At UFC 131 in Vancouver, Dana White broke the news that going forward all main events -- title fights and non-title fights alike -- would be five-round affairs.
At the time, when I asked him if this would be universal for altered main events that are put together on short notice, he stated simply, “no exceptions.” That seemed like a pretty straightforward way to think -- save for the fact that there’s been nothing but pretty exceptional things happening for the last few months to card headliners, making for a complicated case-by-case basis of five-round main events.
In short, it’s hard to imagine five-round headlining spots being universal, given the recent trend of altered main events.
Imagine if the UFC had enacted this frill-based privilege before UFC 130. That was the card where Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard became Matt Hamill versus Quinton Jackson on a few weeks' notice. Forget that the world would have been subjected to two more rounds of a blasé match-up, the bigger problem is that Hamill and Jackson would have had to alter their camps to train for five rounds rather than three. Similarly, when Shane Carwin stepped in late for Brock Lesnar at UFC 131, he would have had more to think about than just Junior dos Santos. Would it have played a hand in his decision to take the fight? Probably not. But he had been training for a three-round fight with John Olav-Einemo up until then, and it’s a pretty sizable shift in thinking for a guy whose main concern for the last year was gassing out.
But over the last couple of weeks the proposition of five-round main events has gotten stickier still. If there were truly no exceptions, the UFC Live on Versus card in Pittsburgh would have been that much more complex. Anthony Johnson versus Nate Marquardt on plenty of notice became Nate Marquardt versus Rick Story on relatively short notice which became Rick Story versus Charlie Brenneman on virtually no notice. How easy is it to prepare for an extra couple of rounds if you’re Brenneman, who was only hoping for the off chance of a hypothetical three? Even for a fighter who is physically ready, the mental adjustment is significant.
And then this stuff with UFC 133 began happening. Would Tito Ortiz have still have taken the fight against Rashad Evans if it were a five-rounder? Ortiz is stepping in for Phil Davis on a little three week’s after spending a day in contemplation about whether to accept it or not. Would he have been as willing if the fight with Evans -- whom he fought to a full 15-minute draw at UFC 73 -- was a set-in-stone five-round fight? Maybe, but it’s that much more to ask.
The bottom line is, if we are to take this recent string of events at face value, for the UFC to make all main event bouts five-rounders without exception it will have to convince its roster to be ready for 25 minutes of fighting at all times. Either that or it will have to make some exceptions, and have five-round main events operate on a case-by-case basis.