With an immediate rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva set to go down at this weekend’s UFC 168, questions about booking quick rematches in the UFC are inevitably being brought up. True, the one between Weidman and Silva was a no-brainer as “The Spider” is a legend that won every single Octagon bout before being floored by Weidman.
But the booking itself brings to light a trend that you may or may not view as effective for today’s ever-evolving mixed martial arts landscape. With many divisions lined up with top shelf talent, it’s arguable as to whether or not a challenger who loses a close bout for the title deserves an immediate rematch.
Let’s take a look at recent example and discuss their validity. Apart from Weidman vs. Silva II, an obvious example here is the UFC 165 war between light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and number one contender Alexander Gustafsson.
Gustafsson took it to the champion in the early rounds, even becoming the first fighter to take down the notoriously tough wrestler “Bones.” Gustafsson wilted in the later rounds, however, allowing an opening for Jones to unleash his vicious Muay Thai strikes. It was a closely contested fight that many were on the fence about.
Countless fans believe that Gustafsson was robbed and deserved an immediate rematch, something that “Bones” initially agreed to after he went to the hospital to treat his injuries. But when he re-watched the fight, Jones decided that he had earned his unanimous decision victory beyond a shadow of a doubt and would be moving on to face the next rightful contender in the surging Glover Teixeira.
Another immediate rematch that comes to mind is the UFC 150 scrap between then-lightweight champion Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar. Henderson edged Edgar out in a close five round affair at UFC 144 to earn the belt. Even though the UFC wanted to head in a new direction, it felt that Edgar was owed his rematch. He got it and appeared to do a lot more in the second fight. Despite his efforts, he was again declared the loser via split decision.
“The Answer” then went to a new weight class, facing featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. at UFC 156 for the belt. Edgar narrowly failed once again, sending him into a sort of MMA purgatory as he films TUF 19 opposite old foe B.J. Penn, a legend whom he defeated in an immediate rematch back in 2010. Edgar is at the center of much of this discussion, as he faced Gray Maynard for a third time after the two rivals fought to a draw at UFC 125.
Perhaps that rematch was justified, but did it hold up the division? I’d say maybe it did but was necessary to put their rivalry to sleep. Both Edgar and Maynard were hurt in training leading up to their rematch at UFC 136, and that undoubtedly caused the lightweight division to stagnate for pretty much the entire year.
And that’s the point of this discussion, to decide if an immediate rematch, no matter how much it is deserved, is the right move for the fast-moving UFC.
Let’s take this weekend’s Weidman vs. Silva II fight. If Silva regains the belt in dramatic fashion as many people are picking him to do, there’s little doubt that the UFC will grant Weidman an immediate rematch. They probably should after he knocked out the former champ with such ruthless efficiency at UFC 162.
However, in a talented division full of worthy contenders like Vitor Belfort, “Jacare” Souza, and Lyoto Machida, is that the best course of action? Perhaps in this case it is, because Weidman has a long time to build his legacy while Silva is nearing the end of his illustrious career, but that will keep the contenders who deserve a shot in limbo.
We’ve seen fighters who were set to fight for the belt be brushed aside in favor of an immediate rematch take another fight and lose, destroying their ranking and hard work in the process. That could definitely happen at middleweight in the near future should “The Spider” win this weekend.
And it can work in the opposite direction, too.
With Anthony “Showtime” Pettis on the shelf with knee surgery, “Smooth” Henderson will face former Strikeforce 155-pound champ Josh “Punk” Thomson in a perceived number one contender’s bout at UFC on Fox 10 in January. If Henderson win, we might see a third Pettis vs. Henderson match despite “Showtime” owning two wins over “Smooth.” If Pettis were to return to fight Henderson, it would be an immediate rematch for him even though it was reached in a roundabout way.
I’m not sure that’s the best course of action for a stacked division like lightweight. Pettis seems to have Henderson’s number so there’s not a whole lot of equity in booking that fight for a third time. Somewhere down the line, former scheduled title contender T.J. Grant has to return, but he’s likely to be lost in a clouded title picture when he does.
The last, and perhaps most glaring, example of an immediate rematch was going to be a second Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks fight for the UFC welterweight crown. Dana White was furious after GSP beat “Bigg Rigg” by controversial split decision at UFC 167, saying that St. Pierre owed Hendricks an immediate rematch. St. Pierre was more concerned with his personal life and has since stepped away from fighting to focus on other things.
But if GSP had calmed down and decided he was ready to fight again, you can bet that would have been the fight that was booked. And even though I thought Hendricks won and probably deserved a rematch, it wasn’t the best course of action in a division with contenders like Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown, and Tyron Woodley all vying for a shot at the belt. At least one, if not more, of those top-level combatants would have most likely been lost in translation.
The argument could be made that if they lost along the road to a title fight, then they wouldn’t have won anyway, and there’s some truth to that. But MMA math rarely works and the bottom line is that immediate rematches do tend to hold up divisions. With so many high-level fighters fighting in the UFC right now, it’s tough to keep having rivalries that tie up an entire division for a year or more.
That’s my two cents. I think that the UFC should move on to the next rightful challenger even if the fighter who just lost obviously deserves another shot. Gustafsson has to do just that. Hendricks will have his shot at the belt like he deserves, but it is time to let the fights and fighters speak for themselves.
If you lose, controversially or not, you take a hit and should have to win a fight or two to get back to the status you once enjoyed. It’s that simple. It may not be fair but there’s definitely no set formula for fairness in the cutthroat world of the UFC.
What is your stance on immediate rematches?
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea for USA TODAY Sports