LAS VEGAS » UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has injured his right knee in training, forcing him out of his title defense against Fabricio Werdum on Nov. 15.
Mark Hunt will step in to meet Werdum for an interim heavyweight title at UFC 180, the mixed martial arts promotion’s debut in Mexico.
Velasquez (13-1) was the centerpiece of the UFC’s first card in Mexico City, where the 21,000-seat arena sold out in eight hours. The Mexican-American champion has a strong fan following in a growing MMA market.
"I’m so unbelievably disappointed that this happened," Velasquez said. "To say I was looking forward to fighting in Mexico for the first time is an understatement. I wanted to fight on that card so bad."
Although Velasquez is one of the UFC’s most talented fighters, his injury problems have deprived the promotion of one of its biggest attractions.
The former Arizona State wrestler hasn’t fought since October 2013, when he tore a labrum in his shoulder while stopping Junior Dos Santos in his second title defense. Velasquez also tore his rotator cuff in October 2010 while beating Brock Lesnar, and he missed several months of training in early 2012 with another knee injury.
Werdum (18-5-1), a 37-year-old Brazilian veteran based in Los Angeles, has won seven of his last eight fights. He has been training in Mexico for nearly two months to adjust to the altitude.
Velasquez’s injury sets up an unlikely title shot for the 40-year-old Hunt (10-8-1), who beat Roy Nelson in Japan on Sept. 20 for his fifth win in seven fights. The New Zealander has three weeks to prepare for a high-altitude fight and to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit.
Hunt said he plans to fly to Mexico on Wednesday to begin training.
"I feel blessed to have this opportunity to fight for another world title," Hunt said. "This is something that doesn’t happen often to people."
Six of the UFC’s nine reigning champions had injury problems in the past year. Jon Jones, Chris Weidman, Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo have been forced to postpone title defenses because of injuries, while welterweight champion Johny Hendricks tore his biceps in a title defense.