The case for more five-round fights in the UFC


This Saturday, Phil Davis and Ryan Bader will meet at UFC on Fox 14. Davis and Bader are perennial top-ten talents at light heavyweight, and the current official UFC rankings have them at number five and number seven, respectively. They combined for a 19-6-1 record in the UFC. While each has fought in five-round fights, their fight is scheduled for three rounds.

The following Saturday, Tyron Woodley and Kelvin Gastelum will meet in the co-main event of UFC 183. Woodley is 4-2 in the UFC and currently ranked third in the UFC’s welterweight division. Gastelum is 5-0 and currently ranked seventh. Woodley has fought in a five-round fight once before. The winner of this fight may be a single fight away from a title shot if not the next challenger. Their fight is scheduled for three rounds.

On Valentine’s Day, Stephen Thompson and Brandon Thatch will compete in the main event of UFC Fight Night 60. Thompson is 5-1 in the UFC; Thatch is 2-0. Neither is ranked, and neither has fought in a five-round fight. Their fight is scheduled for five rounds.

The UFC announced today that Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic would make his return to the promotion in a rematch against Gabriel Gonzaga in the main event of a Fight Pass Fight Night from Poland. Each man has had a lengthy MMA career, and has fought for the most prestigious titles in the sport. Gonzaga is ranked fourteenth, despite losing two straight fights and going 2-3 in his last five. The UFC cut Cro Cop after three straight losses in 2010-11, and he has gone 3-1 in the interim against Shinichi Suzukawa, Oleksiy Oliynyk, and Satoshi Ishii. Their combined age is 75. Their fight is scheduled for five rounds.

This is madness.

I’ve long advocated the UFC increase their use of five-round, non-title fights. The argument used to go that it didn’t make much sense for Joey Righthook and Jimmy Doubleleg to fight five rounds for some useless regional belt while elite competitors in the UFC were constrained to fifteen minutes. Now that argument has permeated the UFC with matchups like Cro Cop vs. Gonzaga and Thompson vs. Thatch getting five rounds while relegating Davis vs. Bader and Woodley vs. Gastelum to three.

The most common reaction I get when stumping for more five-round fights is this: “Well, how would you implement them?” Listen, frankly, I don’t care, and this is one aspect of the fight game that I would trust the UFC to handle on their own, especially if it was in the hands of Joe Silva and Sean Shelby. But there’s some weirdos out there who feel this situation would be unfair to fighters who would be hurt by fighting five rounds. (They don’t seem to be concerned about the current unfair situation for fighters who would benefit by this change, however.)

But if a system need be in place to assuage these square MMA fans, let’s put that system into place.

  1. Title fight. Duh. Moving on.
  1. Headlining fights. I don’t think the UFC will regress on this point.
  1. Fights involving a former UFC title holder. You’re good enough to win a title in the UFC, you’re good enough to fight five rounds.
  1. Fights with title implications. I would even officially codify this by stating that a fighter cannot compete for a title if he or she did not compete in a five-round fight in his or her last performance. (Fighters in this system will have plenty of opportunities for five-rounders.)
  1. Fights between two top ten fighters. This is really another way of stating the above, but whatever.
  1. All fights on pay-per-view (and maybe Fox). Both because they should be, and to incentivize the UFC to start stacking pay-per-views with fights that deserve to be there. The UFC may need to reduce the fights on PPV down to four for length, but we live in a world where every fight is accessible live, so that shouldn’t matter much to the consumer.
  1. At the UFC’s discretion, so long as both fighters agree to the bout’s length. This is sort of catchall, while giving the fighters some semblance of control in the process. This could also be used as a point of contention during the hype process. (Fighter X said, “Fighter Y refused to fight five rounds with me. He’s scared!” Etc.)

So, there you go: a fully developed plan for the UFC increasing their use of five-round non-title fights. So it has been settled, so it shall be done.

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