Nine months after being thoroughly dominated by Kamaru Usman at UFC 251, Jorge Masvidal finds himself right back into the title picture in the main event at UFC 261. He didn’t have to win a fight to get the opportunity. It can be viewed as reciprocation for Masvidal stepping in on six days’ notice after Usman’s original opponent, Gilbert Burns, had to be removed because of testing positive for COVID.
Masvidal is ranked fourth in the welterweight division according to the official UFC rankings. Ahead of him are Colby Covington and Burns, who have also lost to Usman, and Leon Edwards, who lost to the champion early in his UFC run. Just behind Masvidal is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who holds a win over Masvidal but failed twice in title opportunities against Tyron Woodley a few years ago, and Vicente Luque, winner of three straight fights with his last loss coming to Thompson.
Sandwiched between his losses to Usman and Thompson, Masvidal has three wins against Nate Diaz, Darren Till and Ben Askren. Till has since moved up to middleweight, Diaz is booked to face the No. 3 ranked Edwards but has yet to defeat a top-10 welterweight and Askren retired from the sport and kissed the canvas in a boxing match against YouTuber Jake Paul.
Masvidal will get his chance this weekend and UFC president Dana White announced that Covington is the next in line. Covington defeated Tyron Woodley, who hasn’t won a fight since being defeated by Usman and hasn’t done much of anything else.
Both Masvidal and Covington are two of the more popular fighters in the division despite not necessarily having worked their way into another title opportunity
The question is whether the rankings actually matter, or are these title opportunities more about selling a PPV rather than giving the top-ranked fighters a chance at striking gold.
Well, it’s a little bit of both.[embedded content]
In the case of Masvidal, this is more about being paid back for rescuing a card that was about to lose its main event. Facing a fighter who hasn’t lost in the UFC on less than a week’s notice is a tall task and a massive undertaking without a full camp. But Masvidal rolled the dice on himself and came up short. The UFC responded by recognizing both the drawing power of the BMF champion and the fact that he stepped up. It’s not all that difficult to understand.
But what about Leon Edwards?
This is where it gets complicated.
Edwards is ranked third and hasn’t lost a fight since dropping a decision to Usman in 2015. He was supposed to face the unranked but ultra-hot Khamzat Chimaev in December, but Chimaev contracted COVID and the fight was rescheduled for January and then March. Unfortunately, Chimaev hadn’t made a full recovery and was replaced by Belal Muhammad. An accidental eye poke from Edwards resulted in the fight being declared a No Contest and the UFC moved quickly to book Edwards into a fight with the returning Nate Diaz, who will return after an 18-month layoff.
On one hand, it’s a good fight for Edwards to get some much-needed exposure against a fan favorite in Diaz. On the other, it’s yet another unranked opponent for one of the top fighters in the division.
Make it make sense, you ask?
That’s a challenge. If the UFC went strictly by their rankings, Edwards should absolutely be in line for a title shot. If not ahead of Masvidal, definitely ahead of Covington. But the timing is a key reason that Edwards is kept out of a title fight. He was inactive — through no fault of his own — from July 2019 until March 2021. Other fighters in the division fought in that time and a fight between Edwards and Usman just didn’t line up.
As for Covington, it makes little sense that he’s thrust right back into the title picture without having to do much of anything. Ideally, he’d need to win a fight to earn a title opportunity. The UFC booked Thompson and Burns for a July showdown while Luque doesn’t have anything set for his return to the Octagon.
Wouldn’t it make sense for Covington to have to face Luque or even the No. 7 ranked Michael Chiesa, who is riding a four-fight winning streak?
Although the UFC often finds a way to give fans the fights that they want, there are times when the rationale behind these fights becomes convoluted. The rankings lose integrity if you don’t use them, but the UFC doesn’t seem to care all that much. However, it’s not nearly as bad as boxing, where sanctioning bodies award title opportunities to fighters who are far from deserving.
Ultimately, the UFC has found a medium between giving fans what they want and using their rankings to justify matchups and title opportunities. It may not be perfect, but it works.