This past weekend, Brendan Allen increased his win streak to six straight. I was a little surprised to read some tweets that this run has put him in UFC title contention, but after some thought I can see the rationale.
Merit? UFC title shots are based on availability
You could dissect his resume, consider how wins against Paul Craig and Andre Muniz compare with losses to current champ Sean Strickland and his buddy Chris Curtis, but that’s not the reality we live in. This is not a question of merit but availability. ESPN’s content schedule has established a status quo where the PPV cards come fast and furious, a UFC title fight must headline it, and the world’s most compelling combat sports promotion will finagle a belt onto the poster no matter how questionable the rationale. Condsider how many fighters have worn gold simply because they were available.
Double champ paves the way for an interim champ
2023 kicked off with UFC 284 where Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski each sought to capitalize on their burgeoning star power. Volkanovski had finally broken through the stigma of beating up the beloved Max Holloway. After thrashing both Brian Ortega and the Korean Zombie, it seemed the fanbase and the promotion were willing to see him dare to seek a second UFC title against Islam Makhachev. The Dagestani wrestler, long tapped by Khabib Nurmagomedov as the future of the division, is also a key component in the UFC’s foothold in the middle east.
This was a win/win situation for the promotion and fortunately, the fans as the fight was an elite showcase.
Interim… just because
UFC 284’s co-main event was a featherweight title shot featuring Yair Rodriguez versus Josh Emmett. This was a curious choice given that the current champion wasn’t injured. He was just indisposed due to greater ambitions.
Perhaps it’s because the promotion went almost six weeks deep into the new year without any gold up for grabs that an extra dose of UFC title gold was needed to gin up some excitement. Since this title opportunity was manufactured, it went to the most available fighters on hand. I am a relentless critic of the promotion but in this instance I couldn’t complain. Seeing an extra five round fight, for a title that would net the winner some PPV points in the future felt like a fair tradeoff. In this case I like the way it all played out.
Staying active: A road to the top, but also a double edged sword
Staying active is a great career strategy in the current UFC era, but it comes with risks. The various permutations of wins and losses based on a fighter’s willingness to step up played out in dramatic fashion in the middleweight division this year. Israel Adesany has been the most active champions in recent history. He has participated in four UFC title fights in fourteen months. That is a solid strategy to maximize earning potential and remain a persistent subject in the news cycle which often translates to dollars earned. However, that many training camps and in-cage minutes will chip away at any man’s ability to perform at their peak.
By the time UFC 293 rolled around a new “anytime, anywhere” guy had emerged: Sean Strickland. A willingness to headline multiple Apex cards with little concern for career trajectory turned out to be the ideal strategy for Strickland. He’d built up a modest win streak and a significant amount of press and company goodwill. UFC 293 was looking threadbare after Dricus Du Plessis announced that he was unable to compete for a UFC title due to injuries. That left Israel Adesanya squaring off not with the most meritous opponent but the most available one.
Can this calculated risk pay off?
The MMA game is perpetually evolving. Styles and favored techniques go in and out of fashion. Years ago a late takedown was seen as the smart way to secure a round. In recent years full mount has fallen out of fashion and calf kicks are as ubiquitous as jabs. Now we’re seeing an evolution in how fighters approach stepping into the cage. The willingness to fight three or four times a year was formerly the domain of Donal Cerrone, but in 2023 we’ve seen multiple fighters utilize this approach to get paid, build momentum, and in more than one case transform their UFC title aspirations.
In 2023, a number of fighters have made massive strides and occasionally stumbled due to their aggressive fight schedule. Jessica Andrade has fought five times with drastically varied results. Loopy Godinez has fought four times, all of them for the win. Brendan Allen has quietly headlined two cards and winning three fights, all by submission. Gilbert Burns started out very hot, thrashing Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal before stumbling badly against Belal Muhammad all in less than five months.
I used to think a calculated approach to one’s career was the best strategy, but I am given pause these days. Maybe Dana White was right, there’s a small window of opportunity in which these fighters can capitalize. It’s a calculated risk that just might pay off for Brendan Allen if the timing is right.
Whether or not you agree with our opinion pieces, Bloody Elbow will always tell it like it is, and share our views without ever compromising or kowtowing for access. Support independent MMA opinions by subscribing to the Bloody Elbow newsletter.
About the author