I've been hearing a lot about how Jon Fitch has "earned" a title shot. This, of course, raises the interesting question: how does one "earn" a title shot, or a rematch?
I think the answer to this quesiton is simple: the way anyone "earns" a fight with an established fighter is raising a legitimate prospect that you might win. A secondary factor, from a "business" rather than a "sport" perspective is what fight the fans want to see. In general, the fans want to see exciting fights - where there is a chance either combatant might win and where there is likely to be a lot of action or an exciting finish (although what is "exciting" is subjective). From that perspective, doing a good job trash-talking and finishing a lot of your fights (as opposed to winning decisions) can help you "earn" a fight from a business perspective.
Another factor is that champions and fighters have to fight someone. Is there a better match that can be made? If not, sometimes an unappealing fight gets done.
Finally, a last factor is novelty. In general, new fighters deserve a shot at the belt. Otherwise, you'd have the same two guys fighting over and over if we determined a priori that they are the two best. Problem is, without new blood, there'd be no way to prove that they really were the best.
Personally, I don't believe winning streaks or supposed No. 1 contender fights are determinative. Of course, they are often an excellent way to tell if someone has a legitimate prospect of winning. If Okami or Jon Fitch are on big winning streaks, than logic says that they have a good chance. It's wrong to ignore someone's record - we shouldn't make predetermined judgments about whether people will win - we should let them fight and see what happens. But the ultimate factor is whether it looks like you have the best chance to win - not whether you met some formal requirements.
I also don't think a previous fight is determinative. Although novelty is important, we should remember that close fights can often go either way. A rematch or even a trilogy is not a bad thing if that's the best fight available.
I don't think any of that is controversial.
Now let's apply these principles to Jon Fitch and Chael Sonnen. From one perspective, Jon Fitch has "earned" his rematch title shot with GSP. He has beaten everyone the UFC has matched him up against, including top contenders Paulo Thiago and Thiago Alves. On the other hand, he lost very decisively to GSP and he has not (in my eyes) improved since then. I can't really see things going any differently a second time around. Further, Fitch is boring. Sorry if you don't like it, but it's true. He's more boring than Sonnen, another decision machine. Sonnen threw about three times as many punches in the first three rounds of the Silva fight as Fitch did against Alves.
A lot of people say Fitch has earned the GSP rematch. But is anyone really saying he might win? Sure he's "earned it." But do you really want to pay to see it?
The real question is: is there a better fight out there right now? And I think the winner of Kampmann/Shields would be more interesting. (This is all assuming GSP beats Koscheck of course - a big assumption). A Silva/GSP superfight would also be better.
That's what makes this situation different from the Sonnen fight. Unlike Fitch, Sonnen was clearly winning the fight until he lost. If they fought again, the fight could go easily go the other way. Additionally, there are not a lot of great MW contenders right now, outside of Okami and Belfort, neither of whom have any more claim to the shot than Sonnen does.
So, oddly, I'd be more in favour of a Silva/Sonnen rematch than a Fitch/GSP one, even though Fitch has definitely "earned" a rematch by beating top WW contenders.
I still think the UFC should stop screwing around and do GSP/Silva fight, whatever it takes. The longer they tarry, the more likely that Koscheck or Belfort or some other dangerous challenger will ruin the whole thing.
Anyway, I guess the main point is that rematches/title shots are not something that is mathematically earned. Every fight should feel like anyone could win. The fans shouldn't get stuck with rematches they don't want, or denied the rematches they do want, based on a formula that ignores the reality of what happens in the cage. On the other hand, the promoter should respect the records people build up and not deny them shots purely on the basis of fan interest. It's a tough line to draw, I guess - and people should understand that Joe Silva has a tough job.