No. 1, With An Asterisk
By Mike Chiappetta
On Tuesday afternoon, UFC president Dana White landed in New York City to some terrible news. The UFC's top pay-per-view draw, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, had been injured and forced out of October 29's UFC 137 main event.
Unfortunately, such calls have not been unusual for White. In 2011, White has seen every single one of his seven champions sidelined for some time due to various injuries. Several of those issues affected potential big-money fights.
While UFC 137 will be affected as an event -- Nick Diaz vs. BJ Penn has been promoted into main event status -- the St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit bout will simply be pushed back to a later date, according to White. Seems fair enough, until you think about how this differs wildly from another scenario that played out in just the last three weeks.
After UFC 135 in September, the promotion paraded Rashad Evans into the octagon to confront current light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones. The two have a long, contentious history, and their grudge match is expected to do big box office numbers. So that early hype was to remind people once again that the fight was on its way.
Not long afterward, however, the UFC found itself in a jam. A December show in Toronto had been announced but with no main event. Canada is currently the UFC’s most lucrative market and Toronto earlier this year hosted a show that drew over 55,000 fans and an $11 million gate. So White wanted to bring an important fight for his return show.
Jones vs. Evans was targeted, but Evans still had pins in his hand from an injury suffered in August. The UFC waited for him to see his doctor, but when word came back, Evans was going to need two more weeks of resting his hand before he could start training. That would not leave him with enough time to be ready for a December 10 fight, so the UFC went to plan B, pushing Evans aside in favor of Lyoto Machida.
A former champion, Machida is admittedly a credible fighter, but is just 1-2 in his last three fights. Evans, meanwhile, is 3-0. On merit and in reality, Evans is the only true top contender, yet those two weeks made all the difference. The right thing to do would have been to give Evans that little bit of extra time and the fight he deserves. But once the UFC schedule is set, the event’s needs trump everything, including fairness.
It’s still hard to blame White for this. At the end of the day he has a business to run, and that means making difficult decisions. Toronto’s importance necessitated a big event, and he delivered a compelling headlining matchup. But it’s also hard not to have some sympathy for the athletes who are affected. This was the second time Evans missed out on a title fight and a huge payday, and now he’s going to have to take another bout in the meantime and risk it all.
On the flip side of the coin, Condit was never the true No. 1 contender. It was only Diaz’s public relations blunder of missing two press conferences in two days that caused White to pull him from the main event and replace him with Condit. That’s not to say Condit wasn’t ever in the discussion of top contenders; he’s 9-1 under the Zuffa banner and was breathing on the champion’s neck. But at no moment was Condit the stated next in line. That man was Diaz, but despite it, Condit is going to get the chance to wait and fight for the belt.
So, to recap the differing divisional scenarios, true No. 1 light-heavyweight contender Rashad Evans had been declared next line in multiple times, and lost his chance because the UFC couldn’t wait two weeks for him, while welterweight Condit was gifted the top contender spot and gets to keep it through a delay.
It hardly seems fair, does it?
It’s a fun exercise to try to determine who might be next to challenge a champion in any division, but be forewarned. No matter how many times he’s promised the spot, it’s a promise written in pencil. When the UFC tells you that you’re the No. 1 contender, your most important job is to stay healthy. If you don’t, there’s a good chance the unrelenting calendar will pass you by.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
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