Combat sports are no stranger to novelty acts. The fine line between sport and entertainment has always been blurred because — in combat sports — fans dictate success. The Ultimate Fighting Championship can relate to this reality all too well.
The UFC is the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion and standard by which all other MMA promotions are measured. Even with that distinction, the UFC has drawn harsh criticism for its recent matchmaking decisions. While trying to tiptoe the line between sport and entertainment, many have argued the company has forgone its integrity within the sport in place of cheap entertainment value.
While maintaining objectivity, can the recent past give a clearer picture regarding the accusations many have of the UFC?
Traveling down this line of thought, let’s consider the recent UFC main event match-ups. First, the promotion aligned light heavyweight champion Jon Jones against middleweight contender Vitor Belfort. While Belfort posed the greatest threat to Jones’ short — albeit sensational — title reign, many believed, including myself, the undersized Belfort did little (if nothing) to deserve a title shot.
Granted, one example doesn’t indicate an epidemic. Let’s take a look at another recent UFC match-up head scratcher.
We need not look any further than UFC 153 in Rio to find our next example of a novelty act. The main event saw middleweight champion Anderson Silva squaring off against light heavyweight contender Stephan Bonnar. The bout saw competitive action — I use the word “competitive” loosely — for about two minutes. Then the middleweight champion took control of the fight and ended it as quickly as it began.
It’s important to note the above match-ups were organized to save their respective UFC events. For that reason, MMA fans are grateful. However, with the recent announcement of light heavyweight champion Jon Jones taking on former middleweight contender Chael Sonnen, many MMA fans are wondering if the UFC has its priorities mixed up.
In all honesty, does it really matter?
In any combat sport, the fans are the barometer for success. Take boxing, for example. Boxing fans have been pining to see the Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather fight for years. Yet, promoter Bob Arum and Golden Boy Promotions consistently refuse to give boxing fans the fight they want to see. This has created both distance and frustration with the fans of boxing.
Let me ask this question. Can we really get that upset at a company — UFC — which wants to give the fans the fights they desire to see?
Sure, the answer to that question is not so black and white. Yes, it’s feasible the UFC has taken the “give the fans what they want” approach a little too far. However, within the sport of mixed martial arts there always seems to be a difficult balancing act between entertainment and sport.
Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me at @scottlevesque.
Scott Levesque writes a weekly column for the Clarion on mixed martial arts. He will cover MMA at the local, state and national levels. His handle on Twitter is @scottlevesque.