(Julie Jacobson, AP Images)WSOF Shows Why Tournaments Matter In MMA Jay Anderson January 24, 2015 Spotlight So you say you’re an MMA fan, but you never bothered with much outside of the UFC. You watched back when Tito beat Shamrock in a couple of quick finishes. When the Lesnar effect was in full swing. When Georges St. Pierre was not impressed with Matt Hughes. That’s great. This isn’t going to be one of those “if you don’t watch obscure MMA promotions, you’re not a true fan” rants. Can’t name all the Shooto, VTJ, and Dream champions? No problem. Can’t say who won the early UFC events outside of Gracie at UFC 1? Fair enough. Missed Cro-Cop knocking out Ishii on the New Year’s show? No worries. Pride never die? Well, Pride frankly is dead — but the memory of it lives on. Some of the love for it is nostalgia, and sugar coated memories (if you were in Japan when Pride was at its peak, even there, it was obvious that some of the fights were freak shows). However, there are plenty of legit reasons to love Pride, and the early days MMA. For those of you who weren’t watching – well, the early stars, the underdog stories, those things are easy to love. And the tournament format — used by the early UFC, Pride, and other promotions — that format made the sport different. Exciting. Not just a fight, not just boxing with other disciplines mixed in. The tournaments, especially the one-night tournaments, brutal and grueling as they were, those made MMA a true test of who the greatest athlete, fighter, martial artist, etc. really was. It was basically running the gauntlet. It was something to behold. Of course, as the sport grew, it needed to change. Regulation was key. And one night tournaments just weren’t a great idea for fighter safety. Yes, Battlegrounds MMA brought the concept back this past fall, but don’t expect it to ever return full time in any major promotion. On the other hand, tournaments over a prolonged period, with weeks or months between bouts — well there’s plenty of room for those. The problem here is, the promotion at the forefront of the tournament format, Bellator, did away with them when founder Bjorn Rebney was given the axe. New showrunner Scott Coker did a 180, and went straight to spectacle fights, disavowing the “sport first” vision of the promotion’s founder. Fair enough. Freak shows sell, spectacles sell. There’s a certain segment of the MMA fan base, however, that still wants tournaments. Either because they miss the old days, or because they want the sport to be, well, a sport. They want tournaments, and more than just what you get on The Ultimate Fighter. Enter the World Series of Fighting. Last week they announced the signing of Matt Hammil and Thiago Silva, who will, along with Ronny Markes and a fighter yet to be named, enter into a four-man tournament for the WSOF light heavyweight title. Now, while the signing of Silva, who was recently dropped from the UFC after allegations of domestic abuse and a video showing him brandishing a gun against his ex-wife turned up online, is severely problematic, we’ll leave that debate for another day. Instead, lets focus on the positive: the WSOF has made this tournament mean something by having a handful of recognizable names compete for the highest reward they can offer, a championship in the young promotion. This is probably the first move by the WSOF since the signing of Jake Shields that really has fans talking. For North America’s third-ranked promotion, it shows that fans do care — if the stakes are right. This is the same reason that The Ultimate Fighter 20 was a cut above recent seasons: the tournament mattered. There was more than just a contract on the line (a prize that seems disingenuous these days when half the fighters appearing on the show get tryouts in the UFC anyway). It’s the same reason that Bellator tournaments mattered, at least up until the end, when they started stacking the deck in the hopes of marquee fighters making it through. In any case, the WSOF is proving that the tournament format still garners attention with this move. The real test will be pulling it off, but it’s certainly something to look forward to.