UFC: A Game of "Chutes and Ladders"

Andrew AltonCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2009

During the holiday season, my family reminded me of an old board game that I used to love playing called "Chutes and Ladders."

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, the concept is quite simple.  There are 100 spaces on the square board (10 rows with 10 spaces each).  You roll a single die each turn and move the allotted spaces.

The twist is, that there are random "chutes" and "ladders" on the board.  If you land on a space that has the bottom of a "ladder," you move up to the top of the "ladder," thus jumping multiple spaces.

Conversely, if you land on a space that starts a "chute," your piece slides to the bottom of the "chute," and you lose many spaces on the board.

However, "ladders" and "chutes" vary in size.  Therefore, some are more advantageous/disadvantageous than others.

Finally, the first person to reach space No. 100 wins.

Right away, I noticed the parallels between the game and MMA, specifically the UFC.

Theoretically, each fighter starts at space No. 1 in their weight division when they enter the UFC and each fighter wants to reach space No. 100 (a title opportunity). 

Each fight is a roll of the die as Joe Silva, Dana White, and the rest of the UFC brain trust determine who will be their next opponent.

From there, it is one giant game of "Chutes and Ladders".  Wins against below-average opponents move you forward at a slow pace.

Victories against average fights are like small "ladders" and wins against good opponents are like big "ladders."  The more victories you string together, the higher up the board you go.

With some luck, a well-timed victory against an upper-tier fighter will get you to space No. 100 and a title shot.

For example, Frank Mir's victory against Brock Lesnar was a giant "ladder" propelling him to the title shot against Antonio Nogueira.  Dustin Hazelett's victory over Tamdan McCrory was a small "ladder."  Gabriel Gonzaga's win against Josh Hendricks was not a ladder, just moving forward.

In the same way that wins in the UFC propel a fighter closer to a title shot, obviously losses delay that pipe dream.  But, much like the "chutes," losses vary in the degree of damage they do to a fighter's progression among the ranks.

Losses to good fighters are small "chutes" and provide a minor setback to a fighter.  However, a loss to a below-average or relatively-unknown fighter is a large "chute" and could undo months of work.

Fabricio Werdum's loss to Junior Dos Santos was a large "chute," which ultimately led to Werdum's dismissal from the UFC.  Likewise, when Josh Koscheck was defeated by Thiago Alves, it was merely a small setback in his attempt to get a title shot.

The one difference to the game is that in the UFC, it is a zero-sum game.  By that, I mean one man's loss is another man's gain.  A victory in the UFC gives one fighter a "ladder" and his opponent a "chute".  This is not true for the game.

To elaborate on a previous example, the victory for Dos Santos was a giant "ladder" thrusting him into the top ten in the heavyweight division.

Therefore, in the UFC (as in life), one man's "chute" is another man's "ladder."  We fans are just along for the ride.