UFC’s Ranking, Title Shots Send Mixed Messages
When it was announced that the UFC would be establishing an official rankings system there were a couple of questions that had to be raised. Given the recent glut of title shots given to fighters coming off losses, inactivity or exploring a new weight class, fans wondered if the rankings would be a step towards more transparent contendership in the organization. Dana White swiftly answered with a “not really” but did point out that the rankings would make it easier for the more casual fans to connect the dots and understand what they were seeing inside the cage.
However, less than 48 hours after the first set of rankings were released, the UFC was announcing that Anthony Pettis would be the next challenger to Jose Aldo’s featherweight title. Pettis, of the 0-0 lifetime record at 145lbs, jumped past Ricardo Lamas, Chan Sung Jung and even Clay Guida (who – controversial or not – has a recent victory over Pettis) to fight Aldo. So despite putting these rankings in place to help make things easier to follow, the first bout booked goes completely against the idea, pitting the featherweight champion against a challenger who cannot be ranked in the division. Talk about mixed messages.
This isn’t to say that I am against Aldo-Pettis. It really is a dream match. We will get to see two fighters early in the prime of their careers who can perform spectacular feats with their limbs to inflict damage on another human being. Anderson Silva aside, I can’t think of two more dynamic strikers in the UFC. Aldo has seemingly ruled the featherweight division forever, as all of the men he’s faced in title bouts aside from his two most recent challengers (Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar) have either retired or vacated the division. Aldo has truly ushered in an entirely new featherweight division from the one we saw in the WEC’s blue cage. Pettis is no slouch with his accomplishments either. He is the last man to defeat Benson Henderson, was famously promised a UFC title shot for that effort, and ended up getting lost in the shuffle of the Edgar/Maynard trilogy. There are those who would even contend that Pettis has not lost a fight in his career, as both of his losses were debateable decisions.
That’s just looking at this fight from a fight perspective. From a business point of view the UFC just saw Jose Aldo defeat one of the best lightweights the sport has ever seen. He has never been more marketable, and his potential challengers at 145lbs simply don’t have the cache to provide an intriguing story. Pettis is far more well-known than any of the fighters at the front of the featherweight line, and we’ve seen that matchmaking in the UFC has come down to one thing recently: Money.
Chael Sonnen is facing Jon Jones because he is going to talk the fight up more than Dan Henderson or Lyoto Machida could. Even though the fight will likely end up a blowout, it should sell well. Nick Diaz is fighting Georges St-Pierre because he’ll be a better villain to contrast with St-Pierre’s clean cut image. Edgar already faced Aldo for the same reasons that Pettis will. He’s more well-known than any of the challengers out there, and the UFC can promote it as another ‘Superfight’.
The fight has rationale behind it, and fans will be excited for it, but I can’t help but feel that the UFC is shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to their own rankings. Essentially this fight is saying “You know those rankings we just came out with? They’re meaningless. Just busy work.”
If the UFC wants to have rankings that actually mean something, those making the decisions should at least feign their importance. If not, you’re just muddying the waters of an already vague structure of contendership. If the rankings are supposed to make things clearer, use them. If not, what’s the point?