Why Tournaments Would Never Work in the UFC
It's no secret that the Bellator MMA has made huge strides over the last few months. Partly for good reasons (moving to SPIKE) and partly for negative issues (Eddie Alvarez's contract dispute).
Something is pushing the popularity of Bellator forward, and many believe it's the tournament format. One of the most common topics people discuss with me is whether or not a tournament would work within the UFC today.
The answer is no.
The easiest way to explain why a UFC tournament wouldn't work is to direct you towards the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix that took place between June 2011 and May 2012.
In my opinion, the tournament lost its luster after the first round of fights. Fedor Emelianenko was upset by Antonio Silva—which brings up the first point as to why a UFC tournament won't work.
As great as it was to watch Bigfoot beat Fedor (one of the most heartfelt victorious reactions I've ever seen following a fight), didn't we all think the bracket was completely busted after that point? Looming on the horizon was a matchup between Fedor and Alistair Overeem.
Instead fans were "treated" to Silva vs. Daniel Cormier because Overeem was forced out of the tournament because he felt he needed "more rest". Of course everything hit the fan shortly after that, and Overeem was done with Strikeforce as a whole.
When all was said and done, Daniel Cormier won the tournament—somebody who wasn't even in the bracket when the whole thing started.
Imagine if there was an upset in the first round of a UFC light heavyweight tournament. Jon Jones gets caught unexpectedly by Ryan Bader. Instead of seeing Jon Jones face Alexander Gustafsson in the second round (Gustafsson beat Glover Teixeira in this hypothetical first round), we now get to watch Bader trot on out there and get pummeled.
Upsets in tournaments are great in other major sports. Seeing a No. 8 seed knock off a No. 1 in any sport is rare and exciting, but it wouldn't hold the same weight in a UFC tournament. Teams play each other to a best-of-seven or a best-of-five in most cases to determine the better team. That's not an option in MMA.
Rematches and trilogies settle the score as to who the better fighter is. Novelty tournaments don't do anything but get fans excited about potential matchups that probably won't come to fruition because of an injury or a contract dispute during the tournament.
What did the Matt Serra win over Georges St-Pierre prove? That Serra was a better fighter than GSP? Serra lost three of his last four fights and is the owner of a 7-7 UFC record. GSP, on the other hand, hasn't lost since that fight (10-0).
It was confusing as to what being the winner of the Stirkeforce tournament actually meant. Cormier wasn't a champion; he didn't earn the belt. Instead he picked up a trophy in the same way many of your kids do at the end of a little league season.
The thought of a UFC tournament sounds great; don't get me wrong. It's also something we aren't going to see anytime soon. The closest we got to that was the flyweight pairings to give us our first UFC champion in that division. It was more of a final four than a tournament.
2012 was a year in which nearly every card was affected by an injury of some sort. In many cases, the main or co-main event was affected. The UFC has a hard enough time trying to manage injuries without the variable of keeping a tournament bracket together. Can you imagine how long an eight-man tournament would take the UFC to complete with how often these guys are getting injured nowadays?
As fans, do we even want a tournament? The topic comes up now for two reasons. For one, Bellator is becoming popular with the format. More importantly, however, is the fact that many of us have no idea what formula the UFC uses to select who earns a shot at the title. At one time it was the up-and-comer who strung together around five consecutive wins within the promotion. Now we see guys lose a fight or two consecutively yet still be talked about for belt contention.
The UFC needs to have control over the matchups, and we've seen with injuries how bad some of the cards can get if things don't go exactly as planned. A tournament has a lot of unknowns, from injuries to the actual results of the fights. The promotion can't risk having another year of the inconsistent cards that plagued them in 2012.
Tournaments are great for many sports and organizations. It's just not something that would work for the UFC we see today.
Joe Chacon is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeChacon.
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