Bloody Elbow Roundtable: Are UFC Fighters Becoming Too Risk Averse?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 7: Jon Jones in attendance during UFC 148 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 7, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Fraser Coffeen: Last week, Jon Jones said he would not fight Anderson Silva because they both had too much to lose. Now, UFC 149 main eventer Renan Barao is saying if he wins this weekend, he will wait on the sidelines for Dominick Cruz. All this while Carlos Condit also sides idly by waiting for Georges St. Pierre. These are potential fights being lost, and all for what appears to be the same reason - fighters feeling they have too much to lose by taking any other fight. Are fighters indeed becoming too risk averse in their fight selection, and is that a problem? And if so, is there anything the UFC can (or should) do about it, or is it just inevitable in combat sports?

Tim Burke: I find them to be completely different situations. Carlos Condit is sitting out because he's likely going to get a seven-figure payday to fight the biggest draw in the company. I don't think Barao will be given the same luxury by the UFC, no matter what he's saying right now. I can see Barao's point, and I think it is something that's a part of the sport to a degree, but you need to have some leverage to pull that sort of thing. Guys like Dan Henderson and Carlos Condit earned the right to wait. Renan Barao? Not so much, even if he beats Urijah Faber. Ironically, if it was the other way around and Faber wanted to wait, I might agree with it.

KJ Gould: The point of interim titles is to have a champion represent his weight class 'in the interim', while other champion is out of action. Winning the interim title then benching yourself goes against the whole point of the interim title in the first place.

The problem is probably the fact that 'interim champion' has a stigma attached to it. Either the concept needs to be scrapped, or champions who can not make a defense within 1 year of their last defense need to be stripped so the actual championship is up for grabs to stop BS like this from happening. You could argue whoever ends up the champion might be a 'paper champion', but you kind of get the sense fighters can deal with an unofficial slight against them compared to being officially announced as an interim aka not really a champion.

Fraser: I agree that Condit sitting out defeats the whole purpose of an "interim" championship, but I'm not sure stripping a champion of the title actually changes that in any way. If they had taken the belt from GSP, and Condit was officially the UFC Welterweight champion, would that suddenly make him fight?

To me, the big issue here is that you have a guy like Condit who could be fighting, could be headlining a card. But he's not. At the same time, UFC 147 and 149 are both absolutely terrible cards that are in desperate need of some more high profile names. The more top names sit out, the more weak cards like this you're going to see. But again, what do you do about that? I honestly don't know.

SBN coverage of UFC 149: Faber vs. Barao

KJ: It needs to be contractually binding. You get a contract when you win a title agreeing to defend that title a minimum of 3 times a year barring verified injury that prevents a defense. Otherwise not only does the value of the title diminish -- what pro wrestling in the past used to call 'not protecting the belt' -- but it's been practically proven PPV's do better with champions on them than not. It's been a long held belief that PPV's should be reserved for championship fights as it justifies the expense, and the number of non-title fight PPV's UFC are starting to put out is verging on the ridiculous.

You become a champion you have a job to do, otherwise retire and find something else to do.

Brent Brookhouse: Everyone has pretty much nailed it. From a "business perspective" I can understand a guy like Condit sitting out and waiting for the big fight, but it doesn't really make an interim title mean anything. Just call it a five round "title eliminator" like the phrasing boxing uses that means "winner gets title shot" (or call it a "#1 contender match" or whatever). But interim titles are to keep a division's "title picture" active in the absence of the true champion. We're not getting that and we're seeing guys sit out a year of their prime fighting peak to wait for a single big money fight.

Condit winning another bout or two would only make the GSP fight bigger and it would make him a lot more money than he's going to get if he just fights GSP and loses. It's just a weird situation.

Jon Jones is something different. He's talking about protecting his legacy by avoiding a fight, and a fight against a smaller opponent at that. Again, it's understandable to a degree, but we're getting to the point where these cross-divisional superfights are going to need to happen sometimes and he could set the standard by being the guy out there calling for the fights. Even if he lost to an Anderson Silva or Junior dos Santos tomorrow, I think he'd gain a lot of respect from smart people (i.e. those who don't declare every fighter awful if they lose a fight) for taking a huge fight like that.

We're probably only a few years away from that kind of high risk fight becoming one of the key aspects to determining someone's legacy.

Fraser: Brent - as a boxing guy, I'm curious to hear how you think the UFC situation compares to boxing. Obviously, THE big combat sports fight of the past few years is Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, but that's not happening for many of these same reasons. Can the UFC avoid falling into that same pit?

Brent: I think generally they can because the promoters are as much to blame as anything with Pacquiao/Mayweather. Floyd does value being undefeated above anything else as he thinks that's the ultimate proof of being "the best ever." But if they were both Top Rank or Golden Boy fighters, the fight would have happened years ago. It's more of a money and power issue than anything else.

Obviously, with the Jones/Silva situation, the different weight classes make it much different. And at least with Condit/GSP we have a guy waiting for the biggest possible fight instead of avoiding it. Yeah, we might not see the biggest fight possible when the UFC isn't really putting on champion vs. champion fights across divisions, but they control the discussion well enough by just not really ever bringing it up.

David Castillo: I would consider situations like the above "inevitable". Personally I don't consider Jones's actions exemplary of some sort of dilemma in MMA. Jones' reasons might have been articulated the wrong way, but who cares? Jones has defended his belt only three times. Let him truly clean out the division the way Silva has. These superfights, as much as I'd love to see them as a fan, aren't as interesting to me, at least in concept. Especially in the case of Jones/Silva, where I would bet good money (or just an embarrassing signature with BE readers) that Jones takes him down (this will happen if Jones wants it to), and savages him from the top. Hell, Sonnen practically did this for six rounds, and Sonnen is no Jones.

In the Condit situation, Condit just wants the title. I don't really like this either, but he was lined up to fight for the title, lost the shot at it, and then took a fight that was probably just as challenging as an actual title fight with GSP. There are a number of solid contenders at WW, and Condit is the kind of fighter that either grinds out victories, or pulls out spectacular finishes (the KO's are a recent development in his game, actually). So I can sympathize with his situation.

I'm fine with these situations, not as a fan, but as someone who would prefer if Zuffa exerted less influence in making decisions on behalf of their fighters (especially with the Showtime/Meltzer thing in the back of everyone's mind, though I agree that it was a bit overblown). Imposing more stipulations in a fighter's contract, ala what KJ suggested, is something I just can't get on board with. Zuffa shouldn't look to "control" this problem not because it's not in their best interest (it certainly is for their bottom line, I agree), but because they're special cases. More importantly, they're pretty rare, which makes watching Dana go to DEFCON 2 unsubstantiated.

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