Dear Uncle Dana,
It’s the holiday season and though Christmas has passed, I thought it was as good of a time as any to make a request of you. You’re a powerful man with the ability to make the fights fans – and I mean the REAL fans, not the ones who slip into the MMA-sphere every now and then – really want to see. However, sometimes it isn’t just certain fights we do (or don’t) want to see. Sometimes, it’s circumstances.
Last week, Henry Cejudo relinquished the flyweight title, leaving him solely in possession of the bantamweight title. For UFC fans, this was a massive relief as it meant the flyweight division could move on, no longer being held up by Cejudo’s refusal to return to the division of his original glory. With that in mind, I have a simple request: No more double champions.
Several fighters sought out the glory of being a champion holding two belts simultaneously since Conor McGregor openly stated – and accomplished – the goal. While it’s an admirable goal, it’s proven to be counterproductive to the divisions in which the dual-title holder resides. One, if not both of the divisions, gets neglected and those pursuing championship dreams in those divisions end up getting a raw deal.
Perhaps you might argue Amanda Nunes is an active double-champion. However, she has only defended one title since coming into possession of two titles about a year ago as one of the divisions she reigns over, women’s featherweight, is a dead division. You yourself have said the division was created specifically for Cris Cyborg, dangling a carrot in front of her to feel as though she was being treated fairly by the organization. It wasn’t because there was a surplus of talented women in the division or a call from the MMA fanbase for the division to be formed. Now that Cyborg has moved on to different pastures, is there any reason to maintain the division? Maybe there will be enough viable contenders in a few years for the division to be relevant. For now though, it’s a terrible division and thus, not viable as a reason to say Nunes reign as a double champion proves it can be done.
There are several other reasons to rid the UFC of double champions. First, you’re always looking to have a PPV headlined by a title fight. Sometimes two, maybe even three as you did earlier this month. You do this as you see titles as a reason for people to tune into events. Why would you limit yourself to the amount of people who could help you accomplish that goal? For every person who holds two belts, your cutting down on the amount of people who can step up to headline your major events. Let me put it in simple terms. Let’s use Cejudo for example. If he managed two title defenses a year as double champion – which by most accounts is the typical standard – that would be one at bantamweight, one at flyweight. However, now that he’s focusing on bantamweight, he defends that twice and whoever holds the flyweight title now defends that twice. That’s four defenses being made instead of two.
Second, it limits the ability to use the belts to build new stars. Say you had a brash personality you’re dying to make champion… someone like Max Holloway. However, you’ve got a champion with two belts who is refusing to defend one of those divisions… kind of like McGregor did. Do you let the potential challenger wallow while the dual-belt holder does whatever the hell he pleases? That’s been the strategy before, limiting the amount of defenses Max Holloway was able to make as he waited around for an official title fight. Fans aware of the situation knew how badass Holloway is. However, what about those several years down the road with a limited understanding of the situation looking at it strictly from paper? Holloway’s reign was more dominant than the three successful title defenses he executed. However, good luck getting that point across in the future.
The bottom line is that it’s too difficult for a double champion to effectively defend both belts the requisite amount of times that would be fair to the rest of the division. There are several great fighters fans lament about not having received a title shot in divisions that aren’t encumbered by dual champions. Jacare Souza for example. By allowing the double champion charade to endure, it has forced Tony Ferguson to win 12 fights in a row before getting his official title shot. I understand there are extenuating circumstances there, but this is MMA. There is always going to be extenuating circumstances. That’s part of what makes this sport so great. However, I’d like to think there would be as many efforts to reduce those circumstances as possible. Ferguson could have been awarded that title shot far earlier than he is, even with his earlier title fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov being canceled. Let me repeat this with emphasis: IT SHOULD NOT TAKE 12 CONSECUTIVE WINS TO GET A TITLE SHOT. The fact that McGregor didn’t have a single win at lightweight – or defense at featherweight -- when he received his shot against Eddie Alvarez makes it that much more egregious.
It is no accident there isn’t a current title reign that sparks awe in viewers. The longest streak of current title defenses is owned by Nunes, sitting at five at bantamweight. Khabib only sits at two. It’s plausible he could be at four if all the shenanigans with McGregor claiming a title only to do nothing with it… especially when he already had another one he was doing nothing with. We know the flyweight title is vacant. It’s plausible we could have a champion in Cejudo who is focused on his third defense if he hadn’t been challenged for someone else vying to be a double-champion in TJ Dillashaw.
Instead, Dillashaw fell short, was stripped of his bantamweight title when he popped for PED’s, and Cejudo claimed he deserved a shot at the now vacant gold owing to his previous victory over the former champion. I can’t blame him, but this could have been avoided had Dillashaw focused on one of the litany of contenders bantamweight claimed at the time. I would have gone with Raphael Assuncao, a guy who claimed 11 wins in his last 12 appearances at the time. Instead, Assuncao, despite his impressive accolades, will likely end his career as one of the best to never get a shot at UFC gold.
There have been several other fighters who reigned over two divisions on separate occasions. Those would be Randy Couture, BJ Penn, and Georges St-Pierre. Nobody sees them as any less fighters than those who held two title simultaneously. In fact, an argument could be made they are a more impressive group as a collective than the four double-champs.
Uncle Dana, you yourself have said many times how difficult it is to be a champion in this sport. You said that for years in reference to fighters reigning over one division. Now, I ask what further evidence you need that would prove that a fighter cannot reign over two divisions simultaneously. It cannot be done without the progression of one or both divisions being stalled. Please, as a longtime fan who continues to eagerly partake of your product, no more double-champs!