It’s no secret that MMA’s focus has shifted a bit over the last few years. Fans have voted with their television viewership and pay-per-view dollars and promotions have changed course in response. Bellator went from being the place where “title shots are earned” to the place where Chael Sonnen and Tito Ortiz degrade themselves in order to sell the world on a phony and obviously manufactured beef. The UFC, a once super-exclusive league that only offered membership to the world’s premier mixed martial artists, currently promotes C.M. Punk.
Deviations from the norm likely will always upset purists, but until recently, they’ve been few and far between. Most of us could accept a “fun fight” or two as long as the sport’s context was still predicated on the best fighting the best and the winners of those contests being rewarded. However, we’re probably at a point now where the questions have to be raised as to whether or not we’re still seeing that as often as we should.
Tony Ferguson’s unanimous decision victory over former UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos this past weekend was thrilling to watch and historically significant. The win was Ferguson’s ninth in a row, a record for the lightweight division. However, win streaks like the one “El Cucuy” is on right now are kind of the norm for UFC contenders these days. Max Holloway has also rattled off nine victories in a row a featherweight and Demian Maia isn’t too far behind with six consecutive wins at welterweight.
Unfortunately, we’re in an era where three of the winningest fighters in the history of their respective divisions could go without challenging for a UFC championship. The downside to Conor McGregor’s year-long quest for two division supremacy is that top contenders in those divisions have gone without title shots and might rack up upwards of ten consecutive victories each before they contest a UFC title.
UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley and top challenger Stephen Thompson have both come out and said that former champ Georges St-Pierre would deserve a title fight upon return. This scenario would mean that 39-year-old Demian Maia would need to take yet another fight in order to get a title shot.
It’s getting more and more difficult to watch elite fighters work their way up the ranks only to be passed over in favor of more marketable commodities. It’s not likely to stop happening until those marketable alternatives stop presenting themselves, but we’re probably coming up to a point where those championships could lose some meaning. Stars fighting stars will always mean box office success, but if the platform for creating those stars becomes devalued, the ends might not justify the means.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN BY JASON AMADI: UFC 204’s Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson II signals new shift in UFC strategy
(Follow longtime MMATorch columnist Jason Amadi on Twitter @JasonAmadi.)