Fiscally Responsible Matchmaking

By Patrick Auger Dec 27, 2019
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

With the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 2019 wrapped up in a nice TKO bow, the promotion will take a much needed respite from its year-round world tour before kicking off 2020 in a big way. The organization’s next show, UFC 246, will be headlined by the return of Irish superstar Conor McGregor as he takes on longtime UFC veteran and fan favorite Donald Cerrone. Although the contest will take place at 170 pounds, UFC President Dana White has stated that should “Notorious” get past Cerrone he could get another shot against lightweight kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov, provided the Dagestani retains his championship against Tony Ferguson in April. While that might not sit well with one particularly violent contender, as “Cowboy” explains in a recent interview with MMAJunkie it’s not always about merit when it comes to who is next in line for a title shot.

“If you’re talking rankings and deserving, sure,” Cerrone said regarding whether or not Justin Gaethje should get a crack at the 155-pound belt. “If you’re talking popularity and the business side of it and making money, yeah. It’s two different games. The UFC gets to pick and choose and do what they want for what makes financially more sense for them. That’s just what this game has turned into.”

Cowboy is right. Even though the UFC often rewards fighters purely for their merit inside the Octagon, there has always been a shortcut on the path to title contention for those that can blend their in-cage skills with a certain amount of showmanship. Unlike other promotions that have returned to using tournaments as a method of determining who will face a particular champion, the world’s largest MMA organization tends to favor the contender surging in popularity over the athlete with the most notable win streak when booking a title fight.

Whether you’re a fan who appreciates this approach or a purist who would prefer a true meritocracy, it’s unlikely that the UFC will stop this matchmaking technique anytime soon. So, with that in mind, here are title fights outside of a McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov rematch that we could see in 2020 where money trumps merit:

Henry Cejudo (c) vs. Jose Aldo

Despite losing a close split decision to Marlon Moraes in his bantamweight debut at UFC 245, Jose Aldo might be next in line to challenge for the 135-pound belt currently worn by the self-proclaimed “King of Cringe” Henry Cejudo. Aldo had made the decision to drop down a weight class after falling to the new 145-pound champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 237, dropping him to 3-5 in his last eight bouts at featherweight. During the UFC 245 post-fight press conference that followed the bout with Moraes, White informed the media that Cejudo had reached out to the organization about a potential bout against Aldo, stating that both he and “Triple C” believed the former World Extreme Cagefighting/UFC champion had won the match and deserved an opportunity to fight for the strap given Aldo’s legacy. While there are plenty of deserving contenders in the bantamweight division that have actually won a fight at 135 pounds -- Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen to name a few -- don’t be shocked if we end up seeing Cejudo vs. Aldo sometime next year given that the intrigue of that fight could generate some interest outside of the hardcore fan base.

Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Chan Sung Jung

The consequences of UFC Fight Night 165 are a glaring example of why this article exists. After Volkanovski toppled Max Holloway at UFC 245 to become the new featherweight champion, White, the majority of media members and even Volkanovski himself declared that “Blessed” should get a rematch after losing for the first time at 145 pounds in almost six years. A lot of those same people changed their tune, however, following Jung’s emphatic TKO victory over Frankie Edgar on Dec. 21, stopping the former lightweight champion with strikes in just one round. Although the “Korean Zombie” has been extremely impressive since his return to the promotion, it’s hard to argue he warrants a title shot over Holloway based on his in-cage efforts alone given that just two fights ago he suffered a last-second highlight reel knockout to Yair Rodriguez. Jung may end up waiting on the sidelines until Holloway is granted a rematch due to vision issues anyway, but if the timing is right the UFC could decide to put on a Volkanovski vs. “TKZ” matchup without anyone batting an eye.

Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal

As I type these words out, I can already hear the arguments that will be brought against me for declaring this matchup as a “money over merit” fight, but the stats don’t lie. Masvidal’s career resurgence has been a thing of wonder to behold, as the 35-year-old welterweight has rattled off three straight victories, finishing Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz on his way to claiming the “BMF” title belt. The rub is that, while those are certainly notable names, one of those fighters has moved up to middleweight, one has retired after suffering a submission loss to Demian Maia and one has spent the majority of his career at lightweight. On the other hand, Leon Edwards has put together an eight-fight winning streak in the 170-pound division, which includes similar name-value opponents such as Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos, with his last loss coming against welterweight champion Usman back in 2015. Based on merit alone, Edwards should be the next in line for the belt, but Masvidal vs. Usman in 2020 -- barring some kind of injury -- is all but a certainty at this point.

Israel Adesanya (c) vs. Yoel Romero

Another fighter coming off a loss who could get a title shot is Romero. The 42-year-old Olympic silver medalist has remained terrifyingly dangerous in his later years, tearing through the UFC middleweight division and participating in two epic wars with Robert Whittaker which saw him fall just short of capturing 185-pound gold. Despite losing to Paulo Henrique Costa at UFC 241 in a somewhat contentious unanimous decision, middleweight champion Adesanya has called out the “Soldier of God” for his next title defense, stating that he believes Romero to be a bigger challenge and a more important opponent for his legacy. With Costa sidelined due to biceps surgery, Dana White has already stated that he plans on granting Adesanya’s request, leaving “Borrachinha” and other contenders waiting as the UFC puts on a fight that doesn’t make sense from a merit standpoint. Advertisement

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