Opinion: The “Moneyweight” division has a chokehold on title defenses

by Chris Madaffer

In the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, a champion’s prominence is measured by the opponents he or she has bested, as well as the duration of a title reign.

But with the toll that the sport takes on it's athletes and the perceived notion that fighters aren’t being paid enough, a new primary ambition has enveloped the minds of current champions: Money fights.

Fights that are set up and designed to net massive profit for large promotions like the UFC have been a trend-setter this year. Conor McGregor’s popularity and the profitability of his name have paved a way for title contenders to utilize a new approach when picking opponents.

Out-of-the-ordinary match-ups and super fights are now the rage as there's no longer a desire to fight opponents who are in the top rankings.

In the conference that led up to UFC 196, McGregor was adamant about being the face and cash cow of the UFC. He referenced Nate Diaz’s octagon interview from UFC on Fox: dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 in which Diaz had called out McGregor saying that the real money fight was between them.

Even though both fighters were contending in separate weight classes, the concept of money wouldn’t prevent a grand occasion from occurring.

However, money fights have leapfrogged the traditional method of matchmaking in Mixed Martial Arts in the latter half of 2016. This might be due to the fact that there have been many new champions in the past six months.

Since January 17, there have been six new champions. Of the current titleholders as of the date of this article, Flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson, has defended his belt eight times while the rest of the champions, a combined five times.

Considering the running theme of upsets in title fights this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this continue for the remaining four and a half months.

This isn’t to say that the current champions aren’t well-rounded enough to put together a streak of title defenses or that the opposition is weak. The amount of title contenders in most of the divisions proves that belts can change owners as quick as an overhand right.

The UFC arguably has never boasted a roster as talented as the one it has now. The most stacked divisions ranging from men’s Bantamweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, and Middleweight divisions, have set the course for multiple contenders laying claim to a title shot.

When it comes to analyzing a division and determining who is most deserving of a title shot, traditionally it would be discussed that the number one contender should be next in line. When I think of which division harbors the most talented contender, the Welterweight division catches my attention.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is on a current seven fight win streak and should be next in line to fight for the title (because nobody seems to like rematches anymore). However, newly crowned champion of the division, Tyron Woodley thinks otherwise.

Woodley is a fighter who hadn’t fought for 18 months and while being ranked the number four welterweight, he had to plead a big case to the UFC brass in order to get a title shot against Robbie Lawler over the likes of Rory MacDonald and Demian Maia.  Hell, Lawler fought to a razor-thin decision over Carlos Condit and that couldn’t even warrant a rematch between those two.

Now with barely just ten days of being a champion, Woodley wants to deny Thompson his shot at the belt. Woodley would rather fight Georges St. Pierre, a man who hasn’t fought in over three years (albeit he is the greatest welterweight of all time) and Nick Diaz, a fan favorite who hasn’t won a fight since 2011.

I agree with Woodley in that he should be able to make more money in order to better his finances and provide for his family, but what I don’t agree with is that he’s making demands after not even defending his title once. True champions should be able to face any opponent that’s placed before them in the octagon.

The sports enthusiast and fight fan in me believes that fighter rankings should be held in higher esteem. But just as any other sport, there’s business involved and with the current state of the UFC’s roster being underpaid by the likes of sponsors such as Reebok, these fighters need all the help they can get.

While it can be argued that the integrity of the sport has been dampened a bit, there’s no denying the current spectacle that the UFC has accomplished in just 2016 alone.