As the UFC has continued to grow and put on more shows in more countries, we have seen a predictable increase of fights and fight cards that require reassembly, often times at the last minute.
More shows beget more fighters training which begets more fighters injured and so on, until you have men put into positions where they must make quick choices near the final hour.
And those decisions seem to be based on personal desire rather than the realities and immediacy of the situation.
Jon Jones will not fight Chael Sonnen on short notice and Lyoto Machida won’t fight Jones on short notice. Mauricio Shogun Rua won’t fight Jones on short notice, and he’s got what seems to him to be good reasons for not wanting to fight Glover Teixeira.
In short, there are a whole lot of fighters that feel that they must be their own best, fiercest advocates in the face of conditions that are less than ideal. They want to maximize their chances for victory and often times that does not go hand-in-hand with making quick decisions or taking risks with their current ranking.
Considering how quickly the sport is growing, one would be hard to argue with the philosophy that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Even the slightest misstep can see a fighter slip in the rankings and from there, a title shot can go from being but a step away to a question to be answered sometime in the coming year…or the next.
Just ask Anthony Pettis, who was been waiting a long time for a title shot that keeps being handed to everyone but him, and Pettis holds a victory over the current champion thanks to one of the greatest kicks in MMA history.
But a close decision loss to clay Guida has placed him in a kind of Limbo that has him never very far from any title conversation, yet never confirmed as the next in line.
Such are the numerous hazards a fighter needs to navigate in order to keep his head above water and his face fresh in the public's mind. But amid all the pondering, the conferring with coaches and managers and the calculating of risk versus reward, the only fight that’s really being fought is in favor of caution in the face of uncertainty.
All the while, the true fights, the ones that matter, are being lost in the minutia of last minute negotiations that seem to be put into motion toward the end of disarming bombs that must go off sooner or later.
In other words, a fighter has to be ready to fight any and all opponents sooner or later, so why not sooner?
It is, of course, natural for a fighter and his camp to want the ideal conditions and situation for each and every fight they choose to engage in. They are risking much in the way of stature and standing every time they step into the cage.
But isn’t that what it’s all about?
Aren’t the combative sports about men being so skilled and capable that they can impose a kind of order out of the chaos of combat, and in doing so establish themselves as the best? Isn’t each fight a story about two men having such faith in their skills and abilities that they freely embrace the risk of bodily harm and loss of divisional standing for the greater reward of advancement and eventually a title?
If that is indeed what it is about, then no fighter should pick and choose who he fights, lest an entire sport see the beginnings of a decline where fighters declare their greatness with one breath while refusing to fight those who pose a threat to their claims with the other.
This is the current state of affairs in boxing: fighters declaring how great they are and padding their records with the sole aim of making enough noise that they get a mega-payday fight with the best of their division or the sport. It seems less and less about who’s the greatest and more about who can gather unto themselves the greatest amount of money.
And all the while, many of the boxing matches fans want to see never come to light, because as Sugar Ray Leonard so aptly said, today’s fighters aren’t interested in bragging rights anymore. This is what happens when fighters picking their own fights becomes the norm instead of the exception.
These days in the MMA, there are no straight lines to the title. Unless you are incredibly marketable and possess the skills and power that put you so far above your closest peers that you look like an astronaut to their ant, odds are you are going to have to fight just about any fight that comes your way, just so you can keep your name in every current divisional conversation, and so you can stay sharp.
But in the end, the philosophy needed to become a champion need not be as complicated as the recent Jon Jones fiasco makes it seem.
Once a fighter becomes champion, in essence the decision making process that goes into deciding who you fight and who you don’t ceases to exist: you are the champion, and thus you fight anyone they put in front of you, at any time, bar none.
Simple and easy.
So, how does that philosophy—one a champion should constantly employ—help one become the champ in the first place?
Because anyone who fights for a living should love it more than anything else, and if you love what you do, then you want to do it all the time, circumstances be damned. People love watching anyone do what they love, because they do it with inspiration.
Fighters have a lot of decisions to make, but the one decision they shouldn’t be burdened with is who they should fight next. The UFC has Joe Silva and the fans who decide that, and that is how it should be.
The men who compete in the UFC are professional combatants, blessed with the ability to get to do what they love for a living. They control how hard they train and who they train with, and the rest is a great deal of faith: faith in their trainers and camps and faith that they really are as good as they think they are.
As a rule of thumb, most fighters think they can beat anyone on any given day, because of their faith in themselves and those who train them. If that really is the case—and God knows it should be, because there are much easier ways to make a living than getting punched in the face—then fighting isn’t a matter of negotiation or risk vs. reward, it’s more an affirmative statement of faith.
And nothing shows you have faith in yourself more than fighting anyone placed in front of you, at any time.