By Gary Herman
With a suspension to current UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk appearing to be inevitable, the best thing the UFC can do is have a tournament to determine the new titleholder.
Forget interim champion, temporary champion, champion on hold or whatever you want to call it. All that will do is confuse the situation. A tournament will crown the most deserving lightweight champ.
Obviously, the fighters that will occupy the spots (especially the bottom few) will certainly cause a lot of debate, but here are the eight fighters that I believe should be in the tournament:
- BJ Penn
- Joe Stevenson
- Frankie Edgar
- Kenny Florian
- Tyson Griffin
- Roger Huerta
- Clay Guida
- Thiago Tavares
There certainly are many others that would be up for consideration (Spencer Fisher and Din Thomas come to mind). Unfortunately though, due to time considerations (the tournament can’t go on forever), eight fighters is the most reasonable amount. So, much like the BCS rankings in NCAA football, the fighters involved will not be an exact science, but as long as the top four are in and the rest of the list is made up of deserving fighters, I would be ok with whoever is chosen.
Regardless of who the fighters are – if there’s one thing we have learned from watching the recent top lightweight fights, it is that 95% of the time we will witness an excellent match-up. Putting them in one tournament all but guarantees some extremely exciting action.
Also, all the top contenders would have a legitimate shot to win the title, and if Sherk were stripped, wouldn’t that be the fairest way to determine the new champ?
When I spoke with Dana White about this exact subject, he said, “The fans don’t want to see a tournament. They wouldn’t want to see all the fights on one card with guys in the same weight class.”
Well ok, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that is the case and we need to space out the fights. The task would not be very difficult. As an example, all that would be needed for the first round is two fights each on two shows: 12/12 and 12/29. The semi-finals would then take place on the April show, and the five-round final would be in August. Only the last match-up would be five rounds as that is the true championship bout.
Who would benefit from the tournament? In short – everyone.
The fans benefit because of all the potentially compelling match-ups. In addition, interest would be tremendous because all the fights in the competition would have the “big fight” feel to them. Each bout would be do or die.
The fighters benefit because the top guys will each have a true chance to win the championship. No more begging Dana White in post-fight interviews for title fights. Championship matches are few and far between, and the tournament will give eight guys an opportunity to win it.
The UFC benefits because the winner absolutely deserves the title. It will also help to defuse the fans bitterness for the UFC’s champion testing positive for steroids. Finally, by showcasing a fighter that has three wins in three high profile fights, the UFC will have created a new superstar- someone who could be major drawing card in the future.
Obviously, there are some behind-the-scenes issues that would need to be made (contract status, special rules, injury replacements, etc.), but the competition would be a win-win-win for everyone involved.
At the end of the day, we would have great fights, outstanding competition, and a truly deserving UFC lightweight champion.