Challenge and Win: Reinventing the UFC Ladder

In the last blog, I talked about the problem the UFC faces moving forward in a world where super fights have delegitimized the championship title and have wreaked havoc in multiple weight classes.

So how do we fix it?

Challenge and Win

We need to reform the ladder with a method I call Challenge and Win. A fighter, wherever they are ranked, has a challenge condition–a definition of who they can challenge. The fighter also has a win condition–who a fighter must defeat to challenge again. Challenge conditions are always fulfilled first. This keeps fighters constantly moving up the ladder. Win conditions activate after a loss and govern what a fighter must do to get another challenge opportunity.

One True Champion

In each division, there is one, and only one, champion. Interim titles can not be handed out like candy. If a champion is injured and will be gone for more than 1 year, then the promotion is justified in declaring an interim title holder to keep the division moving.

Two Title Contenders ONLY

There are only two people who can have a title shot at any given time. The #1 contender and the #2 contender. This ensures the champion is fighting someone who has earned the right, and no one can talk their way into championship fight.

Champions fight twice a year

If you’re a champion, you have to fight the #1 contender and the #2 Contender each year. Spread across 12 weight classes in Men’s and Women’s MMA, that makes for 2 title fights for every PPV of the year.

Rank 1-5: 1 Up and 1 Down

The top 5 fighters in the division must defeat one opponent ranked higher than they are and one fighter ranked lower than they are if they lose. Most of the talent in a division collects in the top 5 spots, so getting to the top 5 is rewarded with easier conditions to stay there.

Rank 6-10: 1 Up and 2 Down

Fighters 6-10 can challenge a fighter ranked higher than them, but if they lose, the fighter must defeat two fighters ranked lower than them before issuing a challenge to a higher ranked fighter. Therefore there are 10 opportunities for fighters outside the top 10 to break into the ladder. This is the gauntlet. Fighters here realistically fight 3 times a year.

Rank 11+: 2 (consecutive) Wins and you’re in


Fighters outside the top 10 need back-to-back victories versus their peers to call out a fighter ranked 6-10. This ensures that lower tier fighters can stay active and prove their worth before getting on the ladder.

Fight Up until you can’t

If a fighter is outside of the top 10 and wins two consecutive fights, their next opponent should be a 6-10 fighter. If the fighter wins again, they qualify for a 1-5 fighter. If the fighter wins and isn’t ranked 1 or 2, the fighter must challenge #1 or #2. If the fighter loses, the fighter doesn’t fall in the rankings, but now has to defend their spot. To challenge another fighter ranked higher, The fighter has to fulfill the rank’s win conditions.

First Come, First Served

The first fighter to complete the required win conditions will be selected first when a challenge opportunity becomes available. If #7 completes his win conditions, but there are no fights available and #1 loses a fight to the champion. The next fight for #1 will be the #7 fighter, even if #6 defeats the #3 fighter and is entitled a fight up. #7 met the win conditions first and has first rights to #1.

Three Strikes (The Uriah Faber Rule)

If a fighter is better than everyone in the division but has lost 3 times to the champion. That fighter will have fought 9 fights without getting a title. The fighter can no longer be ranked higher than #3.

Certified SuperFight

As a champion with 4 consecutive title defenses, the champion qualifies for a superfight. Give an undeserving fighter a golden ticket to the crown, demand an instant rematch, OR call out anyone else, if they are available. If the opponent is in the division, it’s a title shot, if it’s not, it’s an exhibition.

Vacancies

If a fighter gets injured, suspended, or retires, the ladder moves up by 1. Unless the champ vacates. Then it’s a #1 vs #2 for the title. This ensures that the only position that the promotion interferes with is #10. The promotion would choose the fight for #10 from the qualified fighters who have 2 consecutive wins.

In Conclusion

This system rewards winners, and could be disastrous if you lose. In my next blog, we’ll look at some scenarios that show the strengths and weaknesses of this concept.

Let me know what you think and if you have questions or ideas on how this might work, feel free to let me know.

2 comments on “Challenge and Win: Reinventing the UFC Ladder
  1. For the most part, I agree with these suggestions.

    It seems, though, that you got tired of this as you got towards the end, CSTRyan

    RE: the 3 Strikes rule. If the #1 contenders have beaten all the top contenders but have lost to the champ 3 times or even more, as long as they continue beating the other top contenders, they should be ranked #1. Perhaps in such a situation, stipulate that #1 contender must prevail over the remaining top 5 contenders before they get to challenge for the title again, even if they have beaten them previously.

    Why is an undeserving fighter, an instant rematch, or calling anyone else out a Super-fight? I lost you there.

    If fighters retire, they have vacated. As far as injuries or suspensions go, it would depend on how long they are out for. I would say anything greater than 6 months is worthy of an interim title.

    I think to a large degree, though, it’s not a matter of the fighter not taking fights, it’s a matter of the UFC not giving them fights.

    • Thank you for responding!

      I can say that I probably tried too hard to cover all the fringe cases that might come up in a debate of how to redeem the rankings in the UFC.

      Regarding the 3 strikes rule, I wanted to try to avoid an infinite loop. If the champion must fight #1 AND #2 each year, having someone as the perennial #1 produces diminishing returns for a 4 or 5th attempt. Perhaps after the 3rd loss to the champion the competitor drops down to 3rd place, must complete their win condition before challenging again for #1 or #2, and thereby getting another title shot. This creates at least 1 year of change at the top of the ladder.

      I thought it was necessary to create a mechanism for a champion who had successfully defended the title a number of times to be rewarded. I thought about Demetrious Johnson calling out Ray Borg. Borg, at that point in his career was ranked #3, and based upon this methodology, would not be eligible for a title shot. But with this rule, the Champion could select Borg for a fight.

      Additionally, I thought about Joanna Jedrzejczyk who fought Rose Namajunas who was ranked #4 at the time. Likewise not eligible on this methodology to fight for the title, but she did and she won. This “Superfight” rule, allows for JJ, who had 5 title defenses, to instantly rematch from the #4 position which is where she would have fallen. Perhaps there should be another name for the rule, but the objective is to reward champions who have defended the belt successfully.

      I’m not opposed to shortening the interim title requirement from 12 months to 6 months. I think there should not be a layoff of more than 12 months for sure.

      To you last point, I would disagree. The description of Kamaru Usman’s attempt to secure a fight that resulted in the Santiago Ponzinibbio fight is a direct result of the fighters not taking fights offered by Usman. Agreed that the UFC has to make offers, but BOTH fighters have to accept the fight. Many times, only one fighter agrees.

      Thank you for reading the post and responding.

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