Johnston on UFC: A slap in the face

February 19, 2013, 6:03 PM

With his exciting win over Dustin Poirier this past weekend Cub Swanson has joined the likes of Ricardo Lamas and Chan Sung Jung as UFC featherweights that have done enough to deserve a 145-pound title shot. Unfortunately for them, they won’t be getting a chance at UFC gold for a long time.

Overall, the UFC treats its fighters very well, but lately they have been insulting their featherweight contenders by continuously ignoring them when it comes to handing out title shots.

The 145-pound kingpin Jose Aldo defended his title with relative ease against Frankie Edgar at UFC 156. Edgar, the former lightweight champion, had earned an immediate title shot when he announced he was dropping down to featherweight.

Edgar, who was on a two-fight losing streak and had won just one of his previous four bouts, did not deserve a title shot against Aldo, but the UFC put that matchup together and fans were excited to see it.

Aldo’s next opponent is Anthony Pettis, a popular and extremely talented lightweight who will be debuting at 145 pounds. The stylistic matchup between these two former WEC champions is simply outstanding.

But even though the fight should be explosive and Pettis is coming off back-to-back impressive TKO/KO wins over notable lightweights Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon, he doesn’t deserve a featherweight title shot.

Handing the likes of Pettis and Edgar, who have never competed in the weight class, title shots is a slap in the face to the athletes who have fought, bled, won and deservedly risen up the 145-pound ranks.

Lamas is 4-0 in the UFC with knockouts of Erik Koch and Matt Grice, a dominant decision over Hatsu Hioki and a submission of Swanson.

Jung is 3-0 in the UFC with three spectacular wins — a twister submission of Leonard Garcia, a seven-second KO of Mark Hominick and a d’arce choke of Poirier in arguably the best fight from 2012.

Swanson is 4-1 in the UFC, but since his loss to Lamas in his UFC debut he has won four in a row with knockouts of George Roop, Charles Oliveira and former TUF champ Ross Pearson in addition to the decision over Poirier.

Of the three, Lamas is most deserving. Heck, even Chad Mendes — who already fought and lost to Aldo once — has picked up several big knockout wins in a row, which could maybe warrant setting up a rematch.

The point is they’re all more worthy of a shot at Aldo than Pettis is, but that hasn’t been how the UFC has been running things of late.

“Sometimes divisions require divisions and certain contenders to step up,” former No. 1 featherweight contender Kenny Florian recently told MMAJunkie Radio. “In the 145-pound division, after Frankie Edgar, there are no real big names. Unfortunately for Ricardo Lamas, he doesn’t have the big name or the huge following that Anthony Pettis has, and that’s why Anthony Pettis is getting the next shot.”

Florian, now retired, was long considered a top lightweight contender who added new depth and buzz to the featherweight division when he decided to cut to 145 pounds, just like Edgar and Pettis.

He had a bigger name and fan base than any featherweight contenders at the time, but he wasn’t given an immediate title shot. The veteran still had to pick up one win in the division before getting a crack at Aldo.

So, is Pettis really that much more important than Lamas? Sure, he is a former WEC champion and perhaps more widely recognized than Lamas, but it’s not like Lamas is a complete unknown to UFC fans. In fact, the same number of people (literally millions of people) who saw Pettis TKO Cerrone also saw Lamas batter and bloody Pettis’ teammate Koch on the latest FOX card.

What makes this whole situation such a contentious issue is the fact the matchups the UFC ends up putting together are fights that fans want to see.

In the NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL and other professional sports leagues, you gain a shot at the championship by earning your way there, not by having the most fans or highest TV ratings. The league doesn’t set up the most appealing or lucrative matchups because they’re appealing to fans; otherwise year after year we’d see the Lakers vs. Knicks, Yankees vs. Dodgers, Leafs vs. Blackhawks, or Patriots vs. Cowboys at the end of every basketball, baseball, hockey and football season, respectively.

MMA is a one-on-one sport and the UFC doesn’t have a structured playoff format, so it’s a different situation.

Therein lays the dilemma.

2013 is turning out to be the year of the “super-fight.” Bouts like Aldo vs. Edgar, Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz and now Aldo vs. Pettis have flooded the UFC’s schedule.

These are incredible matchups and fans can’t wait, but at a certain point the integrity of the sport needs to outweigh the marketing and entertainment aspect.

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