The year 2013 will go down in history for a variety reasons. We saw Chris Weidman dethrone long time Middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva with a punch that shook the pillars of heaven. We waited with baited breath for the judge's verdict after one of the best title fights in history with Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. We watched Cain Velasquez put a stamp on his second run as Heavyweight champion by thrashing Junior Dos Santos so badly he forgot which round he was in. And just recently we learned that the biggest star in all of MMA was vacating his Welterweight title and taking a sabbatical from the sport, possibly a permanent one. There was no shortage of BIG things that went down in the past 12 months.
These moments, along with many others, are things we'll always remember about the past year. But 2013 also showcased what I thought was a rather disturbing trend, and that was a lack of credibility in several fighters who were challenging for titles this year.
The foundations upon which some of these fights were built could be called shaky at best, and at worst it was a house of cards. We had fighters coming off a loss still being allowed to face the champion, then we had others getting a crack at a title holder outside of their normal weight class, and some of them were guilty on both counts.
But before I go into it on a case by case basis, I'm going to pin point exactly where I believe this whole thing started, and the source might surprise you.
Or to be more specific, it was the Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery event back in May of 2010. The main event was Alistair Overeem making his first (and only) defense of his Heavyweight title against future Bellator washout Brett Rogers. The fight itself was nothing very memorable, Reem stopped Rogers in the first round and added another notch to his bedpost, but it was the setup behind this fight that got my attention.
It was rumored that the original plan Strikeforce had was for Overeem to defend the belt against Fedor Emelianenko as the main event of their big April card on CBS. But due to the typical M1 shenanigans, the fight was moved to their next card and Rogers was wedged into Fedor's place, this despite Brett having his head knocked clean off his shoulders the previous November by none other than Fedor himself.
In the grand scheme of things, this was nothing to get in a twist over, Strikeforce was making the best of a bad situation and it's not like the HW title had any real credibility in the first place. But I think this is where the seed was planted, it would just take Zuffa purchasing the company and waiting a few years for it to germinate.
#1 - January
The first offender on my list is former Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Frankie's time as the champion consisted of fighting BJ Penn and Gray Maynard twice apiece, and it ended with back to back losses to Benson Henderson.
He then decided to drop to Featherweight, and it was announced that for his very first fight at 145lbs would be for Jose Aldo's Featherweight title. Now I like Frankie just fine, I think he has greater heart than Diego Sanchez, and I love rooting for an underdog. But in no way will you convince me that he should have been given a title shot coming off two losses and being 0-0 at 145lbs.
This fight wound up setting the tone for what would follow for the next 11 months.
#2 - March
I already wrote an entire fanpost on this topic, so I'll just give you the one paragraph version. Nick dropped his last fight to Carlos Condit the previous February and then was forced to sit out for a year due to a failed drug test. This was promoted as a "grudge match" that GSP had requested because he wanted to teach the mouthy Diaz a lesson.
But in reality, we all knew what it really was about, it was done to get an impressive PPV number, Johny Hendricks be damned.
UFC on FOX 7 – Benson Henderson vs Gilbert Melendez
This fight isn't an official part of my list, but I felt the need to at least mention it. I took issue with Gil being allowed to come in and basically leap frog over Anthony Pettis for the next Lightweight title shot after Bendo sent Nate Diaz back home to Stockton empty handed. I personally felt that Melendez lost his last fight to Josh Tompson, but at least a case could be made for him getting the nod over Pettis. And I'll be coming back to Showtime momentarily.
#3 - April
Just a week later we saw Chael challenge Jones for his Light Heavyweight title. The setup for this fight began many months before, the silver tongue devil offered to step in on incredibly short notice to face Jones when Dan Henderson had to pull out. Jones declined the fight, UFC 151 was canceled, and everyone had new reasons to hate Bones.
Sonnen's last fight was a rematch against Anderson Silva in which he was stopped in the second round, he hadn't fought at 205lbs in many years and it had been even longer since he won a fight at that weight. But it was decided that he and Jones would be coaches for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter and then fight for the title at its conclusion.
The gamble didn't pay off with big TUF ratings like they had hoped, and the whole thing nearly blew up in their face when the title almost changed hands due to a single mangled toe.
#4 - May
I bring this fight up mainly because of how it was promoted.
Because Heavyweight is such a barren wasteland, you have to cut them some slack, especially when the skill gap between the top two fighters and the rest of the division is so wide. That being said, after Bigfoot knocked Overeem into next week, the UFC had no choice but to make him the next challenger for the belt.
The problem came with the build up to the fight, if you paid attention to any of the promo packages they ran, you would have noticed that they didn't use a single piece of footage from the first time Cain and Silva went at it a year before. Normally for a rematch they'll make liberal use of highlights from the first fight to promote the second, but the beating Velasquez put on Antonio was so quick and one sided, they just sort of pretended it never happened.
This is another honorable mention and not an official part of the list since it never actually took place.
Going back to the Bendo/Gil fight, when Showtime found out he was being passed over for the next crack at the 155lb strap, he asked for a shot at Aldo's Featherweight belt and his request was granted. While I didn't think it was right for Aldo to have to face yet another Lightweight with no fights at 145lbs, at least Pettis (like Gilbert) was coming in on a win streak. This alone makes it far less egregious than some other fights on here.
However, due to a rash of injuries which forced the UFC to play musical chairs with main events, we wound up getting two fights that I feel should have been booked in the first place. Aldo faced Jung Chan-Sung at UFC 163 and Pettis got his rematch against Henderson at UFC 164. I looked at it as the MMA Gods saw how crazy things had become and took steps to correct it, balance had to be restored to the universe.
#5 - December
The last fight on this list is the upcoming co-main event of UFC 168.
This one is kind of an oddball for me. On one hand, Tate lost her chance at the TUF coaching gig and a rematch with Rousey when she was knocked out by Cat Zingano in May. On the other, it's kind of hard to wag my finger at the UFC for replacing Cat with Miesha when she got injured due to them having no other options at the time. Because WMMA is still in its infancy and thus not very deep, there was no one else on the roster they could have put in Cat's place, legit challenger or not.
All that being said, while I wish it was Cat going in there, I hope Miesha makes the most of it and reclaims the Bantamweight title.
I know that Zuffa's only goal is to make as much money as possible, I understand and accept that, but my problem is that they've spent the last 12 months blowing a lot of smoke up our collective asses with some of these title fights.
If the UFC really wants to be taken as seriously as boxing and become as popular as the NFL, then they can't continue this sort of short sighted hot-shot booking they've been doing. It might work in the short term with a single PPV doing in the neighborhood of a million buys, but in the long term all it will do is chip away at the credibility they have built up and sully the reputations of their champions in the eyes of both mainstream and hardcore fans alike.
I really hope that this was just an "off" year for the UFC, faced with dwindling PPV revenue, fighters like Overeem fizzling out like a bad fart, or Jon Jones falling short of becoming a Brock Lesnar sized draw, they went into desperation mode.
But with a bit of luck, maybe 2014 will be better and the UFC will be able to focus more on the sport side of MMA and not so much of the spectacle.