Mixed Martial Arts

Takedown: What's the best way to decide on a top contender?

Jordan Cieciwa, TSN Radio 1290
12/12/2012 4:42:42 PM
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There currently is no clear definition of contender in the MMA dictionary.  There are two choices, the traditional sense of a contender as set by boxing, and the spectacle side of it as set by the fans.

“I think it's really important that we stick to some type of system of the champion fighting the next deserving contender,” UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones told Ariel Helwani on FUEL TV on Tuesday.

Would I like to see Jones fight Chael Sonnen? Yes, and thankfully we will get that matchup very soon. However, Sonnen is not the most deserving opponent and someone else is being robbed of their shot. 

There is no discernable system for ranking in place right now and MMA needs to correct that. 

Many websites have their own MMA rankings, including TSN.ca, but MMA as a competitive sport does not.

Finding out who is the rightful contender in any given division is not the point of this article.  That is an argument for Twitter.  The point of this article is to provoke some thoughts on the state of MMA.

Boxing has been around a long time, and is an Olympic sport. If fans of MMA want the same for their sport, then it is time for a system to be put in place.  There needs to be contenders, and fights to decide who the top contender is, as well as space and timing so everyone can prepare and stay healthy. 

Something that needs to disappear in all of this is the mindset of not taking a fight with a friend.

First, let me say I understand the brotherhood of training.  I grew up in the martial arts and have trained at multiple MMA gyms.  I have watched The Roots Of Fight mini-documentary on Black House Gym and understand that it's an elite level facility. 

Further, I understand friendship and not wanting to step across any lines or end a friend's career.  However, there are three important fights right now that will “never” happen.  Josh Koscheck has said he and Jon Fitch will not fight, even though they are no longer at the same gym.  Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva have said the same, and they both train together to this day at Black House Gym.  Rory MacDonald and Georges St-Pierre have also said they will never meet in the Octagon. 

How are we supposed to set up top contenders and proper championship matches when top fighters who refuse to compete?

Think of every other sport out there.  NFL players get traded and have no problem getting out there and going to work. Hockey is the same.  You also never hear golfers say they refuse to step up to the tee and beat a friend or take their money from them when they win. 

So why are these fighters so quick to say no?

I understand why Dana White is forced to put on fights like Jones vs. Sonnen, he needs to sell pay-per-views.  Plus with so many injuries and guys turning down fights, there really seems to be no choice.
Can MMA with all its politics actually create a true contender system?

I fundamentally agreed with Jones' quote at the beginning of this column. The problem that is out there right now is simply the growth of the sport.  It is exponential.  It seems that quarterly the UFC takes on a new continent or country.  That growth means fans need to be won over, hype needs to be created, and feuds need to be fueled.  There needs to be spectacle.

Social media seems to be the new ranking system.  What fight do the fans want? Well, head to twitter, look at blogs, and listen to podcasts and it's very clear.  We want super fights, and we want big battles with guys who are not afraid to throw big punches. 

Is Johny Hendricks the next fight for GSP? Hendricks' record is solid, but I think he needs to beat Carlos Condit or Nate Diaz before he gets the shot. In the traditional sense of rankings, you get your shot once you beat a top contender. You take your place, you train, you win, and you get your shot.  Yet, St-Pierre's camp can put out a whisper on the internet and in two days it can become a roar.  That roar has Diaz and GSP looking like it will be the next fight. 

Whatever comes from the next few weeks and months from MMA and the ranking system really needs to get clarified.  Will the UFC chase down being a spectacle and a fan sport? Or will they work to become a more traditional system of ranking and hard work?  My hope is that they figure it out fast. 

With the creation of a women's division, UFC could launch it seamlessly.  Liz Carmouche is fighting Ronda Rousey at UFC 157 and that by the rankings seems like the right fight.  However, the fans want Cristiane (Cyborg) Santos and Rousey to go to work.  Despite Santos and Rousey being in two different weight classes, it is the fight people want to see.  Rousey is just too dominant, but that is a discussion for another blog.

Rousey should fight Carmouche, but I would rather see the spectacle of her and Santos.

My hope is that the UFC is clear which way they will go, and that they stick to their guns, whether it be a decision for formal rankings or fan based requests.  I prefer the hard work and creation of contenders, but all I want to see is some great fights and the events that shock the world.

More importantly, I want to see the continued growth of this sport. 

Jordan Cieciwa can be heard on TSN Radio 1290 every Saturday at 11:30am ct with his show The Weigh-In. You can also follow Jordan at www.twitter.com/FitCityJordan and get all your fitness tips at www.onefitcity.com.

Chael Sonnen (Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)


(Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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