There is no doubt that since the early days of the UFC, significant progress has been made in transforming public opinion of the organisation.
The popular opinion used to be that mixed martial arts was nothing more than a spectacle for the bloodthirsty masses, whilst it is now rightly respected as a legitimate sport around the world.
However, there is still one area that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that the integrity of the sport cannot be called into question—the determining of the top contenders.
At this point, there seems to be too much inconsistency in determining who gets to fight for titles and it must be addressed in order to prevent the credibility of the sport being called into question.
There is little doubt that the UFC put too much emphasis on pay per view sales when setting title fights. Popular and exciting fighters do not need to prove themselves as much as others before securing shots at belts, which is unfair on other fighters who often have superior records.
Perhaps the clearest example of this occurred at UFC 91, when three-fight “veteran” Brock Lesnar faced Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title.
In order to earn this opportunity, Lesnar had defeated little known Korean fighter Kim Min-Soo in a K1 event and Heath Herring by unanimous decision. His only other career fight was a submission loss to Frank Mir in his Octagon debut.
Do the UFC put too much emphasis on pay per view sales when making title fights?
It cannot be disputed that the fan interest in just how good the former professional wrestler could be was the reason he was given the fight. This fight was also made while Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira held the interim heavyweight title.
UFC matchmakers will no doubt defend their decision to make this fight by pointing out that Lesnar in fact won the title and proved he was the organisations best heavyweight—but to overlook a unification match between Nogueira and Couture under any circumstances was wrong.
Taking Lesnar’s recent performances into account, it can easily be argued that he would not have won the title had he been required to prove himself in the same way that most other fighters are.
His loss to Cain Velasquez showed that Lesnar does not (at this stage) have a game plan for when he is losing a fight. He's relied solely on his wrestling skills in his UFC career and looked poor when unable to use them. Surely this weakness, once exposed, would have stopped him from earning a title shot so soon if he'd had to face a number of top contenders.
From a promotional standpoint, Jon Fitch is the polar opposite of Brock Lesnar. He hasn’t finished a fight for nearly four years, rarely has anything of note to say to the media and is widely considered to be a “boring” fighter.
Yet, there is no disputing that he has a well thought-out and executed game plan. His 13-1-1 record in the UFC has helped him become the standout welterweight behind Georges St-Pierre and yet he's only had one opportunity to face the welterweight king (in what is his only UFC loss).
He's also featured in just two main events—one of which was the title shot against St-Pierre. He's had to watch less successful fighters than himself receive greater opportunities than he, purely because the UFC don’t believe his fights attract a big enough pay per view audience. This is unfair on top fighters who for whatever reason do not receive the same fan support as others.
In the early days of MMA, it was perhaps necessary to give title shots to fighters who hadn’t really earned them in the interest of growing the sport as a whole. But now that MMA has cemented itself in the sporting landscape, there is no need to hand out title shots in this way.
Fighters who have proven themselves against other top fighters in their divisions should be given title shots ahead of fighters who might help sell more pay per views. Surely, with the amount of money that the UFC is making, this shouldn't be a problem for them or any other organisation.