Do fans really want more five round fights like UFC 112's Anderson Silva vs Demian Maia? Photo by Tracy Lee.
This is a guest editorial by Josh Nason.
I've started and stopped writing this editorial about five times because for the first time in a long time, I can't think of any clever way to introduce my argument. So instead, I'm just going to come right out and say it.
I don't like the UFC's decision to make all non-title main events five rounds. Actually, I don't like it at all.
Lest you think I'm some relic who is holding on to the past and carry around a baseline argument about how everything "used to be good" in MMA, that ain't the case. I love logical progression in sports and I'd say that I am on board with nearly all the decisions that have been made by the Zuffa crew.
That is, except this one. Here's why, including some updated stats I compiled that I found fascinating. The finish percentage that Mike Fagan referenced in February 2009? It's done gone and changed quite a bit.
The value of the "championship rounds" is diminished.
Call me crazy but I think being a champion matters. A fighter's climb up the rankings and the eventual increased importance of each fight as they approach contention is part of what makes the sport great. It's the chase that's fun and something that eventually will result in a title opportunity if the time is right.
In order to beat a champion, you gotta do a little extra and that's where I like keeping the 4th and 5th round unique to title fights. You have to be willing to increase your cardio, game plan accordingly and prepare to potentially endure an extra 10 minutes of hell.
What can happen in those 10 minutes can mean a lot. That is time that should be devoted to the ultimate goal of every fighter: winning (or defending) a championship. Ideally, your title fights should be the best fights your promotion can offer and the potential of a full 25 minutes is part of that.
Now, the same guys headlining on Versus and The Ultimate Fighter finale show are also getting that extra 10 minutes. That doesn't sit right with me. You should earn the right to get those two rounds.
But the belt is the difference! (Isn't it?)
I remember preparing to watch Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans last year and didn't once think, "Man, I wish a title were on the line." What I said above about championship fights being your best fights? You know that's not always true. Some title fights just don't work, no matter what you do.
So pretend you're Joe Fan and you've watched a bunch of shows and the non-title main events are better than the title matches you're seeing. The more that keeps happening, doesn't that almost lend itself to the belts feeling less important?
You may think this is the most preposterous argument you've ever heard and it very well may be, but give it time. I hope I'm wrong, but those interesting numbers I mentioned are coming in a bit.
There are main events that don't need an additional 10 minutes.
Take UFC 130 as an example. After Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard III was postponed, we were left with Rampage Jackson vs. Matt Hamill. I can't imagine a scenario where I would have been excited to see that in five-round format. After seeing it, I definitely wouldn't have wanted to see another 10 minutes or even five.
I first remember hearing the argument for five-round non-title fights after Evans and Jackson went the distance at UFC 114, mainly because it felt like nothing was settled. I didn't remember hearing that after Yushin Okami beat Nate Marquardt or when Phil Davis defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira earlier this year.
And there are times that a guy is plain beat after 15 minutes. What are two extra rounds going to prove?
More Finishes? The Numbers Say Otherwise.
I looked at every UFC event from 2010 through last week's TUF 13 finale. Here are some stats:
- 34 total main events with 12 title fights and 22 non-title fights.
- Finish percentage in non-title fights was 54.5% (12-of-22). There was nine decisions and one draw.
- Finish percentage in title fights was 41.6% (5-of-12). There was six decisions and one draw.
Initially, the decision felt like the UFC trying to create situations where main events would see more finishes due to the potential of extra time, leading to a more satisfactory feeling for people that bought on PPV.
But if the numbers over the last 34 main events tell us anything, there will actually be MORE decisions as the finish rate is 13% higher in non-title matches.
So Why Is This Happening?
Over those 34 events, I found it interesting that only 12 were main-evented by a title fight, accounting for just 35.2%. One could argue that if that number were to hold up over the next 34 shows, it would be in the best interest of the UFC to put equal emphasis on non-title fight main events because 65% is frankly a massive number.
That would also allow them to put added emphasis on championship fights because in fact, they have been somewhat scarce over the last 18 months. Then again, one can debate the sell value of a Jose Aldo/Chad Mendes 145-pound title match to the mainstream in any situation.
Regardless of why the UFC is choosing to do this now, I wish they wouldn't have. I'd gladly deal with the one or two fights a year where you wish there was more time as opposed to the four or five other times when you're glad a main event is done.
Josh Nason (@JoshNason) is a New England-based MMA journalist that contributes to BloodyElbow.com, FIGHT! Magazine and WrestlingObserver.com. He co-hosts the weekly MMA Show on ESPN Radio affiliate WGAMradio.com.