In 11 days, Daniel Cormier is fighting Dan Henderson in the UFC 173 co-main event, with Cormier all but assured a title shot if he wins his first real test at light heavyweight. Also on the card is recent welterweight title challenger Robbie Lawler, who takes on Jake Ellenberger in a pivotal divisional bout for both men in what should be a great battle.
Meanwhile, one week later, un-ranked light heavyweight Fabio Maldonado is headlining the TUF Brazil 3 Finale against top 10 heavyweight Stipe Miocic, as Junior dos Santos is unable to compete after breaking his hand.
So you have Cormier-Henderson and Lawler-Ellenberger on one card, neither of them the main event, but both featuring top 10 fighters across the board, while Miocic takes on Maldonado. Yet, the UFC 173 fights are 3 rounds, while Maldonado-Miocic is scheduled for 5. Maldonado accepted this fight last week and is being placed in a five-rounder with less than 3 weeks to train.
Does anyone else see a problem here? Why are top 10 fighters, all established title contenders, being reduced to a three-rounder because they're not in the main event while an emergency bout like Malonado-Miocic gets booked for 25 minutes because it is a main event?
When the UFC announced the addition of the five-round main event in 2011, it came at a time when the UFC's Spike deal was just finishing up and they were still content on running 30-something shows per year. Even after the initial promise of "all main events will be five-rounders", the UFC didn't actually stick to this plan until after Diego Sanchez-Jake Ellenberger left fans wondering what Sanchez would've done had he had the opportunity to fight rounds 4 and 5.
This decision essentially assured fans that the quality of main events would improve (and to me, they undeniably have from the Spike TV/Versus era), but the introduction of Fight Pass, Fox Sports 1, and even more additions of TUF have stretched their roster far too thin. Case in point: Nate Marquardt versus James Te Huna is headlining the New Zealand show almost solely because of Te Huna's New Zealand background and not any actual merit of it being worthy of a main event slot. They've effectively broken their own system by loading up their roster and expanding their schedule.
How can the UFC change this mess? I propose two ideas:
1.) Make some main events three rounds. JDS vs. Miocic was a valid five-rounder because it was a battle between two ranked fighters, one of them a former champion. Maldonado vs. Miocic is a desperation replacement to save a TUF Finale. Switching it to 3 would've been perfectly sensible. Ditto for Marquardt/Te-Huna almost solely because of its total irrelevancy to anything affecting the top 10.
2.) Five-rounders outside of the main event. Some co-main events and other main card fights (like Lawler/Ellenberger) should be five-rounds. But what sets the standard for the UFC? I say any match-up with formally announced title implications and/or top 10 vs. top 10. This can be done at the UFC's own discretion, which I'm sure will irk some as they have a notoriously inconsistent application of standards.
And if you're afraid of those fights running long and all going the distance, let me cite my December 2013 post highlighting the high finishing rate of the first 30 five-round main events. Exactly 80% of those bouts from 2011-2013 ended in a finish, and this year we've had 6 of 11 to bring the current count to 30/41, which is just under 75%. A select few of those that went the distance? Hunt-Bigfoot, Machida-Mousasi, and Shogun-Hendo I.
If you're worried about five-round title fights not feeling "special" because non-title ones are also five, then I'll just point out that Roy Jones Jr. was just in a 12-rounder on December 2013 for some meaningless Alphabet Soup belt, the exact same number of rounds Floyd Mayweather Jr.fought Marcos Maidana earlier this month.
For as long as the UFC is going to have 50+ shows per year, the quality of main events, particularly for FS1 and Fight Pass cards -- where non-title bouts generally are -- is going to be affected for the worse, and it's unfair that top contenders are getting lesser treatment because of their placement in the bout order. I would certainly rather see an increase in five-rounders featuring the sport's best than a drawn out show with 13 fights per card.