan of the winner of this match facing Georges St. Pierre in the company's Montreal debut, which was tentatively scheduled for April.
Serra, the defending champion, has both a television and personal rivalry with Hughes, which developed weekly on The Ultimate Fighter reality show where they were rival coaches who did not get along. The champion was training with Matt Arroyo on Monday at Serra's gym. He was demonstrating a move when he felt something go wrong with his back, and he collapsed with pain searing through his body. He had to practically be carried to the hospital.
Serra didn't alert anyone right away, hoping that somehow things weren't as bad as he feared, and that perhaps chiropractic treatment would enable to him recover in time for the fight. But on Thursday, he told UFC officials that he there was no possible way he could fight.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do," said Serra in a comment made on the UFC.com web site. "I've never had a back injury before. I could hardly get off the MRI table. There is no way I can train through this, and I'm devastated, especially because this was such an important fight. I was looking forward to fighting Matt Hughes. All my training was going phenomenally until Monday -- All I can do now is to get better and to fight again as soon as possible."
Regarding what happens next, everything is in a holding pattern for the next few days until Serra gets a diagnosis on how long he will be out of action. Hughes was told Friday morning about Serra's injury, and asked about potentially facing another opponent on Dec. 29. Hughes didn't have an immediate response, because without knowing how long Serra would be out, he couldn't make a concrete decision.
If Serra can be ready to fight in early 2008, it would make sense for Hughes to not fight on Dec. 29, and just delay the championship match.
For Hughes to agree to fight on Dec. 29, without the championship at stake, he would be risking his guaranteed title shot with a potential loss or injury. If the recovery period is extensive, UFC will have to make a decision regarding the championship, which has not been defended since Serra beat Georges St. Pierre on April 7th in Houston.
The long delay between matches was because Serra and Hughes were building up the match with being opposing coaches on the television series, which has its final episode on Dec. 5 and its finals three nights later.
According to a UFC official, if Serra is out for a long period of time and Hughes agrees to fight on Dec. 29, the two most likely candidates to for an opponent would be Jon Fitch or Thiago Alves. Josh Koscheck and Diego Sanchez are both coming off losses, and Sanchez has talked about cutting to 155.
Karo Parisyan, another potential opponent, is out with a broken hand. St. Pierre, the top contender for the title, was being held off until the planned April date. But a delay until March, which would seem to be the earliest a Serra vs. Hughes match could take place, would make an April title defense impossible.
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