To be fair, the UFC has never gone completely by rankings when it comes to determining their title contenders.
It is a sport, and it does have rankings. But, ultimately, it is prizefighting. The ideal fight is the one that draws the biggest crowd, the most buzz, and the highest buy rate. And sometimes, this requires the promotion to deviate from the rankings.
But with their latest heavyweight pairing, they didn’t just deviate – they completely went off track and landed outside the stratosphere of acceptable choices. Daniel Cormier, who won the title after knocking out Stipe Miocic in the first round, is now scheduled to face Brock Lesnar sometime in early 2019.
While Lesnar is a former UFC heavyweight champion, he hasn’t been a full-time fighter for years. His last three showings in the octagon weren’t pretty. He was brutally finished by Cain Velasquez, then by Alistair Overeem. That marked the beginning of his semi-retirement. The semi is because Lesnar made a (seemingly) one-off return at UFC 200.
In that bout, he bested former heavyweight title contender Mark Hunt by decision. But shortly after, Lesnar tested positive for banned substances. His win was overturned, and he was issued a suspension – one that was frozen as Lesnar left the UFC to return to WWE.
Meanwhile, Curtis Blaydes has been on a roll. The 6’4” heavyweight has only lost once in the Octagon, has his own victory over Hunt, and recently finished Alistair Overeem by strikes. And if the promotion went by rankings, it’s hard to deny Blaydes would be at or near the front of the line for a title shot.
But given that honor will be going to Lesnar, Blaydes isn’t happy. He said he doesn’t even view Lesnar as an illegitimate fighter, saying: “He was juiced to the gills when he fought in the early to mid-2000’s. So I don’t respect juice heads. This isn’t a sport. It’s not a sport like the NFL or the NBA or MLB or NHL or any other major sports leagues in the world, because in any of those leagues you can’t just be a guy off the street and just take a guy’s spot on the roster cause you’re famous.”
In all fairness, Lesnar isn’t just someone off the street. He’s a legitimate martial artist with an NCAA wrestling background and is a former UFC heavyweight champion. But his recent history should mean he isn’t even close to a title shot – yet he is, and it is admittedly embarrassing for the world’s leading MMA promotion to even pass as a legitimate fight.
And while it may be easy to attribute this decision to the UFC being bought out by entertainment industry leaders WME-IMG, also known as Endeavor, Lesnar has gotten special treatment even back in the Zuffa era. He got a title shot with a 2-1 record.
As for Blaydes, he’ll be running it back with the only man to beat him, Francis Ngannou, at UFC Beijing.