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That Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz are set to fight for the newly created BMF title in the headliner of this year’s Ultimate Fighting Championship event at Madison Square Garden is an improbable development in many ways. At the beginning of the year, Masvidal was little known to casual MMA fans, while Diaz’s future was uncertain. The idea of the two fighting each other wasn’t really a thought in anyone’s head -- until Diaz brought it up a month ago and the MMA world collectively recognized what an inspired idea it was.
The BMF title was still far from a given, even once a Diaz-Masvidal bout was targeted. If the UFC had been able to come to financial terms with Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington for a welterweight championship bout at UFC 244, the BMF title concept might never have come to fruition even if Diaz and Masvidal fought. UFC President Dana White, of course, had to sign off on a one-off title belt for the occasion, and now, Masvidal-Diaz will have a unique hook we haven’t seen before.
The decision to frame the winner of this fight as the special one-time BMF champion was a concept embraced by many. It was also one that was roundly criticized from many sectors. Fighters, former fighters and journalists alike voiced their displeasure with the creation of this new accolade. While some might quibble with the fighters involved -- Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje fans must surely feel they’re as worthy as anyone of fighting to be labeled the sport’s BMF -- the primary objection to this title is that it’s yet another championship belt watering down the meaning of champion.
This is a consideration that certainly has merit, in general. UFC titles were once contrasted to boxing titles in that they were so much more prestigious. That’s still generally the case, with boxing’s multiple sanctioning bodies finding absurd new ways to create additional championships like diamond titles and franchise titles every year. However, UFC titles have definitely taken a hit in terms of their perceived prestige, and that has hurt the marketability of the organization’s stars. The UFC should be concerned about devaluing its titles further.
While protecting the meaning of championships is a worthwhile concern, this BMF title doesn’t do harm in the way that the preponderance of titles has. As such, it’s best viewed as a useful marketing tool for what should be a fight with a lot of fan interest. Unpacking the difference between this title and the titles that have been harmful in the past helps to address how championships can be undermined by the way they’re handled moving forward.
There are regional MMA championships and championships of smaller companies, but ultimately, the only titles that have real significance for fans are world titles. The basic structure of any sport revolves around proving who the best fighter is at any given time. The world title has meaning when fans think all fighters of that size are working towards that goal. Every fight is important because it can move the fighter one step closer to being the best, being the champion.
Cracks form in this foundation when titles are handled in a way that makes fans think they don’t signify the best fighter. If the title doesn’t signify the best, every fight has less meaning. This is the problem with the preponderance of interim titles in recent years. A title fight should generally be the best fighter against the top contender. If the champion is out of action for an extended period of time, the idea of the interim title should be that the next two best fighters are fighting to be crowned the best fighter until the full champion is ready to return.
In recent years, UFC interim titles have clearly been handled with a different mentality. Interim champions are often crowned as a pure marketing tool when a pay-per-view needs a main event. The champion doesn’t have to be out for long, and the fighters involved don’t have to be the top two contenders. Instead, interim champions are crowned simply for beating another highly regarded contender. The interim champions are sometimes later elevated to full champions or have the titles stripped and ignored. The chaos works against the prestige of the championship, which is tied to it signifying the best. Title shots being given to plainly undeserving challengers has the same effect.
This BMF title does not cause harm in that way because it doesn’t create any confusion as to the best fighter in the welterweight division. Usman has earned that distinction with 10 straight wins in the UFC, while Diaz and Masvidal have alternated wins and losses. The BMF title is plainly tied to their fighting styles and demeanors. It’s not a competitor to Usman’s title in the way that Covington’s interim title was before he was stripped.
There’s another way that the preponderance of titles has hurt the value of each individual championship. If each weight division feels like its own isolated entity, the world title isn’t a marketing gimmick but the pinnacle of success. Boxing having so many weight classes hurts its titles in part because fans can’t identify the champions and because boxers are constantly moving up and down in weight class, accumulating titles in different divisions.
The UFC has gone down this route in recent years, creating additional weight classes and giving champions title fights in other divisions much more regularly. As a result, the titles feel more like trinkets used to market individual fights than the marker of the best among a finite class of competitors. In this regard, the BMF title too does no harm. It’s not something that’s ever going to take precedence over any weight class’ title nor will it hold up the careers of a division’s fighters. It’s just harmless fun, right up the alley of the fighters involved.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.