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Monday, March 25, 2013
Does World Series of Fighting need titles?

By Chuck Mindenhall

Jon Fitch wasn’t good enough for the UFC, but he’s (apparently) worthy of an automatic title bid in the World Series of Fighting.

In MMA, perception is everything. Not that Josh Burkman, who knocked out Aaron Simpson at WSOF 2 on Saturday to “earn” his own shot, is a fan of the idea.

Burkman thinks Fitch needs to beat somebody within the promotion before he can barge into the place and think about titles. Fitch, who was 14-3-1 in the UFC and will debut in June, has the greatest credentials never to be taken seriously. He has never known the red carpet treatment, either, so why should he now? Remember when he was about to fly off to join the cast of the original “Ultimate Fighter,” only to be told -- while sitting on the tarmac -- that he didn’t make the cut?

Life hasn’t always been pretty for Fitch. This is why he’s always gnashing his teeth.

Of course, Burkman may be forecasting here. He may be thinking about the task of trying to get up from under Fitch’s onslaught of elbows. He may be thinking of the futile nature of simply “trying to stand back up” against Jon Fitch. Of the 14 wins Fitch scored in the UFC, 14 opponents were saddled with the project of staying off their backs against Fitch heading in. Fourteen found themselves on their backs come fight night anyway.

Burkman may sense something inevitable.

But Burkman won’t ultimately decide who fights for the inaugural welterweight belt at WSOF. The decision will be up to WSOF president, Ray Sefo. If Sefo says Fitch, then it’s Fitch. If he says it’s Burkman versus Fitch, Burkman should just be happy his name isn’t Abercrombie. Imagine the confusion that those posters would generate?
Josh Burkman
Josh Burkman, left, should be more concerned about intriguing fights than a World Series of Fighting belt.

You know what would be novel, though? Have Burkman against Fitch just for the heck of it. Don’t make it about glorified accessories like the other clubs. Don’t create world titles. Just have the best guys go toe-to-toe. Tear down partitions, and put on “intrigue fights.” Have Burkman and Fitch fight just because it’s logical, at this point in time, to have them fight.

Imagine an MMA utopia that goes about business without the tyranny of gold-played belts. Where guys are free to roam weight classes in pursuit of the best, most ridiculous scenarios. Like former welterweight Anthony Johnson against former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski, perpetuated.

Bizarre = fun.

If Quinton Jackson joins the ranks, or Josh Barnett -- or whoever, as there will be plenty -- the idea should be that they join a pool of possibilities. Rather than former UFC fighters coming over to resurrect themselves as contenders and/or champions in a different setting, they enter the salt mines, baby.

Or something like that.

WSOF has a chance to build itself any way it wants. Why not do fan-friendly fights that are strictly about fan friendliness? Have people fight -- not desperately, but happily -- for simple relevance. The alphas will always stand out anyway. Who knows, it might be a lure, too. Those who hate structure can come to the Wild West, where fantasy matchmaking happens. The WSOF could make it about the best names that couldn’t get at each other in the UFC (or elsewhere) coming together under their own banner. Anthony Johnson wants to fight “Rampage?” All too easily arranged. Marlon Moraes against, say, Bibiano Fernandes? Roll it out. Tyrone Spong against just about anybody from 205 pounds on up?

Here’s a league of pure hospitality.

It’s a thought. And, really, it’s not a very original thought, as I’ve seen MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani and others tweet similar ideas about a titleless landscape.

Ultimately there’s nothing that says you have to have belts at the top of every weight class. Belts exist for a reason. They mean money. It’s a game of thrones. We like belts and speculating on the hierarchy of contenders and to have belts hanging over all proceedings like surveillance cameras. But the UFC does that already. So did Strikeforce (mostly) and so does Bellator (periodically). To do that, you have to fill in weight classes and harvest talent. That’s hard to do in the current landscape, not to mention tedious. That line of thinking “competes” with the UFC.

So make it about putting on the best available fights just for the sake of putting on the best available fights. If Josh Burkman doesn’t think Jon Fitch deserve a title shot, fine -- remove the politics from the equation. Get rid of the notion of belts. That’s so un-UFC. Would you have cared more if Arlovski/Johnson was for the heavyweight title? Probably not. They are, very consciously, UFC retreads (Arlovski even wore a UFC glove).

But that an unthinkable pairing should come together at WSOF gave it a fresh coat of intrigue. And you know what? That sort of matchmaking doesn’t need titles.