MMA Opinion: Picking fighters who put on a show over fighters who want to win
Whenever a UFC fighter picks up a victory, their post-fight interview is generally the same. They thank their sponsors and then say they want a title shot.
While some of these fighters may have racked up four or five wins, it is not up to them or the fans if they are the next in line for a shot at the belt. It’s up to the powers that be at the UFC whether or not the fighter is worthy of being named the next contender.
Although we like to think that the next contender is picked to fight the champion because of his outstanding record, impressive skills or overall personality, the truth is that sometimes a contender is picked because of their ability to draw in more fans.
One advocate of this is former welterweight title contender Jon Fitch. From 2005 to 2010, Fitch won 13 out of his 14 fights, the only loss coming to welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87.
In his last two bouts, Fitch fought former champion B.J. Penn to a draw, then lost to Johnny Hendricks by knock out in 12 seconds.
In an interview with FC Fighter, Fitch talked about the UFC’s lack of system for picking a title contender and favor of picking fighters who put on a show over better fighters.
“There’s no order, there’s no lineup, there’s no point system. It’s just whoever they feel they’re going to make the most money off of. That’s who gets the title shot. It kind of sucks, because in other sports there’s kind of a clear path; you do this, this and this, and you get this. That’s just not the way combat sports work I guess. It doesn’t work that way with boxing or the UFC.”
I agree with Fitch that there is no clear system when it comes to UFC picking a title contender.
It seems whenever a match is made between two high profile fighters is made, UFC President Dana White will add that the winner will receive a title shot.
I also agree with Fitch the UFC does look more favorably at fighters who put on a show.
A recent case was back at UFC on Fox: Shogun vs. Vera, where White announced that the winner of the two light heavyweight bouts who won in a more “impressive fashion” would be given the title shot.
Former Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida would knock out Ryan Bader in the first round. After the main event fight between Mauricio Rua and Brandon Vera, White made it official that Machida would be awarded a title shot.
Perhaps the UFC isn’t fully to blame for this approach, as fans are known to show love to fighters who are showmen.
Fighters like former champion Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida (until his recent fight with Gray Mayard) and Wanderlei Silva are beloved by fans and given high profile matches because of their breath taking performances.
Fighters like St-Pierre, Fitch (who has 13 wins by decision) and interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit are looked at with disdain by fans and critics because their priority is more about winning the fight.
St-Pierre, Fitch and Condit are fantastic fighters, but fans are more willing to invest in fighters, both financially and emotionally, who go out there and put it all on the line, win, lose or draw.
As hard as it to believe, the heads of the UFC like White and owner Lorenzo Ferttita are fight fans just like us and have the power to award these fighters title opportunities, even if that fighter doesn’t necessarily deserve it.
In the same interview, Fitch said that he needed to be a better showman to get a title shot rather than being a better fighter.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun, St-Pierre wants to go for the finish in hopes of silencing his critics.
Is it fair that these fighters have to focus on showmanship in their fights rather than getting the win?
Probably not, but until the majority of fans are more willing to accept fighters whose focus is being the best without putting on a show, then fighters like St-Pierre and Fitch may have to focus on being more reckless to put on a good show, even if it costs them the win.