There was a time when earning a title shot was a long and challenging task for many up-and-coming fighters. And it still is, for the most part, as a fighter could be on an impressive win streak, and still not get a shot at the strap.
Case in point, Jared Cannonier is 3-0 since moving up to middleweight, all knockout victories, and was still passed over for a shot at Israel Adesanya’s middleweight title at UFC 248 in favor of Yoel Romero.
Granted, Adesanya called for the fight against “Soldier of God,” but if the promotion wanted to give it to a more deserving fighter, instead of one coming of two losses, it had the right and power to do so. While many didn’t have a problem with Romero as a fill-in for Paulo Costa due to his past track record, others like Leslie Smith did.
“I think it’s unfortunate because it makes a mockery of merit-based aspects of a fighter working their way up to reach a title shot,” Smith said during an interview with MMA Fighting. “I think [Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero is an appealing fight], however do I think that it should take precedence over everybody else that’s worked their way up for a title? No, I don’t.
“That’s kind of the whole point of, like, winning, is that you’re supposed to be working your way up and getting higher ranked and getting a title shot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any promotion putting together an exciting fight, it’s a superfight basically, it’s a superfight with a title on the line, but I think it would be nice if there were two categories: A superfight category and then a merit-based championship category.”
For Smith — who had a falling out with UFC in 2018 before joining Bellator MMA — a fighter’s union would prevent the promotion from simply giving a title shot to anyone they please, instead of someone who actually deserves it.
“Absolutely,” Smith said if a union could change things. “It’s just another example of the promotion doing what’s best for the promotion and screwing the fighters over in the process. For a fighter, for anybody in any kind of job to have a clear path towards an objective, that’s what anybody wants in any situation. And to have that clear path totally taken away and to have a ranking change and to not get the opportunities that a person thinks that they should have earned, I mean that’s super f*cked.
According to Smith, unwarranted title shots also affects deserving fighter’s bottom line and outside-of-the-cage opportunities such as sponsorships and side gigs in the entertainment industry; be it talk show or movie appearances.
“So for the promotion to deny the opportunity to somebody to get the publicity of a title fight simply because the UFC doesn’t feel like putting it on or because they think that somebody else is going to sell more tickets, I mean, that’s fine but don’t call it a sport, call it entertainment,” she added.
“Because that’s all it is. They might as well have the ref jump in and start choking people out so they can justify or not justify or just keep that f*cking entertainment aspect going. It screws with everybody’s money and it’s unfortunate that fighters have not gotten their act together to realize that it is only gonna ever be in their best interests to stand up for themselves because the UFC will never look out for them.”
Of course, Romero isn’t the only fighter who has earned a title shot coming off defeats, as former UFC featherweight champion, Jose Aldo, was booked to face Bantamweight title-holder, Henry Cejudo, at UFC 250 on May 9. This, despite the fact that Aldo has lost two in a row.
But since “Triple C” asked for the fight, the promotion caved and gave it to him. Which leads to another aspect of the fight game: If a successful champion is asking for certain opponents, hasn’t he earned he right to do so?