It’s no secret that the Bellator MMA promotion has made huge strides over the last year. Partly for good reasons, such as moving to Spike TV, and also for negative issues, such as Eddie Alvarez’s contract dispute and the promotion going against its perceived business model in signing UFC veterans.

Something is pushing the popularity of Bellator forward, and many believe it’s the tournament format. One of the most common topics I often find myself discussing with people is whether or not a tournament would work within the UFC today.

The answer is no.

The easiest way to explain why a UFC tournament wouldn’t work is to point towards the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix that took place between June 2011 and May 2012. That tournament lost its luster after the first round of fights.

Fedor Emelianenko was upset by Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, which brings up the first point as to why a UFC tournament won’t work. As great as it was to watch Bigfoot beat Fedor (one of the most heartfelt victorious reactions I’ve ever seen following a fight), didn’t we all think the bracket was completely busted after that point? Looming on the horizon was a match-up between Fedor and Alistair Overeem. Instead, fans were “treated” to Silva vs. Daniel Cormier after Overeem was forced out of the tournament when he felt he needed “more rest.” Of course, everything hit the fan shortly thereafter, and Overeem was done with Strikeforce as a whole.

When all was said and done, Cormier won the tournament. He was a fighter who wasn’t even in the bracket when the whole thing started.

Imagine if there was an upset in the first round of a UFC light heavyweight tournament. Jon Jones gets caught unexpectedly by Ryan Bader. Instead of seeing Jones face Alexander Gustafsson in the second round (Gustafsson would beat Glover Teixeira in my hypothetical first round example), we now get to watch Bader trot on out there and get pummeled.

Upsets in tournaments are great in other major sports. Seeing a No. 8 seed knock off a No. 1 in any sport is rare and exciting, but it wouldn’t hold the same weight in a UFC tournament. Teams play each other to a best-of-seven or a best-of-five in most cases to determine the better team. That’s not an option in MMA. Rematches and trilogies settle the score as to who the better fighter is. Novelty tournaments don’t do anything but get fans excited about potential match-ups that probably won’t come to fruition because of an injury, a contract dispute or an upset during the tournament.

What did Matt Serra’s win over Georges St-Pierre prove? That Serra was a better fighter than GSP? Serra lost three of his last four fights and is the owner of a 7-7 UFC record. GSP, on the other hand, hasn’t lost since that fight. Serra may not have won in a tournament format, but his fluke victory over St-Pierre illustrates how similar upsets in a tournament would not establish one fighter’s true superiority over another.

It was confusing as to what being the winner of the Strikeforce tournament actually meant. Cormier wasn’t a champion (although some referred to him that way). He didn’t earn the belt. Instead, he picked up a trophy in the same way many of your kids do at the end of a Little League season. The thought of a UFC tournament sounds great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also something we aren’t going to see anytime soon. The closest we’ve come was the flyweight pairings to give us our first UFC champion in that division. It was more of a final four than a tournament, however.

2012 was a year in which nearly every card was affected by an injury of some sort. In many cases, the main or co-main event was affected. The UFC has a hard enough time trying to manage injuries without the variable of keeping a tournament bracket together. Even Bellator has struggled to maintain the integrity of its brackets. Can you imagine how long an eight-man tournament would take the UFC to complete with how often these guys are getting injured nowadays?

As fans, do we even want a tournament? The topic comes up now for two reasons. For one, Bellator is becoming popular with the format. More importantly, however, is the fact that many of us have no idea what formula the UFC uses to select who earns a shot at the title. At one time, it was the up-and-comer who strung together around five consecutive wins within the promotion. Now, however, we see guys lose a fight or two consecutively and yet they still manage to enter the conversation for belt contention, as was the case with Chael Sonnen and Nick Diaz. In a way, the tournament format could bring more clarity to the UFC’s decision-making process. However, that benefit does not outweigh the difficulties associated with the tournament format.

The UFC needs to have control over the match-ups, and we’ve seen with injuries how bad some of the cards can get if things don’t go exactly as planned. A tournament has a lot of unknowns, from injuries to the actual results of the fights. The promotion can’t risk having another year of the inconsistent cards that plagued it in 2012.

Tournaments are great for many sports and organizations. It’s just not something that would work for the UFC we see today.

Photo: Michael Chandler has his arm raised in victory (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Joe Chacon
Staff Writer

Joe Chacon is a Southern California writer that has also spent time as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, as well as a Staff Writer for Operation Sports. Joe has a passion for the sport of MMA, as well as most other sports.