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Friday, 01/25/2013, 11:34 am

The Death of the Number One Contender | MMA Editorial


There once was a time where the UFC consisted of a tournament in which men fought several times in a single day, with a win advancing you to the next round and a loss sending you packing. With each win, you came one step closer to fighting for the grand prize in the form of an oversized check (for $50,000), a trophy, and recognition as the best fighter with the best technique.

Over the years the UFC faced political outrage and opposition from some of the most powerful men in the country and as they applied more pressure, the UFC was molded into a new sport entirely.

Now, 20 years since the first UFC event, the company is a huge, international organization that stretches its glove-clad reach to the corners of the Earth.

With this new sense of professionalism and national acceptance, the UFC is locked in to the professional athlete-contract system of signing the best in the world to compete in the Octagon. While these men improve and amass winning streaks, they are pushed into the spotlight and can eventually earn title shots with impressive performances to try and prove that they are the best in the division.

Of course, to every rule there is an exception and injuries are a common occurrence in the sport as 2012 has been the victim of countless injuries that have altered fight cards dramatically. But, with healthy fighters should come appropriate match-ups with each fighter being given the promise of timely title fights in their respective division when the time comes.
This brings me to the meat of this article; The anatomy of the title shot.

Already in 2013, there are three title fights that feature a challenger who is coming off of a loss, two of which showcase challengers who are making their debut in a new weight class at least in their UFC career. These men are Nick Diaz, Frankie Edgar, and Chael Sonnen.

Nick Diaz was the top contender some time ago back at UFC 137, a card that was tossed around and beaten down until the main and co-main events were unrecognizable as a game of musical press-conference chairs removed Diaz from a title fight and into a fight with B.J. Penn, one that would later serve as the main event after welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre was injured and forced to withdraw from the card. Diaz won that fight and went on to fight in a losing effort against Carlos Condit for the interim-welterweight title fight last February. Diaz will be coming back from over a year layoff to fight one of the most dominant champions of our time in a fight that he simply gave up the first time around. That doesn’t mean that he is in for a sure loss but with a loss, the detractors will be satisfied in knowing that he never ‘deserved’ the shot, no matter how far they have to reach to come to that conclusion.

This is simply a tactic to pull up the numbers for an event while giving fans a fight that had once been promised but has since fallen out. Even with a champion who draws some of the highest PPV numbers on a consistent basis and also with a separate challenger in Johny Hendricks who has been dynamite as of late scoring a pair of first round knockouts over top competitors and in out-pointing Josh Koscheck. Instead Hendricks will fight on the same card without the promise of a title shot with a win no matter how emphatic, against a champion who opted not to fight him for now.

You can’t fully blame the UFC for doing this. They are a business and the point of running a business is to make money and bee successful. But they have to remember that not only are they in the customer service business, but they are also responsible for making their employees happy. Those employees don’t have much say at the end of the day but a happy fighter is one that you don’t have to worry about leaving or running into contractual issues.

Next, we have the former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar who drops down to what many consider will become his new permanent home at 145, taking on current featherweight champion Jose Aldo in what has been dubbed by the UFC as a ‘Super Fight’ at UFC 156. While the fight is a fantastic matchup and Edgar may be walking around at a more natural weight, the fact that he earned a title shot in his featherweight debut puzzles me. Who knows how his body will react to even the slightest of weight cuts let alone fighting someone who has made the division their own in Aldo. Consecutive losses to Benson Henderson (regardless of how controversial they are) shouldn’t exactly warrant a title fight, especially in a new division. As for a challenger worthy of the shot, Erik Koch has twice been promised a title shot with Jose Aldo being forced to withdraw from both due to injury. All the while, Koch has been earning wins and currently rides into this Saturday’s UFC on FOX 6 show on a 4-fight win streak with three of those win coming by either submission or knockout. He will look to destroy Lamas to re-earn a title shot that has twice been pulled out from under him.

Finally, the ‘American Gangster’ Chael Sonnen gets a light-heavyweight fight against arguably the greatest fighter on the planet in Jon Jones. The 205-pound division is no stranger to Chael Sonnen as he used to call the division home. Now, after a middleweight campaign that saw him lose to Anderson Silva twice, Sonnen has been plunged into the deep, talent-rich, light-heavyweight division only to emerge on the surface as the number one contender. In this case, unlike, the first two, Sonnen was placed in this position to save the dying reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, as he coaches against Jon Jones leading up to a title fight in April at UFC 159.

With The Ultimate Fighter Season 16 bombing in the ratings with some week’s numbers dipping to around 640,00. Those consistent numbers were a mainstay for most of the season and continued to draw doubt towards a show in need of some fresh ideas. As for the finale, a 1.3 million viewer peak. Solid numbers for a card headlined by a heavyweight main event in what was an insecure, roller coaster season for ratings that isn’t preferable for a show that has such an abundance of seasons as TUF does.

Still, Sonnen hasn’t yet proved himself in a division where the champion holds several physical advantages over most in the UFC with a specialty in wrestling, which Sonnen has used multiple times to climb the middleweight ranks against opponents who lacked the raw talent that he possesses in the grappling department. Even if the reports of a lean, mean 240-pound Sonnen are true, that doesn’t mean he’s an instant success in a division where a large majority of the fighters walk around well into the heavyweight division limits.

Then you have the Vitor Belfort story. A man who has fought in several UFC title fights in his career and has explored several weight divisions. A September fight with Jon Jones served as a savior to a situation that desperately needed one as Belfort stepped up to fight the champion in a division that Belfort hadn’t visited since 2007. In that fight, we saw the closest thing to a legitimate Jones loss we had ever seen as an early armbar attempt damaged Jones arm (which wasn’t apparent until after the fight).

Next, Belfort was matched with Michael Bisping, with Bisping being the sole recipient of a title shot with a win and Belfort being forced to ‘clear out’ the division before getting another shot at the middleweight title. Belfort dominated the fight and knocked Bisping out with a brutal head-kick. After the fight Belfort called out Jones looking for a rematch and also the removal of ‘number one contender’ Chael Sonnen not only from his scheduled title fight but also from the UFC as Belfort felt that he was next in line in what would be considered ‘champion vs. champion’. Chael responded with an offer to arrange a meeting between the devout Christian, Vitor Belfort, and Jesus.

This seemed like a somewhat legitimate argument with Belfort having a glimpse of hope in the first round of the Jones fight and also with the destruction of Michael Bisping. However, the request would fall on understandably deaf ears as the UFC will ultimately stick its plan to help draw viewers to a highly-anticipated April title fight while also lifting viewer numbers for TUF. But even without the plan to save TUF, Belfort shouldn’t be calling out champions from other weight classes it convolutes what is already a tangled mess at the top of each division, even if Belfort knows that politics earn title fights.

Sure you just fought Jones but you were considered as a late replacement simply to salvage the main event. If you want another title fight, gain the weight, show your current worth in the light-heavyweight division and earn that shot with enough light-heavyweight experience in recent memory to warrant a title fight that arouses suspicion from none.

This is troubling to think that if (and when) the UFC becomes successful with these pre-planned fights, it can become the norm in that instead of earning title shots they will take a top-5 in a specific division and give them a title shot if thats what would draw ratings instead of letting fighters earn shots. Diaz, Edgar, and Sonnen all clearly lost their last fights two of which were rematches from previous losses to the same opponent. Let the former number one contenders have to earn their shots again instead of giving them an unofficial title of number-one contender for life because they can draw more viewers.

But the UFC will march along looking to make these super fights that fans want to see. And surely, I will be in front of my TV (and in attendance for Jones vs. Sonnen) during all three fights with my stomach rumbling from the nervous butterflies one gets when watching a live UFC event. The UFC will rake in money with each event and hopefully for the sake of argument, at least one of these champions is dethroned to prove that one of these challengers is worthy since coming off of a loss in their last fight even if that wasn’t the main intentions for the UFC putting these particular fights on besides a paycheck at the end of the day.


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21 Responses to “The Death of the Number One Contender | MMA Editorial”

  1. Anti-Zuffa says:

    First off, if you as a writer plan on having a career in MMA than you might want to know more about MMA. The only fighter that clearly lost their last fight was Sonnen. Edgar beat Henderson in the rematch but lost via shitty boxing judges. It was a close fight however. As for Diaz Vs Condit; you’re talking about one of the most controversial decisions in MMA history. One in which Diaz “clearly” won rounds 1, 2 & 5 out of a five round fight. That’s 3 rounds to 2. Every major MMA commentator has stated this as well as the UFC brass. GSP even stated that he felt Diaz won the fight against Condit. Diaz is the number 1 contender at 170 and has been for the last 3 years. As far as Edgar goes, it’s a new division for him, he should have to fight the current No 1 contender to face Aldo. Please don’t come in as some MMA bandwagon jumper.

    • CD says:

      it’s edgars fault he lost the rematch with henderson. he didnt fight to finish he fought for points. Edgar = point fighter

      • Avaza says:

        dude get your head out of your ass. Edgar is the warrior man. He dropped Bendo, had him in sub attempts few times. Bendo has never been finished since 07, and has never been knocked out. You are talking about finishing a guy like it was some easy task. Edgar picked Bendo apart in second fight. Started and finished every exchange. Had him close to the finish. out-strike him and out-wrestled him. You gonna call a point fighter to the guy to handed first loss (BY WAY OF TKO) to Maynard? ur disillusion man. Edgar arguably has top 3 standup in mma today. Watch him whup that ass on UFC 156. Aldo’s got a thing commin for him…

    • ^moron says:

      Diaz clearly won 3 rounds? Well he “clearly” lost 4 round to 1 according to 2 judges and 3 to 2 by another. Get your head out of your ass

      • Tincat says:

        Judges are always right, right?

        If you follow fight metrix or have read/watched the analysis of the Diaz/Condit fight by any good fight analysts you’ll agree Diaz ‘won’ that fight and the judges corked it up yet again.

  2. bob says:

    yo the title scared the fuck out of me i thought someone in the ufc died or some shit

  3. Derek says:

    I agree so much!! Diaz does not,for one damn second, deserve that title shot over Hendricks! And neither does Sonnen. It’s ridiculous that Diaz is getting this shot. Not only did he lose his last fight, but he fails a drug test as well, and he still gets a shot over a dominating Johny Hendricks? It’s outrageous.

  4. Point says:

    “a happy fighter is one that you don’t have to worry about leaving or running into contractual issues”
    What? Where is an “unhappy” fighter going to go? Wait, let’s ask Rampage. Hold on, Rampage’s answer? “I’m going where they appreciate me.” Where is that, Rampage? The UFC has got the fighters by the *****.
    There are no contractual issues. It’s either sign or be gone.

  5. truthhurtsthestupid says:

    This writer lost all credibility in MMA. Sonnen is the only part he got right. Rest of this writing is uneducated BS. WATCH FIGHTS don’t just read results.

  6. GRT 3000 says:

    All true except for Edgar…he deserves the shot.

  7. My Head Hurts says:

    Wow, this nonsense seemed like it was never going to end! Run-on sentences, statements that were not backed up by facts & illogical thinking all make this Tylenol’s best friend. You lost me at the part where you wrote a 1/2 paragraph before using one period in talking about UFC 137.

  8. If you dont know shit dont say shit!!! says:

    ok so we still talking about old fights ….diaz lost edger lost can we move the fuck on with life…..damn this passage is true the number one contender title no longer lives just b.s and more b.s

  9. passinby says:

    it’s no wonder this was posted without a byline.

    what does

    “With The Ultimate Fighter Season 16 bombing in the ratings with some week’s numbers dipping to around 640,00.”


    and also

    “Even if the reports of a lean, mean 240-pound Sonnen are true, …”


    that’s some gibberish right there…

    BJ…? you let this shite get posted on your website?


  10. Travis says:

    Diaz doesn’t deserve the title show. Sonnen and Edgar do.

    Quit complaining about Sonnen fighting Jones. Everyone else is too scared to fight Jones.

  11. richie says:

    i am sorry but nick diaz did not beat carlos condit so anyone who believes he did is either a nick diaz suck up or really dumb the only controvarsy in that fight was nicks drugs test … back to the article i agree your title shot should be earned on merit not how much publicity you will pull in i think sonnen is a great guy and i get why dana is doing it as when jones had no opponent on 8 days notice he stepped up but jones ducked it dana obviously wants to see what would have happened but its still not fair to guys like hendricks and other fighters who have busted there butts putting together win streaks to earn a shot only to be set back till it suits totally wrong

  12. RickyBobby says:

    You can all thank the illustrious Brock Lesnar for starting this trend in selling title shots versus earning them. How does a guy with no UFC professional experience immediately fight for the heavyweight title? He lost to Mir and somehow was still the “Number 1 Contender”? This was the flashpoint for the de-legitimizing of title contenders. The UFC has become a joke, littered with loud mouth a$$holes like Diaz who believe their own deluded hype. And we all know judges (especially UFC judges) are clearly incompetent and incapable of judging mixed martial arts events. They attempt to apply a boxing metric to a full spectrum fight, but if you’re going to make statements like “so and so CLEARLY won, blah blah blah” who got the “W”?

    • Dan says:

      You really believe Mir won that fight, did you watch it , he was all but out cold when the ref stood them up. Yes he eventually submitted Lesner, but talk about bs and controversy that match had it….All in all, the only one i see that probably shouldn’t get the title shot is Edgar. Here is why, the other two were given title shots that didn’t happen. So they were owed fights. The UFC is making good on promises, which they really don’t have to, but they are. You can talk about rating and tickets sales all which are true but lets look at the facts. Diaz earned a title shot, didn’t get it. Sonnen stepped in when nobody else would an the champ refused to fight him. Edgar dropped down a class because of that he should prove he can fight in the division before fighting for the title. Don’t get me wrong either i really like Edgar and i think he is going to win that title fight.

  13. Alfie says:

    If you had even watched the diaz vs condit fight which by the sounds of it you didn’t you would have seen that clearly diaz should have won on the basis that judges score the fights based on aggression and octagon controll even joe rogan thought diaz won the condit fight. So diaz lost a bullshit decision then pretty much retired now he’s been given a title shot to return now one title shot that may not be technically correct in return for an amazing fighter like nick diaz to return is an extremely small price to pay

  14. KZJ! says:

    Nick Diaz lost the fight. I would call a man who punches me in the face more aggressive than a man walking toward me doing nothing. Condit was the aggressor, he landed plenty more significant strikes, not to mention broke a UFC record for most leg kicks… How is that not aggressive? Also, Condit controlled the Octagon. Condit was the one who decided where the fight went and Nick just followed him into every strike. Nick lost, and was suspended for breaking rules. Nick does not deserve a title shot.

  15. FartHammer says:

    I’ve seen the Diaz-Condit fight twice. When I watched it live, I thought Diaz was fighting a dumb fight and losing and when I watched it the second time I thought the same thing. Sloppy kicks were thrown by Diaz and when he tried to corner Condit like he did BJ, he wasn’t successful because Condit smartly would move laterally and angulary out of Diaz’s pocket. The fight shouldn’t be scored on aggression alone, that’s how Rampage won a bogus decision against Machida in which Rampage clearly thought he lost because he knew he was outclassed. The writer is absolutely correct in that none of three contenders have earned their shots at the title the way that they are supposed to be won.

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