UFC: What Does It Mean to Lose Three in a Row?

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 15:  George Sotiropoulos looks dejected after the Lightweight bout between George Sotiropoulos and Ross Pearson at Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre on December 15, 2012 on the Gold Coast, Australia.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)
Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Some guys seem to have all the luck.

Well, maybe not all the luck, but as much luck as one can have in a career where being beaten unconscious at the workplace is a regular reality.

Guys like George Sotiropoulous, Dan Hardy and Jeremy Stephens come to mind. Mark Hominick, Keith Jardine and Stephan Bonnar too. Tito Ortiz also, though his status as a legend softens the blow a little.

These men—the lucky, if you will—are men who have lost three fights in a row in the UFC and lived to tell about it, lived to fight (or be given the chance to fight) another day in the famed Octagon.

You see, losing three in a row in the UFC has long been seen as a ticket back to regional territories to work on your game. More guys have been cut from the roster after such a slide than you can count, as the promotion simply doesn’t have the time or interest to coddle fighters on a slide.

However there seem to be exceptions.

If you’re a regional star, like Sotiropoulos in Australia, Hardy in England or Hominick in Canada, you’ll be given some leeway.

If you’re an exciting fighter like the latter two above, Jardine, Bonnar or Stephens, you’ll probably be given a chance to stick around too.

If there’s money to be made from your name on a marquee, like Ortiz, you can lose forever and still be a UFC fighter.

But what kind of message does that send?

In a sport where there is really only one cage to rule them all and only so many spots on the roster, the mixed bag of results, politicking and marketability have definitely left for some questionable decisions.

Within the past week alone, both Sotiropoulos and Stephens each suffered their third straight UFC defeats. While this has been enough to send plenty of guys packing, there’s no word that Sotiropoulos will be cut and Stephens has already announced a drop to 145 pounds for his next UFC fight.

Jared Papazian is a more-talk-than-action flyweight who also lost his third straight fight on the same weekend, but you can’t help but think he’ll be offered the soft landing of the others. He’s not from a place where the UFC is trying to break in, and he’s done little to show himself as exciting or particularly engaging to the average fan.

The point here is not to note that Papazian is better or worse than Sotiropoulos or Stephens, but rather it’s to ask a question of the way the UFC runs its roster: What does it actually mean to lose three in a row?

There are no easy fights in the UFC, and in a sport where a loss can happen faster than it takes to wake up from a well-placed right hand, how can there be a number to justify a fighter’s value to the promotion? How do you say “this guy lost three in a row, but he’s good enough to keep around” only to follow it up with “this guy did too, but he’s not”?

There are too many factors at play to base a fighter’s path off of a trio of losses like it’s some holy number. Unfortunately, that seems to have been the case for far too long now.

It comes down to either being in or out. If you lose three in a row, you’re out. If you don’t, you’re in.

That may make matters complex when bigger names get cut, and perhaps it’s the type of thing that would get Zuffa thinking about resurrecting WEC or Strikeforce to serve as a developmental promotion for guys to get better but remain under their control, but it needs to happen.

The only exception, possibly, would be losing a title fight and then losing three straight, which is more justifiable. Otherwise guys need to know that if they go on a skid, regardless of who they are, they’ll be acknowledged as no longer being UFC calibre.

It happens in other sports all the time. Look at how fast the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts cut ties with living legend Peyton Manning, or at the number of NHL and MLB stars that finished their careers on waivers or in the minors.

The UFC should be no different—you’re either good enough or you’re not, and who you are has nothing to do with it.

So what does losing three in a row at the UFC level mean? Who even knows anymore. But it’s pretty clear that it means different things to different fighters, and that’s something that should probably change.