UFC Title Challengers ‘Don’t Necessarily Have To Be The Best’

UFC President Dana White

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Why doesn’t the UFC use tournaments to crown champions? That’s a question that deserves more attention right now thanks to the success of Bellator MMA’s Grand Prix tournament as well as next week’s start of the Professional Fighters League season. According to at least one MMA star, the result of the UFC’s choice to not use tournaments means its title challengers “don’t necessarily have to be the best” to fight for gold.

Former UFC star and current Bellator MMA heavyweight champion Ryan Bader told Heavy he believes the reason the UFC does not use tournaments is due to the company being less concerned about making the best fights possible and more concerned about selling the most pay-per-views for each particular show.

“I’m not sure,” Bader said. “Maybe they like to definitely have their biggest stars in title fights. They want to sell the most pay-per-views. To earn that, you don’t necessarily have to be the best. You can be the best talker or have the most Twitter followers and still get a title shot.”

Bader said he’s happy to be with a company that doesn’t shy away from tournaments. He left the UFC in 2017, and he’s never really looked back. Over the last four years, he’s made more money in Bellator than he would have in the UFC, and he’s been offered more chances to participate in tournaments.

“It’s something Bellator has been doing, and people seem to like it. I know us as fighters also like it, too,” Bader said.

Bader won heavyweight gold by winning a Grand Prix tournament, and he hopes to recapture the title at 205 pounds by doing the same thing.

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Latest Example Of UFC Refusing To Use Tournament Format

Whatever one believes about Bader’s specific opinion on UFC title challengers, it’s clear that the UFC does seem to go out of its way to avoid tournaments.

There might be no better example at the present moment than the upcoming UFC battle between lightweight contenders Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler at UFC 262 on May 15.

While those two fighters are among those who need to be competing against each other to crown the UFC’s next lightweight champion after Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, the main event of UFC 262 is a strange case in which the No. 3 and No. 4 ranked contenders are getting the nod over the No. 1 and No. 2 guys.

While it’s true the division’s top-rated fighter Dustin Poirier chose to fight UFC megastar Conor McGregor over pairing with somebody else to crown a new king at 155, one might also suggest Poirier never needed to be asked that question in the first place.

Moreover, there’s never been an explanation about why No. 2-ranked  contender Justin Gaethje was left out in the cold.

Do the UFC rankings have no meaning? Or is Bader’s idea about them correct? That the company is prioritizing the fights it thinks will sell the most pay-per-views.

Whatever the case, that kind of thing won’t happen in the Bellator Grand Prix tournament, and it won’t happen in any of the weight classes crowning champs in the Professional Fighters League either.

Bader believes tournaments are the way to go. In fact, after losing his 205-pound belt last year to new champion Vadim Nemcov, Bader believed he would be content letting his Bellator “champ champ” status go so he could focus on being the heavyweight champion.

But that’s when Bellator president Scott Coker hit Bader up with his Grand Prix idea.

“We couldn’t pass that up,” Bader said. “Instead of just getting an immediate rematch, this is such a cool way of potentially going in there and getting my belt back, doing it in the Grand Prix format, becoming a two-division champion again, and becoming the first person to not only be a two-division champion in Bellator history but also to become the first person to win two Grand Prix tournaments in two different weight classes.”

Bader called that “legacy stuff”.

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Fans and Fighters Love It, Why Not UFC?

Bader loves the tournament format, and he believes most fighters prefer the same.

“We’ve seen title shots that don’t make sense competitively before…with these tournaments, it’s a bracket. You win and you move on. There’s no politics involved,” Bader said.

One might argue the same holds true for fans. Would the UFC lightweight division be a lot more fun right now if the top four fighters in the division competed against each other in a Grand Prix to crown a champion?

And isn’t it fair to suggest that the only reason that isn’t happening is that it would leave the company’s most popular fighter Conor McGregor (and his millions of pay-per-view buys) out of the mix?

Whatever the case, the UFC has refused to use a tournament format for over 20 years now. It hasn’t employed that format since UFC 23 in 1991, and that old-school era of the company is long gone and doesn’t seem to be on its way back anytime soon.

Bader says it all comes down to the company wanting to sell as many pay-per-views as possible.

“I believe they want to get as much out of every single title fight as they can. If somebody slips through that is not really polarizing and wins it that way, they might have a problem selling it,” Bader said.

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