The Fans Create The Real Challengers
By Christopher Jester
Public opinion matters, especially when it comes down to what is expected from fighters within some of the best mixed martial arts organizations out there. Many fighters embrace their stance in the public spotlight; others always shy away from it. But how much has public opinion swayed the mixed martial arts community? Recent fights have surely displayed that the opinion of fans matter. Yet, it is the fighters who receive the most criticism in the end. Is it fair to these fighters? Perhaps not, but it does relate back to PunchDrunkGamer’s previous article Heavy Is the Crown – A Champion’s Perspective.
From the fan’s perspective, perhaps the current reign of dominating champions is not as entertaining as they used to be. During the championship years of Chuck Liddell, fans got to see the heavy-handed fan favorite knock out some of the best fighters in his division. In fact, Chuck Liddell finished all of his title defenses from 2004 to 2006 either by knockout or technical knockout.
Although very few of the current champions have had a highlight-reel championship run like ‘The Iceman’, there are a few who are simply cleaning out their division. Few of the UFC’s current champions are conquering their divisions like Georges St-Pierre, and Jon Jones. Yet, if you look at their position with fans at the moment, it seems shaky at best. Jon Jones has defeated the likes of Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, and Alexander Gustafsson in his championship run. While only two of those have went to decision, not many people are clamoring to Jones as a fan favorite much like they did to Liddell. How much of that has to do with Jones’ persona is up for debate, but no one can deny his ability to finish fights. So what exactly is it?
It points to a common dilemma found in champions who control a division for longer than a year or so. In the past few years, it never became more apparent that more fans wanted to see Georges St-Pierre lose his title. The same could be said of Anderson Silva’s title defenses; especially during the Chael Sonnen fights. So, when Chris Weidman knocked him out, there were not many fans that were utterly upset or disappointed.
Unsurprisingly, Weidman ushered many new fans because of this feat. He has been in the limelight ever since and has been on a media tour like he is the people’s champion. So, it begs to question whether or not these long-lasting champions are actually hurting their own popularity or acting as the beacon for the next big underdog to come along. Just think about how much Alexander Gustafsson’s stock has risen since his near victory over the light-heavyweight champion Jones. A valid argument could mean that their cemented spot at the top could actually work in the UFC’s favor, as fans look to determine who the next big thing is.
Challengers become real threats to champions, as they are the ones the fans are putting on a pedestal as the one to defeat these longtime champions. This is why it is to no surprise to see certain challengers like Glover Teixeira and Ricardo Lamas gaining so much fervor behind their eventual title scrap against their division’s respective champion. Public opinion from the fans puts emphasis on UFC President Dana White’s constant referral to giving fans what they want. But it is also the fans who raise the stature of the upcoming fighters who will challenge for title contention.
Follow Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester on Twitter @sLapDatSuCka
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