According to UFC President Dana White, Khamzat Chimaev is now going to face Sean Strickland for the UFC middleweight title. His win over former welterweight champ Kamaru Usman was for that opportunity. Kamaru Usman, the former welterweight champion who was on a two fight losing streak. That’s what it takes to fight for the middleweight title.
If you don’t see a problem with that you’re either a big fan of Khamzat Chimaev or you want to simply fast track him to the title. Admitting that is completely fine. But that is not fair to fighters like Dricus Du Plessis or Jared Cannonier who has either beat the former number one contender or has a win over Sean Strickland, the current champion.
The UFC controls the only meaningful title in mixed martial arts and it’s a huge conflict of interest.
A UFC conflict of interest around Khamzat Chimaev?
For the longest time the UFC has been a bastion of the best fighting the best and proving it in the cage. It wasn’t that long ago that they put two future champions in a prospect match (Conor McGregor vs. Max Holloway). But that trend is changing.
Now we are seeing the cultivation of careers and instead of taking an iron sharpens iron (sorry for the clichè) approach, fighters are given fights that are layups to produce highlights and sell tickets. They’re eventually granted a top tier matchup and given an opportunity to fight for the title off of one good win instead of a steady rise to the top, beating several contenders along the way.
Sean O’Malley may be the best example. After fighting against fighters that were sacrificial lambs, he was given a grudge match against former champion Petr Yan. He won that, took on the champion in Aljamain Sterling and won the title.
Before the O’Malley fans pile on and start their nonsense, there is absolutely nothing wrong with building a prospect slowly. Petr Yan was technically on a two fight losing streak at the time and wasn’t a terrible example of matchmaking. We see the slow build of prospects in boxing and it makes them better.
What worries me about this is if you extrapolate that out even further. Ninth ranked Khamzat Chimaev may fight for the middleweight title.
The only reason the UFC would make this fight would be because Khamzat Chimaev gets eyeballs and Chimaev as a champ would get even more. The problem is that Khamzat Chimaev did not earn it.
Earning your UFC title shot
Earning your title shot has been clear cut for the most part in the UFC. You become the best in the division by beating another fighter trying to be the best in the division. Eventually the cream rises to the top and we have a clear cut contender.
Occasionally a long reigning champion would begin to fight down in the rankings after dominating everyone else. In fact, that’s how we got the arrival of Sean Strickland when he stepped in as the fifth ranked middleweight to take on the champ.
But Strickland is a new champion and has compelling matchups. Dricus Du Plessis earned the title shot first and foremost when he defeated Robert Whittaker. Jared Cannonier beat Strickland only three fights ago.
Khamzat Chimaev has not earned the title shot. But the UFC wants it to happen anyway.
Enter: The Ali Act
The UFC’s ability to pick and choose who they want to fight for a title is a conflict of interest. Before the WBC was implemented, boxing had belts but it was held by the New York State Athletic Commission, the National Boxing Association, the British Boxing Board of Control and more. They all catered to their specific fighters. The BBBofC favored British boxers, the NBA favored Americans, and so on.
They all claimed to be the international and didn’t really welcome outsiders. Of course we would get super fights like Jack Dempsey versus Georges Charpentier which pitted the American against the Frenchman. But eventually it devolved into the boxing out of foreign, and even worse, racist exclusion of black fighters.
Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, beat James J. Jeffries for whom the term “The Great White Hope” was coined. After losing to Jess Willard, boxing authorities conspired to keep black boxers from fighting for the title ever again and fighters who were seen to be okay with fighting them were boxed out too.
Eventually something had to be done and the WBC was formed, replacing the NBA and signing with 11 countries to become the first true international commission.
A few decades go by and the 1996 Professional Boxing Safety Act is adopted and the Ali Act amended the original law in 2000.
In a nutshell, the Ali Act attempts to help fighters get a fair shake in the politics of the sport of boxing. With rankings being easily manipulated (like the artificial inflating of a fighters ranking to get them to the title shot), a vengeful boxing out of the title picture (like Du Plessis being passed over for the fight two months after a fight and recovering from an injury), and the promoter holding the belt (the UFC middleweight champion of the world), the Ali Act takes the power out of the hands of the promoter and puts it in that of the fighter and an independent body (WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO).
The Ali Act would prevent the exact situation that we find ourselves in with the UFC’s middleweight division.
No perfect solution
There is seldom a silver bullet that solves problems flawlessly. The Ali Act brought on the alphabet soup that plagues the boxing landscape now. If not properly done, MMA could turn into that.
With boxing having four major sanctioning bodies, we often find ourselves getting bogged down with mandatories. The WBA and IBF never have the same mandatories which are basically number one contenders. So we get a round robin of less than stellar fights until we get to the meat and potatoes of, say, Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury. Sometimes the sanctioning body will allow someone to skip the line. But the exception is not the rule.
There is also the issue of sanctioning fees. If an undisputed boxer has a fight booked, a percentage is taken out of their total earnings to sanction the fight. The WBC charges three percent. That times four is 12% before paying coaches and training partners. If Canelo fights for $10 million, $1.2 would go to the sanctioning bodies.
While the Ali Act does make it possible for fighters to earn a better share of the money made by their craft, the fine art of violence, it does have its pitfalls and is not perfect by any stretch. It will not make the MMA world a perfect situation with loads of money and top notch fights a sure thing. There are still people involved and where there are people and business, there will be politics.
This may come off as a rant or a pout about Khamzat Chimaev getting a title shot. It’s truly not. It’s about the sport of mixed martial arts and it’s current pitfalls. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took steady improvement to make the sport better while learning from it’s cousin, boxing, what mistakes were made along the way.
Khamzat Chimaev may be ready to fight Sean Strickland and he may dog him out of there in the first round. But that isn’t fair to Dricus Du Plessis who beat Robert Whittaker for the number one contender spot. The same Robert Whittaker that only Israel Adesanya could beat for the longest time.
It is the UFC machine rearing it’s ugly head and dictating what it deems to be appropriate for their pocket books, not appropriate for the fighters who this product is supposedly about.
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