These days it’s tough to align oneself in a position to challenge a champion for his title. The general idea that a contender rises through the chaos with multiple significant victories to rightfully earn his shot at gold has been exposed as little more than a comfortable idea.
Simply tearing through a division and eliminating the high-caliber talent just isn’t enough these days. Regardless of how impressive your feats as a fighter are, if you’re the owner of an everyman personality, you’re not likely to be filling that main event slot.
Need a perfect example? One need look no further than Jon Fitch. Not only was the man recently exiled from the promotion—shockingly—he’s been blackballed by the UFC for years.
Ironically, the main complaint surrounding the man and his performances is his inability to finish. Remember that current champion Georges St-Pierre hasn’t finished a fight in well over four years. In fact, he’s finished just one opponent in his last eight bouts.
Double standards, anyone?
What makes St-Pierre such an embraced champion has actually become somewhat puzzling. I’ve always been a fan of the man’s work, as I think he’s brilliant inside the cage, but truth be told, his personality is the antithesis to what is touted and sold by the organization today as “marketable.”
GSP is nice, friendly, approachable…all the things the UFC isn’t looking for these days. The champion is in effect just like Fitch. Well, Fitch prior to becoming so disgruntled.
With the UFC’s inconsistent divisional practices it’s all but impossible to say any one thing ensures a title fight. However, here are a few things a fighter can do to guarantee he travels one step closer to that belt.
Entertainment sells. Whether we want to admit it or not, MMA has become equal parts sport and entertainment. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a contender with all the promise in the world, if you can’t put tails in seats, you’re not likely to ever glimpse that title shot.
Sit back and think of some of the men to recently challenge for championship gold and some of the men now lined up to take their crack at a nifty new belt.
Nick Diaz just fought St-Pierre at UFC 158. Did Diaz embark on a mind-bending tear through the division to earn that shot? Nope; in fact, he was awarded that fight after losing his previous bout and subsequently being suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites.
Chael Sonnen will attempt to wrangle gold from Jon Jones’ waist next month. Has Sonnen worked his way through the ranks to obtain the chance to challenge for the title? No, he hasn’t. Sonnen hasn’t even competed at 205 pounds in years.
Anthony Pettis has made his name at lightweight, yet he’ll debut at featherweight to challenge Jose Aldo at UFC 163.
I guess all that Tweeting and texting following the Aldo/Edgar collision paid off.
These guys didn’t earn their way to a title, they used their mouths to align themselves for massive career moments. And these are just a few examples. The UFC has chosen marketability over talent for years.
Remember Brock Lesnar? He fought for a title after amassing a 1-1 record inside the Octagon. That doesn’t sound like a deserved title shot to me, but hey, Lesnar talks big and draws bigger.
If you want to see yourself elevated through the ranks at a rapid pace, you’d better learn how to sell a fight using the good old gift of gab.
Dana White and the UFC brass love a guy who will bend over backward for the company. Realistically, what employer doesn’t? It’s hard to fault White for favoring a man who will answer the call of duty any time and any place over a man who’s prone to say “no” when the demand carries big risk.
Any fighter hoping to make his way to the cage for a scheduled five-rounder and a chance at the belt had better learn one very important word: YES!
The truth of the Sonnen vs. Jones matchup is this: Sonnen is being gifted a shot at Jones’ belt because he was the only man with enough gall to accept a fight with the champion on eight days’ notice.
Throw in the fact that Jones refused to accept that fight (proposed for the eventually cancelled UFC 151) and now you’ve got some intrigue. Was Jones genuinely concerned about Sonnen after enjoying the luxuries of a full camp in preparation for Dan Henderson—a fighter with a very similar skill set to that of Henderson, sans the perennially dangerous right hand?
Outside of Jones, no one can really answer that one.
Either way, there’s a lesson to be learned here: If Dana White calls you with an outlandish short-notice request, jump at the opening!
I can’t stand this unspoken rule. Hell, I absolutely loathe it. Nonetheless, it exists.
The idea that beating a fighter far distanced from his prime should see a young product’s stock shoot through the roof is puzzling.
As far as I’m concerned, a young prime fighter with a diverse set of skills should always be favored over a former champion who has seen his best days as an athlete ditch him like a bad date.
Beating a fading legend should never warrant a title shot, and while it typically doesn’t, it does drop contenders directly in the title mix.
A few of the men who have benefited from such tactics? How about Rory MacDonald, Rashad Evans and Thiago Alves? Two of the three earned a title shot within two fights of battering a fading legend. Rory MacDonald could easily be a third.
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