Last week, I was all pumped up about seeing Max Holloway Vs. Brian Ortega. Earlier in the week, it looked like Holloway was dealing with some pretty severe concussion symptoms and was pulled from the fight. Dana White tried to get Ortega to fight Jeremy Stephens for an interim belt but it was too last minute for Ortega so the fight was called off.
How many times have we seen a title fight cancelled in the final stretch because of an injury, or a bad weight cut, or doping.. or whatever. I think it’s time to recognize that this is the kind of a sport where you put your body through so much during your fight prep, that just making it to the cage requires a bit of luck. And when a fighter has to bow out, their opponent and fans suffer too. The fans miss out on the biggest fight of the night while the fighter who did make it through is left without an opponent.
Over the last few years, Dana White has managed to save a few of these events by pulling up contenders from the under-card (Joe Soto) or a future card (Al Iaquinta). It’s all very last-minute though, and the original fighter doesn’t always accept that fight. In the case of Chad Mendes as a last minute replacement for Connor McGregor, Chad Mendes showed that he really could’ve used a full training camp. There’s gotta be a better way.
Here’s my suggestion:
Every card with a title fight, will also have the number 1 contender’s match for that same weight-class. For example, if Max Holloway and Brian Ortega are scheduled to fight for the 145lb belt, at UFC 226, you would have a fight like Jose Aldo Vs. Jeremy Stephens on that same card. If Max Holloway isn’t able to fight that night, the higher ranked of Jose Also Vs. Jeremy Stephens is automatically granted that title shot. In the upcoming fight between Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar, you would also have Stipe Miocic Vs. Derrick Lewis on that same card.
This is only half of the solution though. We’ve seen situations where a title challenger drops out and the title holder won’t take the fight because they had been training for a different opponent. Or the title challenger won’t take a new opponent for fear of losing their title shot. Moving forward, these wouldn’t be options. When you sign on the dotted line to fight for the belt, you would also be signing to accept a last minute substitution from the number 1 contender’s match. If the title challenger is the one who drops out of the fight, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in and it’s still a title fight. If it’s the champion who drops out, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in against the title challenger for an interim-belt. That interim belt guarantees the winner of that fight the next title shot.
With this approach, 3 of those 4 fighters would have to drop out prior to the fight to undermine the main-event slot. You’d also end up with some crazy last minute match-ups with qualified contenders leading to some very cool fights. If you wanted to take this a step further, you could have a couple top prospects from that same weight class on the under-card as well. This way, if a top contender loses their opponent to a title shot, a top prospect could move into that slot. How many times have we seen something special with someone like a Lando Vanata steps up against someone like Tony Ferguson? And if someone was left without an opponent through this approach, give them their ‘show” money and book them back in as soon as possible.
You can thank me later Dana ^^