Athletes work their entire lives in order to reach the pinnacle of their sport. In MMA, that pinnacle is a shot at the belt in a fighter’s respective weight class. Mixed martial artists come from all sorts of different backgrounds—wrestling, kickboxing, even football—yet their goals of a title shot are all exactly the same.

In recent months, there has been a wave of questionable title shots handed out in the UFC. The top promotion in MMA has begun making a habit out of rewarding guys who are coming off of a loss with an immediate meeting with the champion in their division. In fact, there are three such match-ups already slated for the new year. Frankie Edgar will be challenging the only featherweight champ in UFC history, Jose Aldo, at UFC 156. Bad boy Nick Diaz will take on welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre at UFC 158 in Montreal, and last but not least trash-talking guru Chael Sonnen will meet Jon Jones for Jones’ light heavyweight belt in late April.

Each of these situations is drastically different, though. While it’s easy to say that none of these men deserve the shot, it’s not quite that cut-and-dry.

First, let’s take a brief look at Edgar’s situation. He sat atop the talent-rich lightweight division for almost two years, and he did his job well. He lost his belt to current champ Benson Henderson in early 2012 in a controversial decision, only to find himself in yet another rematch—his third straight such situation—with Henderson, losing that fight in an even more controversial decision. After finally taking the advice of UFC President Dana White, “The Answer” reluctantly dropped down a weight class. Given the 31-year-old New Jersey native’s history in the lightweight division, and the controversy with which he lost the belt, it seems only natural that he’d get a shot at the featherweight crown.

Many might consider Sonnen the least deserving of the three contenders. He’s coming off a loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva, he’s moving up a weight class to light heavyweight, and he’s only won two fights in the last two years. (Granted, there was a year-long suspension in there.) However, let’s take a look at the other side of the story. The UFC was forced to cancel its first event in the Zuffa era because the light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, refused to fight “The American Gangster” after his original opponent, Dan Henderson, withdrew from their scheduled fight with a knee injury. On just eight days’ notice, the 35-year-old Sonnen was prepared to take on the fastest-rising star in recent memory with no training camp. Sonnen was willing to do what guys like former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida weren’t—take on one of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters on extremely short notice—which certainly scored him points with his employers.

Sonnen is also a marketing whiz. He sells his fights extremely well despite his otherwise boring style of combat. He makes MMA fans believe he has a chance every time he steps into the Octagon, when in reality he should probably be a 15-1 underdog in many of his fights. His efforts and his willingness to step up when no one else would should not be overlooked, and they’re not. His “I’ll fight anyone, anywhere, anytime” mentality has earned him another title shot, and rightfully so. If no one else wants to fight the champ, reward the guy who does.

Lastly, there is everyone’s favorite bad boy. Former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz is coming off a loss to Carlos Condit as well as a year-long drug suspension. Like Sonnen, he essentially talked his way into the title shot. Even though Stockton, California’s favorite son isn’t deserving of the opportunity, his words and actions were enough to get so far under Georges St-Pierre’s skin that it’s still eating away at the welterweight champ more than a year later. Thus, “Rush” asked White for a fight with Diaz, and his wish was granted. The difference between Diaz and Sonnen’s situations is vast, and primarily lies in the abundance of deserving and willing contenders in the fighters’ respective divisions.

The reasons Diaz is undeserving are so plentiful they deserve their own article—and lucky for you, you’ll be reading that article tomorrow. One thing’s for sure, though: Rewarding fighters coming off losses with title shots, regardless of the reason, sends the wrong message. With the exception of Edgar vs. Aldo, the message being sent is: If you’re able to speak better than you fight, don’t worry, you’ll get your shot to be king of the jungle too. Don’t worry about the grueling marathon roll your teammates are going through, don’t worry about sparring with that bigger guy in the gym, just practice your one-liners and you’ll be good to go.

Photo: Chael Sonnen (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Paige Berger

Relatively new to the sport of MMA, Paige is a life long athlete. She attended the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she was a pioneer member of the women's ice hockey program. She also excelled in softball and soccer before deciding to focus on hockey. Born and raised in New York, she is an avid Yankees fan. Currently residing in Las Vegas, a move she made after falling in love with MMA while training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., she is currently studying public relations and advertising at UNLV.