MMA: What Do Fighters Have To Do for a Title Shot?November 26, 2011
In MMA, the highest point of achievement is the championship.
In the UFC, there are seven different weight classes with seven distinct champions holding the belt. The road to the 12 pounds of gold for an MMA fighter can be a long one, and for some, a very distant goal.
But as time rolls on, contenders weed themselves out and make their own statements for a title shot.
Typically in a competitive sport, teams or athletes compete against each other until two teams are essentially left standing.
Those two teams are the ones that have beaten their opponents to get to where they are, and now face off to see who is the best. In MMA, especially the UFC, this seems to be more of a general rule of thumb, rather than strict protocol.
MMA is the greatest sport in the world, and the UFC is the premier organization that is proving it deserves such a title.
But what has received criticism is the inconsistency in some dealings and decisions made.
These decisions are not very detrimental to the sport as a whole, but sometimes do leave fans scratching their heads and confused.
One of these decisions is who gets the title shot next in a given division.
Ideally the fighter who consistently beats tougher and tougher opponents eventually works his way to fighting the champion, but sometimes this is not the case.
There seems to be a wide spectrum of criteria to determine who gets the greatest opportunity of their careers.
To start, take a fighter like UFC Heavyweight fighter Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar made his debut and lost to Frank Mir in February 2008 via submission. He then went on to face Heath Herring, gaining his first victory in the Octagon via unanimous decision in August 2008.
Then three months later he fought the returning Randy Couture for the championship.
Fans felt this was premature and unjustified, and that Lesnar only worked his way to a decision to earn the shot in the first place.
Fans felt Lesnar was given a shot because of the hype and fanbase he brought with him into the UFC. Lesnar, a superstar of the WWE, opened a whole new world of business to the UFC and MMA when he crossed over.
This is also the presumed reason he graced the cover of the UFC Undisputed 2010 video game, even though he had defended his belt only once and was 3-1 in the Octagon.
Then there are fighters like Jon Fitch who won many bouts but did not receive a title shot until later.
Eight fights from the start of his UFC debut, Fitch had compiled an 8-0 record in the Octagon (one fight at middleweight) before being granted a title shot. He then won five more in a row, but was not given another title shot.
His draw with BJ Penn makes the snub seem like a very distant thought now. The issue was that his list of opponents seemed weak, and his own perceived “boring” style of fighting played against him.
The Jon Fitch situation displays two separate factors that influence title shots. First, the names of people you have fought; second, how you fight and your overall personality.
Jon Jones' situation also can be related to Jon Fitch, though the outcome was different.
At Jones’ UFC start, he won three in a row before losing to Matt Hamill via DQ. He then fought three more and was given the title shot. Given the true top contender was hurt, it still seemed very quick.
But the criticism came to Jones in the form of his opponents.
In fact, many people felt that Jones’ first real challenge came when he fought Ryan Bader. Based on his personality and style of fighting, it appeared that his success was elaborated and emphasized to the point where the UFC could justify giving him a title shot.
Jones deserves his belt, and has proven why, but when related to Jon Fitch or other such fighters, it seems that the others had to work a lot harder. This is a surface examination, but fan perspective is important.
Along with personality, a fighter’s marketability is an influence on whether or not he gets a title shot. This is where the business side of the UFC takes over.
Case in point: Urijah Faber.
Faber is one of the most well-known and well-liked fighters in MMA, and especially in the lower weight classes. He was the poster boy of the WEC and brings an extremely marketable image that spans a broader audience than most.
Faber recently fought current UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz and lost a decision to him. Following the failed title shot, he fought one of the top contenders, Brian Bowles, and submitted him. Now bouncing back with one win, he is expected to fight Cruz again for the title.
Though Faber is still one of the better fighters at the weight, statistically many feel he shouldn’t be getting another shot right away.
This can be related to Lyoto Machida fighting Jon Jones for the title. Machida is coming off of only one win, taking two losses in a row prior. Now he will be facing Jones for the championship.
An exciting matchup, but one people felt wasn't deserved.
Machida's title shot may have been given due to the unavailability of the more deserving contenders, but still shows that the title shot was not earned in the traditional or assumed fashion.
Faber and Jones were—and still are—in the same position where their image and persona are highly marketable and, along with guys like GSP, act as ambassadors for the sport.
Chael Sonnen also can be mentioned in a similar vein.
While not the No. 1 contender statistically, he is the No. 1 contender for Anderson Silva’s belt.from a fighting and fan's perspective. Mark Munoz is the current top contender, and Sonnen was originally slated to fight Silva, had Silva's injury not caused a layoff.
Yet Sonnen’s fight with Silva showed he was able to do what others could not, and thus kept him from losing his “No. 2” status even though he lost.
Fans saw, and many still do see, Sonnen as the next best challenger aside from Silva as it stands now.
The issue statistically is why the rematch comes into play. The Silva vs. Sonnen rematch will be the most anticipated and one of the biggest financial windfalls for the UFC.
Sonnen’s record does not justify a title shot though. Sonnen lost via submission to Silva, and then proceeded to be suspended. He returned to the Octagon and won an impressive victory over Brian Stann.
Soon after, Sonnen was slated to be Silva’s next fight, until Silva’s injury prevented this. Sonnen is receiving the title shot based on his personality, the fans' desire and the potential profit of such a fight.
Whether this is acceptable or not is for each fan to decide.
Title shots come and go for some, but if an undeserving fighter gets a title shot, they most likely will not hold it for long.
The trouble comes with the other fighters that did deserve it, but based on other factors lose their shot, and then sometimes never get it back. One can argue they were not title material if they could not stay a top contender in the first place.
All in all, the title shot inconsistency is apparent to many, but still doesn’t affect the bottom line.
Though it is inconsistent, it in turn allows the UFC brass to put together the fights fans want to see, or more “exciting” fights. The irregularity of the criteria used is just the side effect of arranging fights, rather than having them be earned.
These inconsistencies will continue, primarily due to the UFC being a business as well as a sport.
Other promotions in MMA still hold tournaments similar to the old UFC days, but the UFC is the image presented to the public on a mass scale.
It all comes down to acknowledging the difference of deserving and desired.
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What do you think should be the deserving criteria for a title shot?