There were no Bellator or UFC events this past week, so I’ll be doing something a little different this time. I’ll retain my usual GOOD/BAD/UGLY format but I’ll be discussing tournaments in MMA and where I believe each aspect falls. Let’s get to it.
GOOD- The possibility of interesting matchups
Sometimes a tournament would lead to 2 people fighting that might not otherwise fight. The easiest example of that is the most recent, where we’re going to see Fedor Emelianenko fight Chael Sonnen in the next round of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. We will get another case of that as well, as the winner of the fight between Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Ryan Bader and Muhammed Lawal will fight Matt Mitrione next. We could get another example of that if one of the light heavyweights wins and one of the heavyweights wins.
It would be very hard to imagine a scenario where Fedor would be fighting Sonnen, except in this tournament. We did see Dan Henderson fight Fedor years ago and that wasn’t in a tournament, but generally that’s the exception these days. Of course, just because a matchup is interesting doesn’t mean it’ll be exciting…
BAD- The possibility of bad fights, part one
Sometimes a matchup is interesting but turns into a complete dud. The spectacle of Fabricio Werdum vs. Alistair Overeem 1 comes to mind. Sometimes these fights don’t turn out the way you would hope for. If you have an expert submission guy and he’s fighting an expert striker, that could lead to a garbage fight where neither guy wants to fight his opponent in their strong area. It’s hard to fault somebody for that, but that makes for an unwatchable fight. Nobody wants to watch a fight with one guy on his back looking up at his opponent who’s just staring back down at him.
BAD- The possibility of bad fights, part two
Depending on the length of the tournament and assuming the company doesn’t want to delay any of the fights, this can lead to fighters playing it safe. Likely even safer than they would normally play it. If you’ve already won the first two rounds in a three-round fight (or three rounds in a five-round fight), you just might let off the gas and pull out the bike. Why risk an injury that could take you out of the tournament? If the company has a schedule they have to keep, you can’t afford an injury.
GOOD/BAD- The possibility of bad fights, part three
Upsets happen sometimes. A heavily favored fighter might find themselves on the wrong end of an uppercut or guillotine choke. The unpredictability of sports is perhaps the most exciting part. Depending on the person, upsets don’t happen enough or they happen too often.
It’s exciting with the unexpected happens. The thrill of an upset reverberates through the sports world for a while after it happens. It can also lead to dominating victories when a top guy fights someone who managed to pull off the huge upset. And depending on who the top guy is, this can lead to a boring as hell fight. It’s good and bad. Everyone loves an underdog story. At the same time, though, it’s incredibly hard to pull off upsets so it’s very rare to see multiple upsets in a row.
GOOD- Everything is merit-based
Tournaments cut down on the entertainment-based booking of fights where it’s more about how popular you are than how good you are. This can be a bad thing because everyone loves exciting fights, but it’s much more of a good thing because it eliminates a lot of the shenanigans we’ve seen from a few of the UFC divisions lately. I’ve ranted numerous times about the UFC’s middleweight division, the UFC’s lightweight division, and to a lesser extent, their welterweight division so I won’t go full-on into that again, but a lot of the bad stuff we’ve seen from those divisions wouldn’t have happened in a tournament format.
I like Georges St. Pierre but he wouldn’t have gotten a middleweight title shot if he had to win a tournament to get it. There wouldn’t be talk about Conor McGregor coming back and getting a lightweight title shot if there was a schedule he had to commit to, that meant he had to fight on a certain day within a tournament.
As I said, these can be bad things because GSP and McGregor fights draw. They can also be exciting fights. The question becomes is it worth it? In the case of the UFC’s middleweight division, I would say no, it wasn’t. It wasn’t worth holding up a division for a man who hadn’t fought in four years and had never fought in that division. Now, if GSP had entered into a four-man mini-tournament I would have been more okay with it. Or if he had defended the belt at least once instead of immediately vacating it. At least with the McGregor talk, he never lost the belt (just never defended it) and it’s in a division he’s competed in several times.
Tournaments would cut down on the preponderance of interim titles
The UFC has gone way overboard with interim titles. It’s clear that they think the only way they can sell a lot of these fights is to make them title fights. This makes them look lazy and extremely bad at their job of promoting. It also cheapens the titles because soon half the roster will have fought for or held a title at some point. I’m just waiting for the day where the UFC creates an “Interim” Interim title.
Tournaments would help alleviate some of this because it would force the UFC to use their rankings more. They have top-15 rankings for every division that they update continuously but don’t utilize them the way you think they should.
They could do an eight-person tournament, or a four person one, and take numbers 2 through 9 (eight person) or numbers 2 through 5 (four person) and match them up. Make a bracket March Madness style where 2 fights 9, 3 fights 8, 4 fights 7, and 5 fights 6. The winner of 2 vs. 9 fights the winner of 5 vs. 6 and the winner of 3 vs. 8 fights the winner of 4 vs. 7. Or do it NFL style where the highest seed fights the lowest available seed. Sidenote: in this scenario the number one ranked fighter fights the champion next so that’s why I start with the number two ranked fighter.
All of a sudden, a fight between guys ranked four and seven takes on additional meaning. It would have been considered a good fight before, but now it’s taken to a new level. There’s the intrigue of who the winner fights next. You get fans more involved because now you have an added interest in who wins a certain fight if your guy is going to fight the winner.
You also lay out the path to the title, which is immensely more interesting than the UFC seemingly randomly putting together fights and sometimes picking the top contender to get the next title shot. If an eight-person tournament would take too long, go with a four person tournament.
In summary, there’s a lot of good things about tournaments and some bad things. It’s not perfect, but I think MMA would be better off if they did use the tournament format more often. I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. I might be wrong about that, but I’m a fan of tournaments so I’m always in favor of them. Let me know if you agree or disagree, and why.
Comments and suggestions can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me on Twitter at @hydenfrank