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CagePotato Ban: Having Your Champion Fight in Non-Title Fights


Remember: The real champion is the guy on the right. Seriously. Both images via Sherdog.

For those of you who haven’t noticed, Bellator’s Light-heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu lost his non-title super fight against journeyman Travis Wiuff on Saturday night. Yes, a champion actually lost one of those super fights that are supposed to show the general public how badass he is. Now that we’ve had an additional twenty four hours to digest the incident since we first reported it yesterday, let’s put the fight into perspective: Wiuff decisively beat Bellator’s light-heavyweight champion, Christian M’Pumbu, in a light-heavyweight fight under the Bellator banner on Saturday night. For his efforts, he has more than likely earned a slot in next season’s light-heavyweight tournament. If he wins said tournament, his reward will be a title shot against the best light-heavyweight in Bellator, Christian M’Pumbu. You know, the guy he just defeated Saturday night.

Wait, what the fucking what?

Having your champion fight in non-title super fights is a dubious idea in the first place. We’ve seen other organizations employ it before with less than spectacular results. Now that the worst case scenario played out at Bellator 55, it’s officially time to give this idea the ban that it deserves.

There are three main reasons why:

You’re setting the fight up for mediocrity. The purpose of these non-title fights is to showcase how dominant the champion can be, yet they are inherently designed to do the exact opposite. As Overeem vs. Werdum taught us, putting your organization’s champion in non-title fights is a recipe for mediocrity because the champion has next to nothing to lose, while the challenger has next to nothing to gain. Aside from the L on his record, what did Christian M’Pumbu have to lose on Saturday night? No matter what the outcome, he’d still be the Bellator Light-heavyweight champion. He’d still get the exact same amount of time off before his next fight. That said fight would still be against the winner of next season’s tournament. He couldn’t move down in Bellator’s rankings with a loss, because he’d still be their champion regardless.

For that matter, what does the challenger have to gain in these fights? A potential title shot, which is nothing he can’t already earn from a victory against a lesser fighter in the organization. Can you really expect either fighter to take the fight as seriously as a title fight? Of course not, which explains why most champions do just enough to win without getting injured during these non-title fights. Believe it or not, unmotivated champion plus challenger with nothing significant to gain is not the formula for a memorable fight.

It’s usually a blatant admission of a squash fight. Can someone explain to me how a victory over Kalib Starnes set up Falaniko Vitale for a fight with Hector Lombard? Better yet, how did a 0-1 record in Bellator put Ryan Roberts across the cage from Bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky? Neither fighter posed any threat to the champion at all whatsoever, as evident by how Hector Lombard toyed with Vitale before knocking him out in the third round and by Makovsky’s first round north-south choke over Roberts. It’s almost like promoters know this when they book these non-title fights with their champions. Oh yeah, the betting lines when champions are involved in non-title fights usually hint at this, too.

As a promoter, it is your job to match your champions up with the best talent available. It’s one thing to allow an up and coming prospect to crush some cans to pad his record, but your organization’s champion has to fight the best, most deserving fighters in order for the belt to mean anything. By the very nature of having somebody fight your champion, you’re telling the fans that he is the best fighter available. But by refusing to put the title on the line, you’re essentially admitting the opposite- that the challenger has no business standing across the cage from the champion. The bottom line is that if the challenger can pull off the upset against the champion, he deserves to be rewarded with the organization’s title. If you don’t want to risk the challenger becoming your organization’s champion- for whatever reason- then don’t book him to fight the champion. Besides…

The fans will consider the winner to be the rightful champion regardless. Those of us who aren’t ashamed to admit to watching some pro wrasslin’ back in the day can tell you: In order to be the man, you gotta beat the man. I’ll wait for you all to “WOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” before I continue.

After watching Christian M’Pumbu get bullied by Travis Wiuff for the majority of their fight on Saturday night, does anyone actually consider the guy to be the best light-heavyweight in Bellator? Of course not, unless we’re going with the John Wooden mentality that M’Pumbu was on his way to winning the fight but ran out of time (we’re not). So then how can anyone not consider Travis Wiuff the rightful champion? He beat the man. He beat the fighter that Bellator proudly declared to be the best fighter at light-heavyweight. If we’re going along with the mentality that being the organization’s light-heavyweight champion means you’re the best light-heavyweight in the organization, we simply can’t call Christian M’Pumbu the rightful champion after losing a light-heavyweight fight. And if we aren’t going with that mentality, then what’s the point of naming a champion?

I don’t want to end on a sour note for Bellator. I like Bellator. They put on some great, exciting fights. But Bjorn Rebney: I know you read CagePotato. Your promotion is better than this whole “champions in non-title fights” stuff. With your help, we can send this preposterous idea to the YAMMA Pit of Misfit Toys where it belongs.

-Seth Falvo

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mark2011- December 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm
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JaredB- October 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm
Everybody talks about Frankie Edgar should be fighting at 145, blah blah blah. But then he beats everybody at 155, and when people say "well that was close" he goes and beats them again, decisively.
SethF- October 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm
For the record: I don't mind super fights outside of the champion's weight class. Even if the champion loses, it doesn't affect anything because he didn't lose in his own weight class. He can still be considered the best in his weight class until he loses in it. But when he does lose in his weight class, none of this "But it wasn't a title fight" nonsense, deal?
macreadysshack- October 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm
Just to continue cause why not, despite no goddamn edit button . . . Jon Jones fighting one of the smaller heavy-weights who is just on the cusp of top ten could be fun. Okay so it's basically just the black guys I think should be allowed to do superfights. Jesus, I had no idea I was so hacist. I better check myself - I don't want to be hacist. Except for Mexicans. And the Dutch.
macreadysshack- October 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm
@JaredB Okay, I'll go with 'dubious' for outside weight class superfights. If I get your drift with that choice of words, basically, what you're saying is that you'd better be goddamn careful. It absolutely should not be done just to fill a shallow card. I think A. Silva at 205 is a solid idea, pretty much no matter who his opponent is. I think GSP fighting anybody at 185 is a very very bad idea. I think Frankie Edgar fighting at 155 is a bad idea . . . oh wait.
Steve W- October 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm
I knew when this fight was signed that Wiuff had this one in the bag. M'Pumbu is average middleweight, at best. I'm surprised the odds makers didn't see through this. Hell, Bellator should have seen through this. They've been relatively careful with booking these super fights to find name guys who are good enough to look credible on paper but not good enough to actually threaten a champ. In this case, there wasn't much choice because M'Pumbu just isn't that good. Hell, I figured he'd lose his first super fight because I couldn't think of a relatively credible name LHW that wouldn't beat him. Wiuff was probably the safest choice. Imagine M'Pumbu trying to compete with Prangley or Soukodju.
JaredB- October 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm
Makovsky however, keep an eye out for. He's an absolutely terrific fighter, able to adapt to a number of different styles and I see a lot of ways he could beat Dominick Cruz. He has a very, very bright future.
JaredB- October 24, 2011 at 2:40 pm
M'Pumbu wasn't exactly considered a world beater anyway. He won by virtue of being the only guy in Bellator's 205 field you've actually ever heard of, either by his old win over Stefan Struve or his scheduled involvement in DREAM's aborted 8 man version of their light heavyweight grand prix. There was a reason they didn't stick him in there with someone like Petruzelli who might blast his chin or anybody UFC good, even Wiuff who is a pretty softball opponent was too much for him.
Austin3210- October 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm
Glad to finally see an article on this abomination of an idea. When they first started doing these dumb "super fights" I felt like a broken record because I kept going on and on about how a champion was bound to lose eventually and it's going to make Bellator's format look ridiculous.
Pile on how Jimmy Smith kept going on and on and on about how the Bellator champs were undefeated in super fights the last couple weeks with Makovsky's and M'Pumbu's bouts. Reminded me of a football game where the commentator says how the kicker hasn't missed a field goal all year. What happens on the next field goal? Fucker misses it, that's what.
JaredB- October 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm
Even outside of a champion's weight class is dubious, look at the flattening that Joe Warren ate 64 seconds into his ill fated bid at being a two division champion; which I have no idea why they let him try since he has two title defenses waiting to take place.
macreadysshack- October 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm
I think it's okay for champs to fight outside the weight class they preside over for a superfight, ala Anderson Silva at 205. I think it's a horrible idea to do these non-title bouts within the champs domain, though. It's lose/lose for everybody.
TheWarsawExpress- October 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm
Given the current state of things the words "super fight" and "Bellator" shouldn't really be in the same sentence together.
Stak40- October 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm
When i was watching this fight and thought how the hell could this dude be a LHW compared to Moobootoo? I still don't believe it. Dude would have to be 3 foot 6.
Fried Taco- October 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Then when Travis loses in the first round of the light heavyweight tournament, who will the fans consider the champion?
JaredB- October 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm
M'Pumbu is a middleweight, maybe even a 170 who is fighting at 205. He was bound to get dismantled by someone bigger and stronger, especially by a borderline heavyweight like Wiuff. Bellator's entire structure makes their champions seem like paper champs, they don't get in full camps for fights and everybody can lose fighting every four weeks. I think there's a healthy balance between the UFC's twice a year title defenses and Bellator's format but yes, this is one of the perils of Bellator's setup. Wiuff was supposed to be a tune up for MPumbu, now does he get a title shot? He should. He beat the champion fair and square.
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