Favoritism in the UFC: The Harsh Reality Fighters Must Prepare For

46 seconds into his first number-one contender bout in the UFC, Johny Hendricks knocked Martin Kampmann out cold with his trademark left hook.

“Bigg Rigg” couldn’t have been any happier afterwards, running around the Octagon like a kid in a candy store. In his mind, he was next in line for a shot at UFC welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre, something he’d probably dreamt of for years.

UFC president Dana White sang his praises during the UFC 154 post-fight press conference, assuring Hendricks he was next in line for a title shot.

And then Hendricks got a taste of UFC politics, as White announced Nick Diaz would get the next shot at GSP. Dana hadn’t even talked to Diaz about the matchup when he made the announcement.

Hendricks isn’t the first fighter to get this treatment by the UFC, and he certainly won’t be the last. After all, the primary reason the promotion exists is to generate profits, and doing the right thing doesn’t always bring in the cash. Sometimes, doing the right thing can even end up costing the UFC serious money.

What if Hendricks got a shot at GSP and landed one of his big left hooks?

Well, the UFC would have to forget about a super-fight against Anderson Silva — which would probably be the most profitable event in the promotion’s history — and a GSP vs. Diaz matchup wouldn’t be the same either.

Why risk that all in the name of fairness?

Hendricks will eventually get his shot at GSP, but not when there are exponentially more profitable options on the table for the champ. It’s hard to fault the UFC for doing what’s best for its top athletes and bottom line.

This isn’t the first time the UFC has overlooked a deserving fighter to protect their revenues. Jon Fitch racked up five consecutive victories after losing to GSP at UFC 87, against top welterweights like Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago. Even with his victories, Fitch’s name was barely ever mentioned during title conversations, and ironically, Hendricks was the one who took him out of the title picture, knocking him out cold at UFC 141.

Fitch — who is one of the more intelligent fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship — is obviously aware of the favoritism that goes on in the promotion, but he also understands why UFC matchmakers behave the way they do.

“There’s no system for picking number one contenders,” Fitch said about the UFC’s popularity based title-contender selection process. “There’s no order, there’s no lineup, there’s no point system. It’s just whoever they feel they’re going to make the most money off. That’s who gets the title shot. It kind of sucks, because in other sports there’s kind of a clear path; you do this, this and this, and you get this. That’s just not the way combat sports work I guess. It doesn’t work that way with boxing or the UFC. It comes down to showmanship. I have to be a better showman to get a title shot. I don’t have to be a better fighter I just have to be a better showman.”

Fitch clearly recognizes the harsh realities of MMA, as fighters are ultimately responsible for promoting themselves. Those who realize that typically end up making a lot more money than some of their counterparts who are better fighters, simply because they understand what the promotion expects of them.

Chael Sonnen is a perfect example.

Unfortunately, many fighters don’t seem to get the business side of things, even though they’ve already been showed the path to the big bucks and fights.

Former street-brawler turned MMA fighter, Kimbo Slice (real name Kevin Ferguson), gave aspiring fighters the blueprint for success in a marketing-based business, but only a few learned anything from him. Many decided to focus on the fact that Slice was vastly overrated — which he was — instead of the enormous purses and mainstream media attention he was receiving. A man who was once homeless before he became an internet sensation made more money than most MMA veterans make throughout their careers in six fights ($500,000 in disclosed earnings alone for his 2008 fight against Seth Petruzelli), simply because he understood the game.

Even White, who repeatedly bashed Kimbo for his limited fighting skills, jumped at the first opportunity to get a slice of the money making machine.

Of course, not everyone is cut out to be a marketing guru, and fortunately, even the most insipid fighters eventually get a shot at a title if they keep winning fights.

David is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and boxing practitioner that has watched and studied MMA for the past 7 years. Follow him on Twitter @davidkingwriter and check out his blog.


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