OPINION: Sorry Ryan Bader, Cormier vs. Gustafsson was the right fight to make


When UFC president Dana White broke the news last night that UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier’s first defence of his belt would be against former title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, a mini earthquake went off in the MMA community. “Gus doesn’t deserve it,” “He’s coming off of a loss,” “Bader warrants it more,” and more exclamations of that nature were thrown around.

Now, most of these people were well-meaning, intelligent folk who have the best interests of the “sport” of MMA at heart when saying this. And I put the word sport into inverted commas because MMA tends to skate the borders between being a sport and not being a sport a lot of the time. This is just the latest example.

For a lot of people, this is a disgraceful decision by the UFC. I mean, Alexander Gustafsson DID just get knocked out in the first round by the guy (Anthony Johnson) that Daniel Comier just finished for the belt while Ryan Bader rides a four fight win streak and has a back-and-forth, pro-wrestling style beef going with Cormier. So what’s the deal?

Everything, in a fair and sporting way, points to Bader getting the shot. But the UFC isn’t always simply fair and sporting. It can’t be. The UFC is not only a sports league, it’s also an entertainment product and a business. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the progression of the sport, or the fans.

Let’s take boxing as a counter example. It’s a sport riddled with problems and one many MMA fans have deviated from over the years because of those problems. But it is a sport and one of the issues with such a rigid definition, unlike MMA, is mandatory challengers. The WBA, IBO, IBF and whatever the other 50 boxing organizations are called rank their fighters and have the next person in line fight the champion on a pretty regular occasion. The UFC does this too, most of the time.

The difference is, the UFC, should it so choose, has the ability to not do it. That results in fights like Cormier vs. Gustafsson, Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz and Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate when others might have more more sense in a pure, by-the-book, sporting way.

In boxing, you end up with elite champions like Kell Brook and Gennady Golovkin fighting what amount to below par challengers just to keep their belts, or guys like Andy Lee having to pay a fee to get out of a mandatory fight to take a bigger one against someone else. In sporting terms, these things might be necessary evils; but to a sport which is also an entertainment business, like the UFC is, they can sometimes be tantamount to a hindrance.

Now it may be unfair to a guy like Ryan Bader who has fought and earned his way to the top but, unfortunately for him, getting stepped over, in this case, is the the correct decision.

While I’m sure Cormier vs. Bader would be a good fight, the questions you need to answer are; does it make money? Does it draw viewers? If Bader wins, does the fight against a returning Jon Jones get maximized financially? Can he keep the division relevant if Jones stays away? Unfortunately for Ryan Bader, the answer is no.

This is an extremely important time for an extremely important division and while Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson may not be that much bigger than Daniel Cormier vs. Ryan Bader, what it does do is guarantee a blockbuster return for Jon Jones, regardless of the winner. It also, importantly to the UFC, provides a stable draw in either Europe or America (no matter who the winner is) that can fill in and maybe even grow into a bigger star if Jon Jones’ current absence is extended.

For the UFC, and for the fans of the sport who will tune in in their numbers to see those bigger stars, that opportunity was just too good to turn down.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma

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