One common attribute that fight fans appreciated about MMA was that fighters were not stained by their losses. They did not care about their records, and losses were not seen as disgraces that tarnished the athlete's mystique.
Randy Couture and Quinton Jackson were highly respected despite having a few losses on their records. This was because, in their era, the best were fighting the best—despite losses.
There is a trend in today's MMA for the best to avoid the best.
Interim champions refuse to defend their titles until the original champion is ready to fight (Renan Barão and Carlos Condit et al.). Champions turn down fights for ridiculous reasons—Jon Jones-Chael Sonnen for spite, Anderson Silva-Chris Weidman because Weidman is not popular enough, and Jones-Lyoto Machida, though it eventually happened was maligned by Jones for low pay-per-view numbers.
Marquee headliners are now less frequent because of the paradigm shift in MMA. There are now significant risks attached to losing. A loss will be held against them and knocks them off the ladder for the biggest fights.
Nick Diaz makes no sense. I know that sounds fun. Yeah! Throw Nick Diaz in there! If
you really look at the thing, Nick Diaz just lost to Condit at 170, so that gives him the
opportunity to move up to 185 and fight the pound-for-pound best in the world?
In what [expletive] universe does that make sense?"
With all due respect to the man who built the UFC, the answer is simple, Dana: In the fight universe, this fight categorically DOES makes sense.
The best fighters fight the best. Diaz-Silva is a great fight. Stephan Bonnar, despite his three-fight win streak, did not deserve that fight. The fans were cheated out of an opportunity to see Anderson Silva truly tested, and an epic encounter failed to materialize because of a fallacious and antiquated notion that a fighter who loses is unworthy of a big fight.
Dana White also told ESPN in an interview that GSP needs to defeat Carlos Condit in order for the Silva-GSP fight to transpire.
"He's got to beat Condit," White told ESPN.
Personally, I see GSP winning easily. However, the concept that GSP needs to prove himself to earn a blockbuster bout is unsettling. It is a philosophy that is illogical and troubling. Indisputably, one of the greatest fighters of all time, an international superstar, a hero to millions, would be denied a chance at making a historical bout because of a loss to Carlos Condit?
The mere concept that a loss would discredit his legacy and make him unworthy of a mega-bout is untenable and transcends absurdity. It is representative of a mindset that plagues the sport. The UFC president should take a lesson from an icon.
One of the greatest fighters of all time made his name by seeking the biggest and boldest challenges on the planet. Felix “Tito” Trinidad was 33-0 when he challenged the best in the welterweight division: Pernell Whitaker.
He then went on to face Oscar De La Hoya and David Reid; the Puerto Rican legend then tested the undefeated Fernando Vargas at super welterweight, followed that with William Joppy, Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright at middleweight, finally retiring after challenging Roy Jones at 170.
Tito made the big fights happen. He did not win all of his fights, but he gave the sport the big fights. The same argument can be made about Oscar De La Hoya—he put losses aside and made the iconic fights happen with the biggest superstars on the planet.
There is no shame in losing in the fight game and it should not prevent the big fights from happening. This is why we have more conservative-based fight plans where the goal is get a W as opposed to performing well (such as Carlos Condit).
When a proven superstar performs well against a top fighter, a loss should carry no repercussions. While being told by Dana White to put on exciting fights, the truth is evident: Do not lose, lest you face retribution.
Big fights are becoming a rarity in the UFC and their vault is being cheated of possessing even more classics.
An example of how the Tito spirit does thrive in the UFC is the upcoming Frankie Edgar-Jose Aldo title bout at 145. Despite coming off two losses, Frankie Edgar will fight a top pound-for-pounder in Aldo. This fight makes sense and is the best possible fight between two great fighters. The losses are overlooked and the right fight is made.
Credit the UFC for this matchup.
This was once commonplace and it worked. When B.J. Penn lost to GSP at UFC 58, he returned in his next fight at UFC 63 to challenge Matt Hughes for the title. Nobody complained. It was the best
fight between the best fighters.
If losing equates to loss of opportunity for a big fight, then it is more pragmatic to not fight (as No. 1 contenders now choose to do).
When two great fighters meet, it's not possible for both to walk out with a win. They should be encouraged and applauded for taking on another top competitor, not risk punitive actions for that decision.
The current message is confusing, as top fighters are admonished for rejecting a fight (Jon Jones-Chael Sonnen, Matt Mitrione-Daniel Cormier, Shogun Rua-Glover Teixeira) and blockbuster opportunities are taken away as a result of losing.
The truth is, we now live in a universe where we may not see Dan Henderson face Jon Jones. At 42, the legendary Hendo is now battling to regain his position as No. 1 contender and sadly needs
to go undefeated in his run to obtain that shot.
Considering today's UFC climate, a loss will put him out of the contention picture. Any universe would
be proud to have Hendo as a citizen and we dishonor ourselves by sacrificing his chance at championship gold.
Nick Diaz, GSP and Dan Henderson do not have to prove themselves to anybody. They have paid their dues and more. Stealing their chances at glory is unjust.
There has been a rash of fighters turning down big-name fights lately, resulting in cancelled cards (UFC 151 and the Strikeforce Cormier-Mir card).
While it is disappointing that fighters are turning down fights, it is difficult to not empathize. Losses are now being treated as stains that detract from the fighters’ status in White’s eyes. It is this type of mentality that begets bouts such as Silva-Bonnar and Jones-Sonnen as opposed to Silva-GSP and Jones-Henderson.
Take a lesson from Tito and make the big fights happen.