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Johnson vs. Gustafsson was a true #1 contender fight; Why can’t we have more of these fights?




This is something that has puzzled me for a while now and that is the lack of true number one contenders fights like Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson one. All too often we end up with a fight where it is obvious who the UFC wants to win so they can fight for the title. Like when you matchup the number five fighter against the number ten one, who had went 1-1-1 in his previous three fights. Which included a TKO loss, and a NC due to a failed post-fight drug test. Oh yeah, and when only one of the two fighters can get a chance at the title if they win. Apparently the other would get a set of steak knives.

I have no issue with Conor McGregor getting the next title shot, but when the UFC makes it clear they want him to be the next big star some fans are going to get upset. You will also open the door to the dreaded fixed fight phrase to get tossed around on social media, as some fans were saying about the McGregor and Siver fight afterwards. I do not agree that it was a fix in that Siver was paid to take a dive but he was an easy and more tailored made for him McGregor than one of his suits.

It was also a situation where if McGregor won he would get a chance to fight Aldo while Siver would only have moved up the rankings and collected his streak knives, but was not going to fight for the title. Not without a rash of crazy injuries to six or seven other fighters. We again have the same situation next weekend with Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz. If Silva wins he gets the third chance at Chris Weidman or a possible but unlikely rematch with Vitor Belfort.

It is clear why the UFC is doing this when they are coming off a down year in PPV sales and exciting fights. We were spoiled in 2013 with fewer injuries and it seemed like when there were injuries the replacements fights ended up being exciting. It was unrealistic to think that 2014 would be the same or even better. The good luck from before was replaced by the bad of the previous but the UFC also contributed to it impart with their need to continue with title fight rematches. This is after saying they were not going to it anymore excepted when it was obvious like a long time champ losing. Then it makes sense to give them the opportunity but the UFC insists on doing anytime there is a close fight or not. Then again, Dana likes to say a lot of things and then forget or ignore that he said them if they become inconvenient to him. Or, he just does not feel like it anymore. Then he will do what he wants.

He tried to gives us Dillashaw vs. Barao II when no one out side of Barao’s camp had much interest in seeing. That did not stop the UFC from scheduling. Barao could not make-weight and we ended up with Dillashaw fighting a talented fighter in Joe Soto who was making his UFC debut. It just seemed to devalue the belt and Dillashaw a little by having his first defense take place against a debuting fighter. Again a part of this was injuries but you could argue that the Dillashaw and Barao rematch should not have been scheduled.

It just seems like it would have been better if there had been a way to have Dillashaw and Raphael Assuncao fight. That was a fight the fans wanted to see and it would have given Barao a chance to get a win or two under him before facing the man who had just destroyed him. That was the other thing about their fight. It was not close and did not seem to warrant an immediate rematch but that did not stop the UFC. Even though Assuncao is still the last fighter to defeat Dillashaw via a controversial decision.

Dana tried it again with Lawler and Hendricks even after promising Rory MacDonald the next title shot. With Lawler wanting to rest up after a stretch of hard fights we are sort of getting a top contender fight to determine the next challenger. Actually, we are getting two of them with MacDonald vs Lombard and Brown vs Hendricks. Whoever wins the most spectacularly in Dana White’s opinion will be deemed worthy of the title picture. Essentially whoever pleases his royal highness Dana will be worthy of the next title fight. I expect Dana to show up to fight week in a chariot wearing a toga.

It is easier to see him as an ancient Ianista with the UFC fighters as his own personal ludus. When they perform well and please him they are rewarded. When they bore him or worse they are tossed aside.

A lot of this perception could be lifted if we saw more fights like the Johnson and Gustafsson one. Each fighter had earned their spot in the octagon. Their chance at the title, a higher profile, bigger paydays and the chance to make their future a little more secure. Not many get those chances in their careers.

The fight itself had all of the drama for a main event one you could want. It is commendable and smart that the UFC put this on FOX giving the fans the fight for free. Many of them would have been happy to pay for this as a main event for a PPV.

It had the drama because you felt like either fighter could win. Either outcome giving us an interesting title fight. If Gustafsson had won we would have gotten the rematch we all wanted after his first fight with Jones. One that had been allowed to build and marinate making the fans salivate for it. The other option, the one we ended up with is the man who beat the man who took Jones to the brink. Not only did Johnson win but he did it impressively, easily and definitively. Now we all are excited to see Jones vs Johnson.

That is going to be a fun easy fight to sell to the fans both casual and hardcore alike. There will be many layers to it and it will provide Jones with a new challenge. What is looking like his toughest one to date in Johnson. He is one of the scariest fighters to face, a technically sound fast power striker. I say striker because if you just pat attention to his hands one of his kicks will take you out.

This type of fight could be happening in every division and should be happening in every division. It is what the fighters and the fans deserve to see. Two of the top five or six facing off for the chance at the title and they are should be five round fights. You could then set up nights with the top two contenders go five rounds in the co-main and then the champion in main against the current top challenger.

At the very least it would mean the MMA media would not feel obligated to ask Dana what is next for them afterwards. It would also allow for the challengers to be able to gain five round experience as they work their way towards a title. Many have pointed out how this is a big advantage for the champion with the best example being Demetrious Johnson who has only faced one opponent with experience of fighting five rounds in the UFC. He is already one of the best in the sport it does not seem fair to give him even the slightest of advantages but he has enjoyed it in five of his six title fights.

I know it is unlikely that we will see either of those getting implemented in the UFC anytime soon. First off they make too much sense and it seems these days that common senses is valued less and less. Instead it is all about the almighty dollar.

Instead of all title fights being determined in the octagon the UFC will continue to mix and match fights like Johnson and Gustafsson with McGregor and Siver. All in hopes of creating stars and fights we want to see and much like Hollywood they will have mixed success in this area.

Right now they are in a great place with people excited about Jones vs. Johnson and McGregor vs. Aldo. They both have potential to be great fights and they are definitely fights that have the fan’s interest. If they are lucky enough to avoid injuries they could be two of their biggest fights of the year and pairing them on the same card could potentially break PPV records for them. Certainly any recent ones. It would be nice if they both had gotten their the same way that we got to Jones and Johnson.

cover image credit – Zuffa LLC

An avid lifetime fight fan who loves to write about it. So kick back, get comfortable and let's have some fun! "Wants me to tell him something pretty." Al Sweargen "Going wrong is not the end of fucking things, Johnny. Fuck no! I have comeback from plenty of shit that looked like it was going wrong." Dan Dority "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." Bill Munny

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