Numbers: A look at UFC title fight frequency

Victor Decolongon

Bloody Elbow's Mookie Alexander takes a look at the frequency of UFC title fights in the last five years. For example, has the WEC merger really made an impact on the number of title matches we see per year? Read on to find out.

Much as been made about championship fights in the UFC falling through the cracks recently through varying causes such as injuries and positive drug tests. Pay-per-views have seemingly suffered as a result, particularly cards such as UFC 151 and 149. For a little statistical Friday post, we're going to take a look at how often UFC title fights are being held -- including the interim ones -- and a few other facts such as how many PPVs are headlined by title fights and number of title fights by weight class.

NOTE: All 2012 statistics will be done as if the year is over and the final three title fights scheduled for the year will go on as planned. I've probably just jinxed three different cards as a result, but it's not like you're not used to fights not happening by now, right?

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The first table looks at the number of title fights held in each weight class since January 2008, or UFC 80. This encompasses unification bouts, title defenses, or vacancies like Penn vs. Stevenson following Sean Sherk's positive drug test after beating Hermes Franca in 2007. Obviously the 135-145 lbs divisions are blacked out from 2008-2010.

Titlefights0812_2_medium

EDIT: As pointed out in the comments, the LHW belt was defended twice in 2008 and not once, meaning it's been fought 10 times overall and not 9.

I have to admit, I was surprised to read only 8 championship fights in 2009, because that was probably one of the best years in UFC history. The lightweight division has consistently seen multiple title fights/defenses, whereas Anderson Silva has toggled between defending his title and destroying light-heavyweights. Heavyweight has been a bit of a mess because 3 of the 10 title fights were interim and 2 of the last 3 HW champions have gone at least 12 months in-between title defenses.

Next up, championship bouts to total weight classes. One of the biggest talking points over the WEC merger and the addition of the flyweight division is that we'd be seeing more title fights. While from a plain numerical standpoint we have seen an increase, but by just how much?

Title fights-to-weight classes ratio

2012 - 13/8 (1.625)
2011 - 13/7 (1.86)
2010 - 10/5 (2.00)
2009 - 8/5 (1.6)
2008 - 11/5 (2.2)

I think this is the most interesting statistic because it shows that despite more weight classes we haven't seen a ratio similar to that of 2010 and 2008.

Lastly, we'll look at PPVs. This is a pretty important one because again, one of the biggest reasons for the WEC merger was the hopeful decline of non-title fight main events, thus increasing the quality of pay-per-views and to give the bantamweights and featherweights prominent slots on the biggest stage for MMA and not on a Thursday night on Versus.

2008 - 12 PPVs, 10 were headlined by a championship fight (exceptions: UFC 85 and 88), only UFC 92 had two title fights.
2009 - 13
PPVs, 7 were headlined by a championship fight, only UFC 100 had two title fights.
2010 - 15
PPVs, 8 were headlined by a championship fight, UFC 111 and 112 had two title fights.
2011 - 16
PPVs, 9 were headlined by a championship fight, UFC 129 and 136 had two title fights, and UFC on FOX 1 + UFC on Versus 6 had championship bouts on free TV.
2012 - 13
PPVs, 11 will be headlined by a championship fight, UFC 152 had two title fights, and UFC on FOX 5 represents the lone free TV title fight.

So for as much as fans have bitched about "too many PPVs" and "watered down cards", which isn't necessarily without merit, the new weight classes have significantly patched up the problem set in 2009-2011 where PPVs did not have a championship fight as a main event. The only PPVs this year without a title fight were the last two Brazilian shows. Granted, there is a counter-argument that a non-title fight between Wanderlei Silva and Rich drew only slightly fewer buys on PPV than Edgar vs. Henderson II, and that not every championship fight or overall card is considered to be must-see, but that's for a different article.

What can we take away from all of this beyond me just throwing up a bunch of numbers?

  • As a result of injuries, the frequency of bantam and featherweight title fights has been minimal. Dominick Cruz has defended the belt just twice and Renan Barao won't defend the interim belt. Jose Aldo has defended just 3 times in 2 years.
  • Jon Jones' active schedule has been huge. The current LHW champion has been in 5 title fights since last year, and the 6th fight against Sonnen in 2013 would mean more title fights for Jones from 2011-2013 than 2008-2010 combined from the likes of Rampage Jackson, Shogun, Rashad Evans, and Forrest Griffin.
  • If the injury bug is kinder, expect every UFC PPV to feature at least one title fight. If not for a political convention and a Jose Aldo injury the UFC will have held a championship fight (interim or not) on every PPV this year. The UFC's next task then becomes how they'll be able to sell any of their champions 155 and below, because not a single one of them is a North American draw. And if the injury bug is really really nice, perhaps you'll see more two-title fight PPVs or even another title fight on FOX.

Cross your fingers and hope that the title bouts rise in the coming years and that this article won't be totally obsolete within the next few weeks because of another fight cancellation.

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