It seems a lot of MMA followers are quick to dismiss any fight that doesn’t bear significant relevance in regards to divisional rankings. The desire to see top 10 ranked opponents collide isn’t outlandish, but the disregard that every other fight garners seems preposterous.
One cannot break into the upper echelons of any division without mowing through some unranked opposition on the way. And remember that because a fighter isn’t a current top 10 occupant, doesn’t mean, for a second, that they’re incapable of putting on one hell of a show for fans.
Remember UFC on Fox 4’s amazing back-and-forth brawl between lightweights Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner? It was without a doubt one of the top fights of the year, but it wasn’t a contest designed to outline a new entrant into the top 10 rankings.
It wasn’t a title eliminator either. It was nothing more than an exciting matchup that showcased a tangible level of synergy between two men, and yielded one of the most enjoyable fights we’ve seen in years. It was, quite simply put, a fun fight.
Mixed Martial Arts has emerged as a successful platform for a new breed of athletes. Now recognized as a legitimate sport, rather than a freak-show intended to lure drunken, testosterone-fueled meatheads to the television, MMA combines ranking and audience draw to determine who’s advancing their career, who’s fighting for a title and who sits on the cusp of a championship opportunity.
MMA now has a fair structure. Part of the foundation lies in the matchmaking and the manner in which a man may ascend to the top of his specific weight class. If fighter A hopes to emerge as a marquee draw, title contention associated with his name, he’s got to be a part of some fights that, in the grand scheme of things don’t necessarily mean a whole lot.
But these fights, the fights in which a man struggles to make his presence known, are the kind of fights that often produce explosive action. These guys are hungry; hungry for success, and a chance to challenge the best fighters in the world all the while taking home a paycheck that will actually cover training costs as well as living costs.
Think back for a moment on the careers of some of your favorite fighters.
Did Nate Diaz’s second-round submission win over Melvin Guillard at UFC Fight Night 19 mean much to the elite of the division? Did Cain Velasquez’s lopsided mauling of Denis Stojnic at UFC Fight Night 17 send ripples through the deeper waters of the heavyweight division? Did Chuck Liddell’s ultrafast-paced war with Paul Jones at UFC 22 decide the next man to vie for promotional gold?
The answer to all of those questions is an emphatic no. But every one of the aforementioned men eventually emerged as bona fide superstars, and each ended up, at one point or another, fighting for a title. Furthermore those fights were highly enjoyable aesthetic treats for anyone who simply wants to see a good, fun fight.
Without the fun fights, the sport cannot build superstars. The wars among unranked fighters often lead to, or help launch respectable fan followings. Continue to win fights, win fans. These men, the ones willing to put the time and effort in competing in these "fun fights," often morph from unrecognized preliminary card fighter, to eventual stud, recognized worldwide.
Sit back for a brief moment and try to tell me that virtually every Matt Brown fight isn’t an all-out, fan friendly spectacle that has turned “The Immortal” into a fighter that fanatics are anxious to see compete.
Are we so eager to watch Brown throw leather because we know that with one more win he’ll be challenging Georges St-Pierre for his welterweight title? No, we’re not. Brown isn’t even close to a title shot, in fact, he’s unranked by the majority of quality MMA media outlets.
We watch Matt Brown fight because we love fun fights, and it takes fun fights to mold champions. Whether or not Brown will ever challenge for a title remains to be seen, but what we can take away from Matt’s performances is particularly important: “The Immortal”, just as many previously mentioned in this article, is walking, talking, active proof that fun fights have a key place in this business.
MMA doesn’t always have to be about a title fight. At the end of the day, MMA should always be a pleasure to watch, and that makes the less relevant, but (often) more entertaining bouts a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Do “fun” fights have a place in MMA? You bet they do.
Follow me on Twitter.