The UFC Should Reevaluate How It Develops Prospects
The average UFC fighter waits 4-6 months between scheduled matches and the waits increase as fighters rise up rankings a wait for similarly high ranked fighters to become available.
Young fighters who find early success soon discover that they are waiting some times up to 9 months to fight again. And then if they are defeated they are attempting to bounce back against overmatching opponents with out those crucial developmental fights.
The UFC has taken pride in its ability to find exciting fighters, but when it came to finding prospects the UFC preferred their top prospects a little more polished than today. The first season of TUF and the number of pro fights some of the contestants had:
Chris Leben: 10 fights
Diego Sanchez: 11 fights
Mike Swick: 6 fights
Forrest Griffin: 11 fights
Stephan Bonnar: 7 fights
Bobby Southworth: 9 fights
Current TUF seasons feature plenty of experienced fighters but rarely does a figher enter the show with double-digit fights and more fighters enter with two or fewer pro fighters. TUF 7 winner Amir Sadollah had no pro fights.
Season one featured green fighters as well, Kenny Florian only had three fights and Josh Koscheck had been training in MMA for six months. After the season ended Josh Koscheck set out to grow his skill set. Starting out as a simply a wrestler, he wanted to grow his skills and the best way he saw to do that was to fight and to fight often.
Kos openly complained about the long waits between fights and on several occasions arranged for only two months between fights, a very quick turn around in the MMA world. Kos remains aggressive in attempting to get up to 5 fights in a year and is frustrated that the UFC can't accommodate him.
Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson, a modern day prospect, entered the UFC with 3 pro fights and a surplus of athletic talent, and while he has been developing nicely, his fights have been spaced 3 and 5 months apart, leading to long lay offs.
Similarly Cain Velasquez, an elite heavyweight prospect, has been in the UFC for over a year and barely has four fights. While the long layoffs are excellent for making sure fighters are in peak condition for fights, MMA can take a page out of Boxing books: weekly or bi-monthly fight cards for young developing fighters.
These matches will serve as important learning experiences, will increase profits and likely lead to more title contenders and fewer late 20s gate keepers a la Chris Leben. Young fighters could puncate their long layoffs with tune-up fights, targeting cerain areas of growth they wish to achieve.
The means for these fights are right there for the UFC, between their TV deal with Spike for UFN and the WEC on VS it would be all too easy to bring these fights to TV; possibly making them two round affairs instead of three, headlining them with fighters like a Rumble Johnson doing a tune up fight and stack the lower card with young up and comers this could easily replace TUF as the UFC TV staple.
Possibly hold DREAM stye Grand Prix with the young fighters and do in a four week span the amount of fights it take TUF 13 weeks to do. Reinstate the WEC weightclasses, possibly bring Bantam and Feather to the UFC, and massively expand MMA viewership.
A UFC Friday Night Fights would be welcomed addition to the weekly scheudel of any MMA fan, and the experience it would provide young fighters with would be invaluable.