Anderson Silva’s title defense at UFC 77 on Saturday night got me thinking. The fight was one-sided from the beginning, but it was a satisfying event nonetheless mainly because a championship belt was at stake. That makes everything more interesting. Even if it seems like a mismatch (the way Franklin-Quarry was, or the way St. Pierre-Serra looked on paper), a title fight will always be a big deal.
So why, I can’t help but wonder, is the UFC not in more of a hurry to put the other titles up for grabs? Why are they content to let some belts stay out of circulation while others get defended every couple of months?
I’m referring now, of course, to the welterweight title. Matt Serra shocked the MMA world when he upset Georges St. Pierre with a first-round TKO to take the 170-pound strap away from the Canadian, but that was back in April. That’s the last time we saw the welterweight title up for grabs, and why? Apparently, so the UFC could use the current season of The Ultimate Fighter to pump up a title match between Serra and Matt Hughes.
I can’t say I don’t understand why they’re doing this. It’s about money. They saw an existing rivalry between Hughes and Serra and pounced on it. They figured that if they spent the entire reality show season reinforcing the idea that these two don’t like each other, their title match at UFC 79 (entitled “Nemesis”, by the way) would bring big pay-per-view money.
Understandable though it may be, this is somewhat disturbing. It seems like the UFC sees Serra as a Buster Douglas in the making. They don’t believe he’ll successfully defend the title against any top-tier welterweight, so they want to make sure they squeeze all the cash they can out of him before he gives up the belt.
The real loser here is St. Pierre. He has to sit on the sidelines and wait for this “Nemesis” bout to happen, and then he’ll probably have to sit around some more and wait for a fight with the winner. And what does he do in the meantime? He already beat Josh Koscheck, who was climbing toward number one contender status after his win over Diego Sanchez.
Now he has to hang around waiting for his next shot at a paycheck, figuring whether he’ll get to rematch Serra or whether he’ll have to beat Hughes again (and does anyone have any doubt that he will?)
What bothers me about this situation is not just that the title is on the shelf for so long because of a TV show, it’s that the UFC is putting so much emphasis on the need for a rivalry match. Other than Hughes’ legacy as the longtime-champ, the only reason he’s getting this title shot at Serra is because the two men hate each other and people will pay to see that.
I’m all for a rivalry match from time to time, don’t get me wrong. But if you already have the title at stake, you don’t need to manufacture a rivalry on a TV show.
For instance, what’s going to become of the lightweight title after Sean Sherk’s appeal at the end of the month? Unless he becomes the first person to get a steroid suspension overturned in the state of California, he’ll be stripped of the title. Then what? Will the UFC look at their lightweight stable to see who they can make a rivalry fight with, then put those two guys in together?
In other words, will they arbitrarily decide which two men get to fight for the vacant title, and if so, who will they be? Kenny Florian and some guy who hates Kenny Florian, assuming such a person can be found?
It’s no way to decide the future of a championship belt. It rewards people who manufacture controversy rather than people who put on good fights (paging, Dr. Ortiz). It’s more pro wrestling than it is pro fighting, and while I understand that a company’s objective is to make money, it seems smarter to look at the big picture rather than just the short term pay-per-view cash on the table.
Maybe I’m the only one bothered by this, I don’t know. But if the next season of TUF features coaches Tim Sylvia and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, we’re all going to be longing for the good old days when title fights happened without the benefit of a drawn out reality show. That, and wondering why the UFC didn’t learn from Sylvia’s disastrous appearance on Blind Date. I know I did.