Last night, it was announced that Dominic Cruz has suffered an ACL tear, meaning he will not be able to defend his bantamweight title against Uriah Faber at UFC 148 on July 7th. Add that to Georges Saint-Pierre’s own ACL injury holding up the welterweight division and Frankie Edgar’s constant rematches in the lightweight division and you have three UFC titles on hold. Let’s have a look at these situations and what is being done and what should be done to stop a backlog of contenders from developing.
The Welterweight Division
Georges Saint-Pierre is currently out with an ACL injury and will not return until November at the earliest. To deal with the vacancy at the top of the division, the two opponents involved in the GSP title fight merry-go-round of 2011 fought in an interim title fight. Carlos Condit beat Nick Diaz and has decided to wait for GSP’s return, rather than fighting in the meantime.
The wait for a title fight made MMA fans a little uncomfortable, but it was easy to understand. A fight with someone like Jake Ellenberger is a pretty dangerous one, where he would have a lot more to lose (a massive pay day and the opportunity to fight a legend in GSP) and not much to win. However, when Johny Hendricks recently won his own title shot, his decision to wait is harder to accept. Yes, he is waiting for similar reasons to Condit, he wants a chance for a massive fight with Saint-Pierre but his wait is likely to be around a year.
Here’s the solution. Carlos Condit had to go through a lot to get his title shot and was treated pretty shabbily.He acted with stoic dignity all the way through and deserves to wait till the end of the year for his title shot. Hendricks is in a very different situation. I don’t really think title shots can be earned while there is a queue and there are a few fighters in the welterweight division in roughly Hendricks’ position. He should fight one of them if he wants to earn a title shot. So, while we wait for the titles to be unified at the end of the year, Hendricks should fight the winner of Kampmann/Ellenberger in a number one contender’s match.
The Lightweight Division
By the time Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar fight this August, only four fighters will have fought in six title fights in the last two and a half years. Frankie Edgar won the title off BJ Penn in early 2010, but it was close and he had to beat Penn in a rematch. In his next title fight, he drew with Gray Maynard, the only fighter to have beaten him earlier in his career. Another rematch. Then, when he was beaten by Benson Henderson in another close fight, the UFC felt they could hardly deny him a rematch. There have been two pretty damaging consequences of all this.
First, there has been a bit of a backlog of challengers at the top of the division. Anthony Pettis was supposed to fight for the UFC title when the WEC merged with the UFC, but Edgar was right in the middle of his ongoing rematch saga and Pettis is still waiting. Nate Diaz has just demolished three fighters in a row, the latest win earning him a title shot against the winner of Henderson/Edgar 2. Diaz is willing to wait, so that one of the most exciting fighters with the most momentum in the UFC, is going to sit out until winter.
On top of that, by granting three immediate rematches in a row, the UFC is taking good fighters out of rotation at the top of the division. While Gray Maynard was spending a year training for and fighting Frankie Edgar, he was not fighting the rest of the division. After losing his title, it would have been great to see Frankie Edgar build his way back to a title shot by beating some other top contenders.
The answer? The UFC needs to be careful about giving out immediate rematches. Hopefully, after Edgar/Henderson 2, the rematches will end and we will have 2 or 3 new title contenders to watch every year thereafter. For now, I really feel like Nate Diaz needs to fight Anthony Pettis in a number one contender’s match. It just adds up. It keeps both fighters busy and it makes the most of the buzz Nate Diaz’s great performance on Fox has created.
The Bantamweight Division
While Dominic Cruz’s injury is similar to Georges Saint-Pierre’s, the situation could not be more different. There has been a lack of real competitors for the Dominator, with contenders like Micheal MacDonald and Renan Barao seemingly needing one or two more fights until they are ready. This injury, while terrible news for Cruz has a significant silver lining. Now we have around a year where the division can sort itself out.
Urijah Faber should fight someone for an interim title. There are a few people on the short list and Chris Shanks has made their cases here. Since Renan Barao is ready to fight at UFC 148 anyway, he is my pick. He has won five in a row in the WEC/UFC, including beating two top fighters in Pickett and Jorgensen. He might benefit from one or two more fights, but given the situation he seems the best fit.
While Chris preferred to have a more seasoned campaigner like Brad Pickett face Faber for the interim strap, I would like to see him and Brian Bowles fight for the number one contenders spot, to face the winner of Faber/Barao. This is a similar solution to the ones offered above, it gives everyone a chance to keep busy in relevant fights while Cruz recovers. It has the added bonus of giving guys like Micheal MacDonald the chance to get ready to give Cruz a real challenge when he returns, should he beat the interim champion at the time.
While fighters wait it out for their title shot, we the fans are missing out on great fights between top contenders. It seems like the UFC, or more precisely Dana White, has been guilty of giving out title shots without really thinking through the consequences. Anthony Pettis and Nate Diaz have both been promised title shots, while the next title fight will actually be between Edgar and Henderson. Johny Hendricks has been promised a title shot even though the welterweight titles need unifying first. With the bantamweight division, the UFC has the chance to do things properly. They can organise a series of fights that keep the top contenders busy and set up a great fight for Dominic Cruz upon his return.