Thursday, January 20, 2011

More Lineal Heavyweight Title Stuff: Does MMA Need an Honorary Belt?


All this talk of lineal titles has sparked some serious literary discussion over the past week or so. It all started with the announcement of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, of which Fabricio Werdum is participating. Werdum is considered by many to be the current MMA heavyweight "lineal" titleholder, according to a system that traces the first UFC heavyweight title to him. The Strikeforce GP does not place the Strikeforce Heavyweight title on the line, but the stakes appear even higher now that this virtual, or as BloodyElbow described it "mystical," belt is on the line.

But, as virtual or "mystical" as it may seem, the idea of a lineal mixed martial arts heavyweight title could and probably should open doors to more questioning and debating over how championship belts are awarded in a sport that is restricted by promotional warfare. For example, right now lightweights Frankie Edgar (UFC) and Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce) are ranked numbers one and two in the world, respectively. However, they are not able to fight in order to decide the reigning champion 155 lber in the world (as could be done in boxing). But what if there was an alternative system to honor or recognize the fans' true numero uno fighter?

I say the mixed martial arts community should develop an honorary system similar to The Ring magazine's "The Ring Championship Belt." View the Wikibox below:

The Ring has its own version of lineal championship in a given weight class where The Ring Champion holds the linear reign to the throne, the man who beat the man. The Ring began awarding championship belts in 1922. The first Ring world title belt was awarded to heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and the second was awarded to flyweight champion Pancho Villa. The Ring stopped giving belts to world champions in the 1990s, but began again in 2002.

In 2002, The Ring attempted to clear up the confusion regarding world champions by creating a championship policy. It echoed many critics' arguments that the sanctioning bodies in charge of boxing championships had undermined the sport by pitting undeserving contenders against undeserving "champions", and forcing the boxing public to see mismatches for so-called "world championships". The Ring attempts to be more authoritative and open than the sanctioning bodies' rankings, with a page devoted to full explanations for ranking changes. A fighter pays no sanctioning fees to defend or fight for the title at stake, contrary to practices of the sanctioning bodies. Furthermore, a fighter cannot be stripped of the title unless he loses, decides to move to another weight division, or retires.

There are currently only two ways that a boxer can win The Ring's title: defeat the reigning champion; or win a box-off between the magazine's number-one and number-two rated contenders (or, sometimes, number-one and number-three rated). A vacant Ring championship is filled when the number-one contender in a weight-division battles the number-two contender or the number-three contender (in cases where The Ring determines that the number-two and number-three contenders are close in abilities and records).


Under The Ring's rules, the number one and two ranked fighters can square off to determine the winner of The Ring Championship Belt. While this is not always possible in mixed martial arts, it would be possible to create an alternative criteria for the awarding of an honorary belt. A diverse criteria of fan polling, media polling, common opponents, etc., could be considered. Or the belt could follow a simple, direct linear pattern to where it is passed on from fighter to fighter. At least then, there is no question as to who the true champion is in a given weight class.

Of course, you will run in to flaws and faults. There's the issue of the honorary belt remaining with one promotion for extended periods of time. Then, there's also the possibility of someone retiring, or leaving the sport for whatever reason (hot piss tests, prison sentences, etc). But this is where alternative criteria could be implemented.

As it stands, right now the MMA world is controlled by a promotional structure that is reluctant to cross-promote, so the idea of sharing belts is distant one. But by creating a belt system that is independent of any promotion, at least then maybe true champions could get the respect they deserve and then fans can go back to debating over which ring girl looks better, "Arianny Celeste or Rachel Leah?".

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