UFC 201: Chaos continues to reign as title belts change hands
- Another champion fell at UFC 201, and chaos amongst the title belts continues to be a trend in the world's biggest mixed martial arts promotions.
Not long ago there was stability in the UFC amongst the title belts. Jose Aldo had not lost in 10 years and was the lone featherweight champion in UFC history. Georges St-Pierre reigned over the welterweight division, Anderson Silva reigned over the middleweight division and Jon Jones ruled in the light heavyweight division. Ronda Rousey was the women's bantamweight division.
Now chaos has entered the fray and it has made for an entertaining product fueled by the desire to see what will happen next as opposed to seeing if the sport's greatest will fall.
In the first round of the welterweight title fight at UFC 201 in Atlanta, challenger Tyron Woodley landed an overhand right that knocked champion Robbie Lawler. Just like that, the second-most tenured active championship reign (in terms of days holding the belt) in the UFC came to an end. A man who seemingly had a chin made of granite and had gone an unbelievable 8-1 in his second run in the UFC saw his only loss come via decision to Johny Hendricks in a title fight at UFC 171.
It was the seventh time that a UFC title has changed hands in 2016, and there are still five months left.
There are just two champions in the UFC who have made more than one successful title defense presently, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Out of the 10 weight classes, and 12 champions counting interim title holders (and yes, we're counting Jon Jones as an interim title holder), only four have defended the title at least once, including Johnson and Jedrzejczyk. Those two would be bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
To add in even more chaos, Woodley was interviewed after the fight by fellow welterweight Stephen Thompson, who is on a seven-fight win streak, and he asked for a title shot point-blank. From a logical stand point of pitting the best in the division against one another for its highest prize, this fight makes sense and would seem to be the fight to make.
Woodley shut Thompson down looking for a "money fight," which he thinks would come against a fighter coming off an 18-month suspension in Nick Diaz and a retired legend in St-Pierre, who has stated his intention to return to fighting.
And if Woodley had his way, he'd fight Diaz in less than a month at UFC 202.
“I think Nick Diaz comes off of suspension in two days. He’s a money fight,” Woodley said on Fox Sports. “I've been in this game, I'm a O.G., I've been here for a while and I want to make the big dough. So if he wants to fight in August with his brother Nate Diaz, I think me and him and share that event. I'm uninjured, August, I'm ready to go 202. Let's make the money."
Diaz hasn't won a fight since UFC 137 in 2011. Granted he only fought three times since then, but is he the most deserving of a title shot right now? No.
Certainly Diaz's return is a huge storyline fans will flock to and making it for the title makes it an intriguing fight, even if it is more so for fans of Diaz than Woodley. While it's smart on Woodley to think about the fights that will net him the greatest financial return, it is utterly crazy to think someone like Stephen Thompson could be overlooked when he is perhaps the most deserving challenger.
A clear pecking order for the welterweight title shot seemed to be in place, but now chaos in the matchmaking process ensues with Woodley invoking opponents whose status upon their returns, if they happen, is yet to be determined.
But is the chaos amongst the top of the UFC weight classes and the seemingly never-ending game of hot potato with the title belts a good thing?
For the most part yes. There were aging superstars heading out, like Silva. There was a division that was viewed as weak with the exception of the lone superstar lording over it, but now the women's bantamweight division is a beacon of parity in the sport. Holly Holm dethroned Rousey, Miesha Tate knocked off Holm, Amanda Nunes knocked off Tate, and Valentina Shevchenko defeated Holm in July to add chaos to a weight class that was stable with Rousey as champion.
And it has made the division thoroughly entertaining to follow. There is the argument that the UFC mishandled things by allowing Nunes to fight Tate at UFC 200 instead of scheduling an immediate rematch between Holm and Tate for the fight to set up a bout with Rousey if and when she returns in late 2016, both having history with Rousey. Now Rousey returns to fight Nunes, with a fighter that she has no history with.
Did the UFC's gamble back fire and the ensuing chaos hurt? No. The many different potential matchups between the top of the women's bantamweight division creates a myriad of fights that would be appealing. New superstars were born, like Holly Holm who saw her star rise to the point where she was headlining a card broadcast on Fox and garnering movie roles. Her success gave the UFC another marketable star.
Amanda Nunes disrupting the tangled trio Holm, Tate, and Rousey also gave the UFC another star, though maybe not quite on the level of Rousey, by being the first openly gay champion in the company's history right as they were in the midst of a big fundraising venture to support the LGBT community.
Likewise, Woodley's ascension to the top has the potential to increase star power in the UFC. Woodley has been dabbling in Hollywood, like Rousey, and even garnering a role in the critically acclaimed movie Straight Outta Compton.
Stipe Miocic knocked out Fabricio Werdum to win the heavyweight title, being the first person to bring a championship back to the UFC and even getting a seat in the Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade because of it.
In the middleweight division, Michael Bisping's upset of Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 to win the belt has given Britain its first UFC champion, a pioneer of MMA in Europe who opened the door for superstars like Conor McGregor and fan favorite getting his first shot at gold after decades of waiting.
Speaking of McGregor, he came in and instilled chaos throughout 2015, in dethroning Jose Aldo, who at the time was the only featherweight champion in UFC history, and then setting his sights on a second title in another weight class, seeking out money fights with the biggest names, setting records for views, gates and money earned in the process. And McGregor has in turn helped build superstars for the UFC. Nate Diaz was always a favorite amongst hardcore MMA fans, but he never crossed into the mainstream quite like what we've seen since he submitted McGregor at UFC 196 earlier this year. Now Diaz is appearing on the Conan O'Brien show.
For now, the UFC's chaotic reign is a good thing, building names, adding intrigue, and a level of unpredictability that makes the sport must watch because who knows what will happen next.