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Are Five Round Main Events the Correct Move for the UFC?

UFC President Dana WhiteFollowing the official announcement that all UFC main events will be five round fights after UFC 133, two of MMAFrenzy’s writers decided to look at both sides of the decision. Here they present their arguments both for and against the move.

Eric Shapiro states his case for why this is a good move for the future of the UFC:

As a fan, I couldn’t be more on board with five round UFC main events. As a writer attempting to be objective, I’m still pro-five rounders, though it’s easy to spot some of the negatives. I have to imagine the biggest issue is going to be increased risk of injury, especially to fighters without any experience past the 15 minute mark. This is something I simply cannot rebut. The longer a fight, the more opportunity for something to go horribly wrong. Murphy’s Law at its most gruesome. However, that kind of risk is something main event combatants should be prepared for at that level of the sport. If you want to climb the company ladder, you should be able to prove you belong at the top. And you should have the cardio to do that by the time Dana and Co. call on you to be part of the marquee attraction.

For those claiming that all fighters shouldn’t have to train for a five round contest- tough. Fighters need to start training for those potential extra 10 minutes if they don’t already. If you’re lucky enough to make your way onto the UFC’s roster, and you’re serious about becoming one of the best among the largest MMA stable in the world, you need to be prepared for a situation where you are part of the main event. I won’t sit here and claim to have the stamina to spar for more than a few minutes, but I’m not paid large sums of money to fight professionally, and my performance isn’t televised to millions on pay per view.

Even on short notice, in a bout devoid of title implications, the UFC isn’t going to throw just any random fighter into a main event contest. Rick Story recently replaced Anthony Johnson to face Nate Marquardt at UFC Live on June 26th. Story is easily a top ten welterweight, and I’d probably rank him around #8 in the division. If the two fighters picked to headline a show can be trusted to anchor a $50.00 PPV or a 4 hour commercial ridden Fight Night, I have no problem expecting them to provide 25 minutes of cage time if necessary.

Along with most other major sporting organizations, the UFC doesn’t just sell athletic competition. The UFC sells entertainment. When building a main event, they do everything they can to tell you a story so you have a vested interest in their latest offering. Sometimes the story is compelling and filled with drama (Sonnen vs. Silva) sometimes it’s flatter than week old Beast Light (GSP vs. Shields).

Like any good story, the ending is perhaps the most key component. And if you’re asking devoted fans for pay per view dollars, there better be a strong ending with sufficient closure. Some proponents may believe that five round main events are a cure for the common decision, that an additional two rounds will provide enough time to satisfy the primal itch for a knockout or submission. Such a line of thinking is optimistic at best. It’s absurd to postulate that an extra two rounds will guarantee a finish where there previously wasn’t one. Just look at Georges St. Pierre’s underwhelming decision streak.

The aim of the five round main event isn’t to promise a finish, and it certainly can’t prevent close decisions in 5 round contests (Maynard vs. Edgar comes to mind). But it is a measure the UFC can take to help assure the audience that with or without a finish; at least you won’t have to ask “what if?” nearly as often.

What if Quinton Jackson had another ten minutes to sprawl and brawl Rashad Evans? Or if Lyoto Machida had the opportunity to throw another triangle attempt on Rampage? What if Thiago Silva had another two rounds to find Rashad’s chin? What if Martin Kampmann had more time to bust up the face of Diego Sanchez? Would the doctors have stopped it in the 4th or 5th? Would Rich Franklin have been suckered into another gun fight with Wanderlei, or would Franklin land that big shot first?

Call it whatever you like: A stamp, an exclamation point, an answer, the fact is a five round contest helps provide closure to a story that needs a definitive ending, especially if the UFC hype machine has done its job well. Even though GSP couldn’t finish his last few opponents, there remains no ambiguity as to who the better fighter was after those five rounds.

For weeks leading up to a UFC main event, countless fans read every blog entry, catch every preview show, and finally tune in to watch something unfold which they now feel genuinely connected to. And then? After a drama filled TUF season, countless clips of smack talk and physical confrontations, and perhaps the best legitimate feud since Shamrock-Ortiz, Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans finally square off on pay per view for three measly rounds. Which proved what, exactly? No, that simply won’t do. Welcome, five round main events. Better late than never.

Bryan Robison explains why this is the wrong move:

UFC President Dana White recently announced that following UFC 133, every main event for UFC events will now be five round fights. Prior to this announcement, only championship fights were scheduled for five rounds. This announcement seems to be due to the influx of draws seen in MMA over recent months, along with the natural desire to see more fighting if eligible.

However, looking over the main events of this year’s UFC calendar, is moving to five rounds really that great of an addition? Is it even the correct one?

Using the past year’s non-title fights that went to decision as examples, would adding two more rounds to the following add any intrigue to the fight: Matt Hammill vs. Keith Jardine, Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama, Nate Marquardt vs. Yushin Okami, Phil Davis vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Rampage Jackson vs. Matt Hammill, and this past weekend’s Junior dos Santos vs. Shane Carwin. Add in fights such as Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop that nearly went to a decision.

What does ten more minutes do for those fights other than prolong the lackluster or non-competitive fight that was already occurring?

Championship fights have long had the aura with them because of being five rounds. Rounds four and five are called “championship rounds”. With this recent move, those fights lose that special distinction of being unique. Every main event will be of similar nature. The first fight that will follow this rule is Dan Hardy vs. Chris Lytle on UFC Live 5. Yes, one fighter who is on a three fight loss streak, and another who has a losing record in the UFC during his career. I understand they will put on an entertaining fight, but extending it to a fourth and fifth round does not greatly improve the chances of a finish. In the last twenty five championship fights, only three were finished in the “championship rounds”, or 12% of the time. Only three championship fights have ever been finished in the fifth round.

For years, fans have complained about judging and the amount of decisions in the UFC. With such a low finishing rate in the lower rounds, judges will again be called upon, and the lack of a finish will continue to be the constant complaint of a fanbase. In addition, fighters who are used to fighting in main events will have to begin training for a five round fight. The increase in pre-fight injuries is not only possible, it is expected. Add in the new insurance policy the UFC implemented in May, fighters could be pulling out of events in more than ever before.

Non-championship main event fights should remain three rounds. A Fight Night main event in Milwaukee is obviously less prestigious and less important than a championship fight in Las Vegas. With the amount of fighters that tire out in the third round (or earlier) during a fight, it will only get worse as the fight continues. Not enough fighters are in good enough physical condition to consistently fight in five round matchups.

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