In his last middleweight title defense, World Extreme Cagefighting champion Paulo Filho faced a stiff challenge from veteran Chael Sonnen.
Now the unbeaten Filho faces an even more important challenge outside the cage.
The Brazilian checked himself into a rehabilitation center in his native country Thursday to seek help for a substance abuse problem, forcing him to pull out of his rematch against Sonnen in what was to be the main event of the WEC card at the Hard Rock Hotel on March 26.
Sonnen instead will fight Bryan Baker. The light heavyweight title bout between champion Doug Marshall and Brian Stann is now the main event.
The Filho-Sonnen rematch was scheduled soon after their original match Dec. 12 ended somewhat controversially.
Sonnen controlled most of the two rounds, but the referee stopped the fight with five seconds remaining in the second round when Sonnen screamed in pain from a Filho armbar. Prior to stopping the bout, the referee repeatedly asked Sonnen if he wanted to quit, and the fighter said no each time.
Filho is unavailable for comment while in rehab, but manager Ed Soares issued a statement through the WEC.
“This is horrible news, but we’re proud of him for stepping up and recognizing his problem,” the statement read. “Paulo apologizes to his fans but he thanks them for their support and he promised that the next time they see him, he’ll be back at 100 percent and will be the Paulo Filho everyone expects to see.”
• “IRON RING” DEBUT — Black Entertainment Television (Cox 27) begins its foray into mixed martial arts at 11 p.m. today when it debuts a one-hour series called “Iron Ring.”
The show pits teams of young, unknown fighters competing for a season championship and $100,000 in prize money. The teams are coached by veteran fighters and managed by rappers and entertainers who will be featured prominently on the show.
Las Vegan Floyd Mayweather, Jr. runs one of the teams, called the Money Mayweather Boys. Ludacris, Nelly, T.I. and Lil’ Jon are managers as well, while Juelz Santana and Jim Jones will co-manage the final team.
• UFC 84 CARD — When the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Las Vegas on May 24, the card will feature several light heavyweight bouts.
The main event will be the lightweight title fight between B.J. Penn and Sean Sherk. Previously announced light heavyweight bouts include Keith Jardine against Wanderlei Silva and Lyoto Machida taking on Tito Ortiz.
Saturday, the UFC confirmed three more light heavyweight bouts. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou will face Kazuhiro Nakamura, Thiago Silva will face Antonio Mendes and Wilson Gouveia will face Goran Reljic.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@ reviewjournal.com or (702) 224-5509.