In what is regarded as the most prevalent period in the history of MMA, it is quite understandable that certain fighters will capture the spotlight more than others.
This thriving period we find ourselves embraced in has fronted the emergence of the sport’s first bona fide megastars, but in doing so has subsequently suggested that favouritism is rife. Adding further to that pessimism is the indictment that certain fighters are being unfairly punished. I believe there is validity to these accusations and feel there is a correlation between the two.
Three fighters in particular have been hindered by preferential treatment, and have felt the wrath of the company unduly.
There’s no more blatant place to begin than the former pound for pound greatest fighter on earth, Jose Aldo. The ex featherweight king was humbled by Conor McGregor at UFC 194, but it was in the lead up to the original scheduled bout, at UFC 189, where we began to see Dana White lose patience with the Brazilian.
Accompanied by the ‘Notorious One’ on ESPN, White looked disgusted with Aldo’s decision to withdraw from the contest, and made sure to emphasise that it was the Brazilian who had the final say on competing.
“It was his decision to pull out of the fight. We don’t feel great about it. We spent a lot of money promoting that fight, a lot of people were anticipating that fight. It’s definitely disappointing”.
Further evidence of White’s growing discontent towards ‘Junior’ surfaced when Aldo’s wife, Vivianne Pereira, told Combate sports that the UFC president begged her husband to compete injured.
“’Dede’ (Aldo’s coach) calls me to say it’s broken (his rib) and he would need 3 or 4 weeks to get back. It was 2 weeks before the fight, we were desperate. And Dana calling, talking about numbers, “Its millions of dollars that you are losing. You have to fight. You’ve never made this in your life’”.
The choice to make the rescheduled Chad Mendes vs. Conor McGregor fight for an interim belt seemed strange to a lot of people, but White’s reasoning was clear and spoken with resentment.
“Jose Aldo has pulled out of five title fights”.
As expected, Aldo’s camp were disillusioned with this decision given his considerable stature in the history of the featherweight division. The first insinuations of favouritism and unreasonable treatment arose from Aldo’s coach Andre Pederneiras.
“UFC is a private company and they make the decision that is better for the company. Aldo fought in October, nine months ago. The majority of the champions who didn’t fight for any reason were out longer and they didn’t create an interim title. I don’t think it’s cool, but it’s a private company” via MMAfighting.com
Of course, Aldo and McGregor did eventually collide at UFC 194 and the resulting 13 second knockout of the Brazilian was regarded as one of the most anti-climactic moments in fighting history. What was expected to be a Hagler v Hearns type affair fizzled out instantaneously, and the Brazilian was usurped.
Such an unexpected occurrence left unfulfilled feelings to a build up that had deserved a lot more than 13 seconds. Unsurprisingly, this result left Aldo, and plenty of fans and experts alike, seeking a rematch as they felt ‘It was not a real fight’. The ‘Notorious’ himself initially said they deserved to go longer also.
Unfortunately for ‘Junior’, the UFC now were in the driving seat.
They no longer had to deal with him accordingly as he was no longer the champion. Aldo’s requests for an instant rematch fell on deaf ears. The 10 year undefeated, long time pound for pound best fighter, first and only prior UFC featherweight champion in history, and 7 time successful title defence holder was being punished for all those previous title fight pull outs, it seems.
The rematch was also overlooked in favour of the now megastar McGregor’s desire to move up a weight class and become a multi-division title holder. Just three months after his victory over Aldo, the Irishman was granted a lightweight title super fight against Rafael Dos Anjos. To add supplementary insult to the denied rematch, Aldo’s coach Pederneiras extended the idea of McGregor favouritism while speaking to Sherdog.com.
“McGregor has been allowed to keep the 145lb title while being able to fight for the 155lb title, that is something that hasn’t happened before. I spent four years asking the UFC for the same thing, to allow Aldo to keep his featherweight belt while going up and contesting at lightweight but it was never allowed. Now we see Conor get the OK on his first request”.
Aldo is scheduled to fight Frankie Edgar for the interim featherweight belt at UFC 200, but considering the current featherweight champion is fighting on the same card in a non title welterweight fight, it speaks volumes on the validity of McGregor favouritism.
From a former Brazilian champion to a current one in the aforementioned Rafael Dos Anjos.
The Kings MMA product has amazingly turned his uninspiring career around to become one of the most feared prospects in the game. Having experienced previous defeats at the hands of apathetic opposition in Clay Guida and Jeremy Stephens, RDA has reinvented himself to claim exceptional wins over leading fighters such as Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone, and the man Dana White thought would rule the lightweight division for years, Anthony Pettis.
However, despite these remarkable victories over top opposition and fan favourites alike, for whatever unknown reason, Dos Anjos is just not a viable big name draw in the company. Prior to his most recent fight against Donald Cerrone, RDA had only ever headlined one Fight Night and one pay per view event. His first title defence was deemed not important enough to even place on a pay per view event.
After his demolishment of Cerrone in the first round of his primary title defence, the lightweight champ called out McGregor.
This was the perfect opportunity to get the push that RDA craved so much and the recognition the UFC needed for their lightweight champion. A potential super fight with the charismatic Dubliner would present a win-win situation for the image of Dos Anjos.
If he loses, now he has the tie of being associated with the biggest star the sport has ever seen, and all the exposure that comes with the first multi-divisional title holder. He becomes a household name and much easier to market.
If he beats the Notorious, he legitimises himself as one of the greatest fighters in the world by crumbling MMA’s leading figure. Justifiably, you can see why the UFC were so eager to make this happen.
The fight was announced for March 5th and the buzz began. The build up was excellent, the hype generated steadily, the promos were electrifying. Everything was going smoothly until Dos Anjos broke his foot two weeks out from the fight. Nate Diaz stepped in, defeated McGregor, and took the career elevation that Dos Anjos so desperately desired.
In the resulting weeks following his withdrawal from 196, Dos Anjos began searching for his next opponent.
With all the talk of McGregor possibly challenging Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title at UFC 200, RDA felt he should get involved. The Brazilian called out Lawler on an episode of the MMA Hour and requested the super fight with ‘Ruthless’ Robbie at 200.
The company categorically denied his appeal even though Dana White had previously confirmed that McGregor would have fought Lawler at 200 had he beaten Diaz. McGregor favouritism rears its head again.
The lightweight king then pleaded for a rematch with Nate Diaz, a high profile fight that would surely increase his profile, and also a fight that made sense considering Diaz is a lightweight and beat the man who was challenging for the title. The company said no in favour of a Diaz McGregor rematch that only makes sense financially and no other reason.
This left the Brazilian in limbo right up until yesterday.
Dos Anjos finally got his next fight, but it is not at UFC 200. It’s not even at a pay per view event or a FOX Sports card. RDA is set to defend his lightweight title against Eddie Alvarez, exclusively on UFC Fight Pass. This is the first time this has ever happened, and I struggle to look beyond it as being anything except punishment for Dos Anjos pulling out of UFC 196.
Although Dos Anjos is now out of his limbo, there is another fighter who looks set to be there for the foreseeable future.
Holly Holm is already back in training after her shocking loss to Miesha Tate at UFC 196, but there is no immediate fight on the horizon. Holm campaigned for an instant rematch with Tate, but instead the company have booked her to defend against Amanda Nunez at UFC 200, an announcement that surprised many.
The landscape of the rest of the women’s bantamweight division does not bode well for Holm, as there is simply no one available to fight. Tate is fighting number 4 ranked Nunes, number 2 ranked Rousey is on hiatus, number 3 ranked Cat Zingano is fighting number 5 ranked Julianna Pena, 6th and 7th ranked competitors Sara McMann and Jessica Eye are scheduled to compete, and number 8th ranked Bethe Correia is taking on number 11 Raquel Pennington.
Even Cris Cyborg is unavailable for Holm.
The product of the Jackson/Winklejohn gym is really at the mercy of the company right now, and looks set to sit it out until Ronda Rousey chooses to return. No coincidence here that this was the UFC’s original plan for Holm. Without the belt, ‘The Preachers Daughter’ has no pull.
The influence of the belt got her the desired initial bout with Tate, but is ultimately the reason she is being punished with no deserved title rematch or no fight in general.
Against the wishes of the company, Holm insisted on fighting Tate instead of waiting for Rousey, and after she lost, Dana White expressed his disapproval of Holm’s decision to oppose his plans on the Brett Okamoto podcast.
“We had this meeting and Holly wasn’t even in it. Holly, that’s your life. You should be in that meeting. Don’t leave it to these people (her management team). Anyway, Holly made a lot of money. She accomplished great things, she beat Ronda Rousey. But it could have been so much bigger for her, and the sad part is, I don’t think she even knows it.”
Holm is being punished for what McGregor is being praised for; willing to fight anyone at anytime. McGregor was paraded for his heart in accepting the Diaz fight, while Holm was subject to a tirade for wanting to stay active, earn some money and trying to prove she was more than a one hit wonder by challenging Tate.
This level of favouritism puts Aldo and Dos Anjos to shame.
With the company showing no signs of slowing down it’s quest for global domination, it is quite clear that certain fighters will continue to get prioritisation over others. What’s also become evident is the lack of concern from the UFC in walking all over the rest of its roster in order to keep momentum building.
With more and more fighters jumping ship to rival organisation Bellator, we can only wait and see if there will be a breaking point between fighter and corporate relations.