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The Pros and Cons of Five-Round, Non-Title Fights

As recently as the summer of 2009, UFC president Dana White dismissed the possibility of five-round, non-title fights, calling himself a "purist" in regards to history. Since before he and his partners bought the company -- since July 1999 -- championship bouts had been the only ones sanctioned for 25 minutes. Over the last two years though, White slowly came around to a different way of thinking, partially prodded along by fights with questionable conclusions, as well as by fans who pushed him on the possibility.

Starting around October, the UFC will designate all non-title main events as five-rounders, adding an extra element to many shows.

But the change will not be so simple as 10 extra contracted minutes. There are other factors in play for fighters, the promotion and more. While five-round, non-title fights are inevitably in the UFC's future, here is a look at some of the future challenges and situations that could add a degree of difficulty to the change.

No. 1 Contenders Fights
Adding two rounds is a no-brainer when the No. 1 contenders fight is billed as the main event. But what about if a No. 1 contenders fight is the co-main event? Then we'll be left with an unbalanced situation where one top contenders' fight is a five-rounder, and another is a three-rounder. That doesn't exactly seem fair.

A five-round bout gives a thinking fighter more time to enact a plan (think Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen), and a conditioned fighter time to rally back from a slow start (think Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard). All championship fights are five rounds. No. 1 contenders' fights will not have that same level of consistency, and that makes the playing field uneven.

Late Notice Replacements
Shane Carwin was training for a UFC 131 bout with Jon Olav Einemo when Brock Lesnar suffered a recurrence of diverticulitis and was forced out of his main event fight against Junior dos Santos. That gave Carwin an opening, and he took the short-notice fight with a month to prepare. But what if he had been training for a three-round bout and then had to agree to a five-round fight?

White said fighters who agree to short-notice main events will have to agree to the five-round stipulation, similar to fighters who take title fights on little time (see Jon Jones vs. Mauricio Rua). That's a casualty of doing business, and while it certainly puts the short-notice fighter at a disadvantage, at least the fighter in theory has an option.

Fights Bumped to Main Event Status
At UFC 130, Edgar and Maynard were supposed to battle for a third time in the lightweight championship main event. Instead, both suffered injuries and withdrew with less than three weeks to go, and a light-heavyweight bout with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson against Matt Hamill was bumped up to the main event.

In this case, White says the fighters will not be forced to fight a five-round bout, and will still stick to their three-round contracts. That seems fair.

Fight Placement
Most fighters don't particularly care when their bout takes place as long as it is televised. In the future, they may have more specific desires. Unless they're fighting for a championship, some fighters may prefer not to be a main event, solely because they know it will entail a more strenuous camp for conditioning purposes.

But another concern is how UFC designs cards. It doesn't happen too often, but there are times when high-profile fights get placed below ones with less importance. A recent case of this was at The Ultimate Fighter 13 FInale, when Anthony Pettis and Clay Guida were the co-main event, underneath the Tony Ferguson-Ramsey Nijem TUF title fight. The Pettis-Guida fight had much larger implications, with Pettis trying to keep his No. 1 contender spot, and even though he lost a 30-27 decision across the board, who knows what could have happened if he had two more rounds with which to work?

If the five-round development is to truly have meaning, the most significant divisional fight has to be the main event.

Money
Here's the elephant in the room. Longer fights generally require longer camps and more work. Fighters will want to be compensated for it. Just ask Nate Marquardt, who is headlining June 26's UFC on Versus event against Rick Story.

"For me, I feel that'd be great as long as we're compensated," he said. "I think for five-round fights, fighters should be paid more, so if that's the case, heck yeah."

Fighters tend to get more sponsorship dollars when they're in main events, and five-round fights can also result in more TV time (also good for sponsors), but whether the UFC adds extra financial incentive seems to be no gimme.

Foreign Issues
This is a small concern to be sure, but it's a concern nonetheless as the UFC continues to open foreign markets. One of those nations the promotion has long discussed visiting is Sweden.

Sweden's governing body -- SMMAF -- only sanctions three-round matches. It is entirely possible that the UFC can ask for a waiver to sanction a five-round main-event, but again, it is no sure thing.

Statistics
The best reason for five-round, non-title fights -- perhaps the one that trumps all -- is having more decisive endings. Simply put, statistics show that longer fights are more likely to end with clear conclusions. For the purpose of this, we'll define draws and split-decisions as "non-decisive endings."

Since five-round title fights became the standard at UFC 21, there have been 103 championship bouts contested. Only two have ended in draws: BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno at UFC 41, and Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 125. There has never been a split-decision in UFC championship history. So less than two percent of title bouts have finished in non-decisive endings.

By comparison, we can look at UFC shows from over the last two years, during which time the UFC has held 46 events. Sixteen of those events had championship matches headlining the show while 30 did not.

In those 30 three-round main events, there were three split-decisions and one draw, meaning 13.3 percent of the bouts ended with non-decisive endings.

Whether a fight goes three rounds or 13, there will continue to be questionable judges' decisions at times, but that number should decrease as longer fights lead to more decisive victories. Five-round non-title bouts have their issues, but if the ultimate result is more clarity, the change is worth the trouble.