Last night UFC fans were treated to "THE MAIN EVENT OF THE EVENING" as Bruce Buffer erroneously yelled. Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks went to war for 3 rounds in the co-main event of UFC 158. It turns out Buffer was right, as Condit/Hendricks stole the show and is easily going to be a Fight of the Year candidate by the end of 2013.
Hendricks earned his title shot as Dana White promised, but as great as his battle was with Condit, it felt like this was the type of matchup that should've been a five-rounder. Ditto Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson last month, even though that turned out to be a drab and dour affair. In defense of Condit/Hendricks, that fight was made on one month's notice, so it would've been difficult to train for a five-round fight in such a condensed period of time.
I proposed the question in the headline -- should UFC title eliminators/#1 contender fights be scheduled for five rounds? In my opinion, all of them should. And the placement of said bouts on the main card should not even be relevant.
Case in point -- Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano are in a clear-cut "winner gets a title shot and a TUF coaching spot". Yet they're only in a three-round fight, and not even on the poster of the TUF 17 Finale card. High-level fighters competing at the top of their respective divisions, who are one win away from a title fight, should not be restricted in a 15 minute window. It's significantly worse when you leave three-round championship-caliber fights in the hands of the judges, as Mike Fagan pointed out two years ago:
Less importance per round - In a three round fight, each round makes up 33% of a judge's score card. A round in a five round bout is only worth 20%. For example, in the Caol Uno/Spencer Fisher fight at UFC 99, if you score the first two rounds (which were very close) to Fisher, Uno has to win a dominant 10-8 third just for a draw. With two additional rounds, Uno would have ample time to make up lost ground (if not finish his opponent).
There were definite signs that Hendricks was slowing down and Condit was able to land the better and more effective strikes in the 3rd. Hendricks was able to take Condit down repeatedly but offered nothing offensively and Condit was able to maintain active offense before getting back to his feet. Unfortunately for Condit, he ultimately ran out of time. Would it have been different if the bout was five round? Would Hendricks have started guns ablaze in the opening stanza or planned for a more measured tempo? We'll never know unless they rematch in an actual title bout.
You might be wondering "But what about fights like Henderson/Machida or Shields/Kampmann, both three-rounders lacking in entertainment value?" Well that's how the fight game works. Some fights are incredible, some are good but not great, others are stinkers. And that's consistent in TUF two-rounders, regular three-rounders, and five-rounders.
There are obviously two things that will need to be addressed for five-round (likely) co-main events to be successful:
- Dana White needs to stop waffling on #1 contenders and title eliminators. If everyone is "in the mix" but Chael Sonnen suddenly gets a title shot against Jon Jones, that's not a good thing. Truth be told, I highly doubt this ever changes.
- The UFC needs to be really selective when it comes to determining what should be a title eliminator. Next month the UFC 159 co-main event is Alan Belcher against Michael Bisping. Belcher is effectively out of the title picture and Bisping keeps losing to the top of the division. Should this be five-rounds? I don't think so. But Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt in May? Absolutely should be five. Ricardo Lamas and Chan Sung Jung in July? Same solution.