It’s only July, but it looks like the UFC is not going to have any legitimate championship fights above 170 pounds for the rest of the year.
And if you use the term legitimate, it could be longer than that.
Daniel Cormier who holds both the heavyweight and light heavyweight belts, is understandably eyeing the big money fight with Brock Lesnar. That fight can’t take place until January due to Lesnar having to serve the rest of his accrued suspension time for his last failed drug test.
One would argue that defending the title against a 41-year-old who hasn’t had a legitimate Octagon win since 2010 and retired in 2011, is hardly a legitimate title defense. But in the fight business, a guy who moves numbers is going to get shots most others could never get.
In addition, middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has said that due to a broken hand, he won’t be able to fight until 2019.
And there are questions regarding two other divisions, with Max Holloway, the featherweight champion, uncertain regarding both his health and whether he’ll have to move up a division, which would vacate that title.
In addition, with women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes seemingly on a collision course in what would be the biggest women’s fight the company could make right now, that leaves the bantamweight title out of the picture likely until next year.
It’s going to make putting on major shows difficult with monthly pay-per-views, not to mention that both the men’s bantamweight and flyweight titles are at stake on Aug. 4. If the winner of one or both of those fights is in a fight they suffer a lot of damage in, that could eliminate them for the rest of 2018 as well.
Sunday’s UFC show from Hamburg, Germany,focused on the light heavyweight division, the one that, if we take Cormier at his word, could be on ice for a long time.
The company has no hard-and-fast rules regarding title defenses, injuries and moving on with title matches if there is a long period. where the champion is either injured or otherwise unavailable to fight.
But hard-and-fast rule are needed just to have consistency in how things are viewed.
It’s hard to say what it is, but my suggestion would be that if a champion is out of action for one year, that unless he can commit to a championship defense in the reasonable future, he should be stripped of the title.
With Cormier, the big issue is that he has said he would retire when he turns 40. That would make his career over on March 20, 2019. If he’s not fighting until Lesnar in January, and it would be foolish to risk that fight by taking a lesser fight in the interim, that would seem to leave no time for his light heavyweight title. Of course, fighters routinely change their mind when it comes to retirement, particularly if there’s a big payday as part of the equation.
Unless Jon Jones gets off his suspension, in which case, due to his star power, he’d probably be put back into the title picture, there is no clear cut path of what to do next.
Jones being cleared to fight soon would change everything. But his getting cleared soon would be hard to justify given he had no plausible explanation for his failed steroid test last year. In theory, that would mean four years out for a second offense, or a minimum of two years if one ignores his prior test failure since it was ruled the result of a tainted supplement.
A Jones return should lead to Jones vs. Gustafsson, given it’s now been five years since their first fight, which was a close decision and one of the greatest fights of all-time.
Gustafsson is the top contender in the UFC rankings. Jones was the most successful champions in the division’s history.
But unless Jones is cleared, the UFC should make plans now so there is a clear plan in place regarding a new champion.
A rare tournament makes sense.
The UFC should put Gustafsson and three others, in a tournament over several months. As far as who should be in the tournament, first picks would be Volkan Oezdemir, Corey Anderson or Anthony Smith, with others that could be considered like Jan Blachowicz, Ilir Latifi, Ovince Saint Preux or Jimi Manuwa. There are good arguments for all of them, but Gustafsson and Oezdemir seem like sure things.
One would figure that a four-way tournament would likely finish in early 2019. At that point, Cormier will have a lot more of a clear idea of if he’s going to move down in weight, stay at heavyweight, or retire. If Cormier doesn’t retire and will defend the title, he wouldn’t be ready until such a tournament is over.
At that point, the tournament winner should be ready to face Cormier, or the tournament final could be for a dreaded interim title, or the title itself because by the time that fight takes place, Cormier should have a better idea of what he’s doing next. Either way, something is in place under any circumstance.
Let’s look at how Fortunes Changes for Five Stars of Sunday’s show in Hamburg, Germany.
ANTHONY SMITH - Two months ago, Smith was a guy on the roster with a 28-13 record, who had just been finished by Thiago Santos. Last week, even with his first-round knockout win over Rashad Evans, he wasn’t in the UFC’s top 15. On Sunday, after a knockout win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the first round, when he challenged Gustafsson for Aug. 4 in Los Angeles, it felt like a viable fight.
Gustafsson (18-4) is currently out with an injury, but that’s a good fight to make upon his return.
COREY ANDERSON - Anderson (12-4) punched his ticket to the top tier with a dominant decision win over Glover Teixeira (27-7). There is still a question of where he should rank since Anderson was finished twice in 2017 by Saint Preux and Manuwa.
Oezdemir (15-2) is a good next opponent.
GLOVER TEIXEIRA - Teixeira was originally to face Ilir Latifi (14-5) in Hamburg, before Latifi pulled out less than three weeks before fight time. That still makes sense as a fight, but more pressure would be on Teixeira because he didn’t have a good outing on Sunday. When a nearly 39-year-old fighter that is highly ranked, suddenly looks less effective, age is the guaranteed topic.
MAURICIO ‘SHOGUN’ RUA - Rua (25-11) is another person where age questions were going to be asked if he didn’t win. And it’s even worse losing in devastating fashion early on. Rua is 36, but he’s been in wars, both in the cage and in the early days of the style of training he was doing early on in Brazil. But he came into Sunday with a three-fight winning streak. Jimi Manuwa (17-4), would make for a good opponent in a match that could still be high on any show.
MARCIN TYBURA - Tybura (17-4) rebounded off two straight losses, to get a decision win over Stefan Struve. Struve would be, along with Andrei Arlovski, the biggest win over Tybura’s career. A good next opponent would be Tai Tuivasa (8-0).