UFC title shots exist only in the form of dreams for the vast majority of MMA competitors.
It's a tough road that often takes years of hard work combined with the willpower to endure a number of hardships.
Or so you would think.
Recently, the UFC has come under fire for the manner in which title shots are being awarded to individuals. The center of this controversy is Chael Sonnen, a former middleweight title contender who will be challenging for the UFC light heavyweight title without even competing in a No. 1 contender bout.
Sonnen's line jumping has caused both fans and fighters to question the UFC's ethics.
Many point out that Sonnen is nothing more than a glorified microphone and is only receiving a title shot because of his ability to hype a fight.
Sonnen's case is just one of many instances where a fighter received a title shot unfairly. Without a clear and consensus No. 1 contender, the UFC often picks the best matchup available. That could either mean the best matchup in terms of pay-per-view buys or best matchup in terms of fighting.
The company will always come under scrutiny due to the nature in which they pick future title challengers, but what are some ways the company can make title shots "fair" to both fans and fighters?
Hold a Pride-Style Tournament
We've seen this formula produce some great fights in the past, with Pride FC's tournaments being the stuff of legend. A number of stars carved their place in MMA greatness by going all the way in a tournament-style setting.
Since Pride FC's doors closed, Bellator has become the only major promotion to hold MMA tournaments on a regular basis. The promotion has earned a measure of respect from some fan groups for challengers "earning" their title shots by winning the tournament.
Hosting a tournament is something sports fans are very familiar with; March Madness causes a craze every year. It's always interesting to dissect matchups based on how fighters are seeded, and a tournament could generate some extra money in the gambling world.
Of course there's one major flaw with a tournament: injuries. The UFC has enough trouble with injuries right now and injuries always seem to occur during MMA tournaments.
We saw injuries plague the Strikeforce Grand Prix and injuries have also hampered future title shots earned in Bellator. With fighters becoming less and less willing to take short-notice fights, an injury in an UFC tournament could be catastrophic.
If the UFC were to host tournaments I wouldn't mind seeing them go down over a set period of time. It could be a "once a year" type gimmick to help drive pay-per-view buys, something the UFC is seemingly in desperate need of for every show not featuring Georges St-Pierre.
So if not a tournament, what's the other major way to make UFC title shots fair?
Institute UFC Rankings
Who is the true No. 1 contender?
In many cases that topic requires a fair amount of arguing between fans. The easiest way to fix this would be for the UFC to assign a top-10 ranking system conducted by the promotion.
The road to the title would then becomes clearer.
Whoever holds the No. 1 slot would receive the next title shot. It simplifies where each fighter ranks in the division and allows fans to clearly identify who is the best of the best.
Although a ranking system makes a lot of sense for fans, it makes no sense for the UFC.
The promotion is in the business of making money and would stand to lose a lot by creating a ranking system. It gives the fighters too much control over not only their next fight but also their next contract.
Fighter A who ranks higher than Fighter B would no doubt request more money and hold every bargaining chip in terms of negotiations. A ranking system removes the control from the UFC's hands and puts it into the fighter's hands.
Another issue I see emerging from instituting a ranking system is the one currently plaguing the BCS. When discussing who the best team is, the conversation tends to veer towards who has "the best loss." Having the "best loss" is an extremely subjective standard to go by, and it would create the same fairness problems that caused a ranking system to exist in the first place.
These are just two solutions to the issue of fairness and UFC title shots but ultimately it will never truly be fair to everyone.
That's just fine with me. Life isn't fair, so why should an UFC title shot be any different?