Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in the world, and one that has been venturing more and more into the mainstream with each passing year. Through the years, promotions have come and gone, evolved and changed, merged and been bought out, but the one that has established itself as the pound-for-pound king is the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The UFC has taken the sport of MMA to new heights, and stands as the correlated product that goes along with MMA in the mainstream light. But being the premier organization and the most successful, the observation under the microscope augments. Just as with fighters who become champions, they become more scrutinized and their actions analyzed and followed more closely. The UFC being the juggernaut it has become; it is the promotion that is in the forefront of attention.
So far, Dana White, the Fertitta brothers, and other UFC brass have done a fantastic job of taking an almost-bankrupt entertainment idea and turning it into a huge financial sport phenomena. However, with anything in developing stages, mistakes are made along the way.
The UFC has had its share of bad ideas and bad publicity, but they manage to come out generally unscathed. However, there is a consistent issue that is in the underlying infrastructure of how the organization is set up.
That issue is title shots and rankings.
The UFC has prided itself on giving back to the fans, and giving the fans what they want. For the most part, this sentiment is fulfilled. However, it is when it conflicts with the competition aspect of a sport that a problem emerges.
There are all types of fans, each with their own desires of fights that should be made. It is ultimately up to White, the Fertittas, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, and others to make the calls as to who fights whom next.
The fans have their opinions recognized by the brass in many different avenues of media, but at the end of the day, the UFC is a business.
The bottom line matters to the matchmakers, but sometimes that business approach bleeds into the competitive portion of MMA. Throughout the years, the UFC has put on some fantastic cards, and some not as strong. Title shots have come and gone, but the way someone has earned the title shot has been especially controversial this past year.
The UFC has no official rankings list, and a plethora of media sites have varying ones for the different weight classes. This leaves fans to guess based off of history, or from the occasional verbal indication from people like Dana White.
But it has grown more and more apparent that there is something very inconsistent with the rankings in the UFC.
Before, it was brushed off when two fighters were matched up and it didn’t make the most sense on paper, but it has been more recent and more often that these situations are occurring with title shots. The grand mystery of the UFC is what makes you deserving of a title shot. Or what must you do in order to get a title shot?
In most other sports, it is clear that you have to beat the opposition to the point where there are only two teams/individuals left standing, and winner takes all. This is the underlying structure of tournaments, and something the UFC abandoned years ago in its infantile stages.
Bellator, arguably the world's second largest MMA promotion, is setup in tournament fashion, and touts itself as the place where title shots are earned and not given. Because the UFC does not conduct its competitions in this style, there is a missing sense of fairness that slips out from time to time.
As fans, we can be distracted by exciting matchups, or justifying commercials and press conferences that make us feel better about the matchup, but sometimes it is beyond justification. The most recent example is Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones facing off as TUF coaches, ultimately leading to a title shot for Sonnen.
The issue is that Dan Henderson was the next in line, but was sidelined due to injury. Now that Jones has vanquished Vitor Belfort (another confusing matchup), Hendo is skipped again and the shot has been given to Sonnen; a man who has been fighting a weight class down and is coming off of a TKO loss.
While the idea of Jones and Sonnen going at it is exciting, and the potential of the TUF season trash talk is astronomical, the matchup is extremely hard to justify.
Jones vs. Sonnen was a possible replacement for the UFC 151 card that was cancelled, but Jones opted out, leaving fans upset that he didn’t take the fight. However, that was a different situation because Hendo has just been injured. Now with Jones taking time to heal using the TUF season, Hendo would be ready to go.
Hendo isn’t the only one who is statistically more deserving as well, and there are a handful of fighters that find this decision unfair too.
This situation drew a bold line when it comes to hurting the UFC’s image. This was clearly a decision made without rankings involved, and, if anything, a business ploy to put on a great TUF season and give fans an exciting fight. While the matchup is intriguing and the hyping of it will be amazing, even huge Sonnen fans are probably scratching their heads and thinking this is wrong.
The UFC is supposed to be the premier promotion for competition in MMA, but with such inconsistency in what an athlete has to do to get to the top, it is pulling the UFC into the entertainment arena and out of the sport arena.
The dust will settle, Jones and Sonnen will fight, and this will be idle until the next undeserving moment. But as the pioneer and ambassador for the sport of MMA to the world, the structure must continue to become more refined and consistent if it hopes to become as big as other established sports one day.