Defining a promise is not a difficult thing for most individuals to do, and it is universally accepted that a promise is not made to be broken. It is something that forms a bond between two individuals until said promise is delivered upon. So, in the MMA world, when a fighter is made a promise, not only does that fighter hold that promise to be true, but that fighter’s fans also hold that promise in high regard.
It has happened many times in the UFC that a fighter has been promised a title shot. The events of this past weekend at UFC 192, where Johny Hendricks was pulled from his bout and UFC President Dana White said that Tyron Woodley would now be getting the winner of Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit, stands as another perfect example. This isn’t the first time. It won’t be the last, either.
We’ll start back at WEC 53 in December 2010. This was the final event that the WEC would hold before its remaining divisions were integrated into the UFC. The main event featured then-champion Benson Henderson taking on Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. The winner was promised a shot against the winner of the UFC 125 lightweight title fight between then-champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard. Pettis captured the WEC title with “The Showtime Kick,” and Edgar and Maynard put on a back-and-forth war that ended in a draw. Since the fight ended without a clear winner, a rematch was scheduled for UFC 130 and Pettis was forced to wait on the sidelines. Unfortunately, Edgar and Maynard sustained injuries and the fight was pushed back to UFC 136. Not wanting to wait any longer, Pettis went on to face Clay Guida and eventually lost a unanimous decision — and his title shot in the process.
Was it smart of Pettis to take such a risky fight? Probably not, but a fighter has to fight to stay relevant, keep their body in shape and, most importantly, to make money. Luckily for Pettis, he was able to capture the lightweight belt in 2013 by climbing his way up the ladder and defeating the aforementioned Henderson for a second time.
Then there’s Frankie Edgar. The man has been involved in some of the most competitive and controversial lightweight title fights. Edgar first burst into the public’s eyes by defeating B.J. Penn for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 112. He cemented his status when he defended the belt in a rematch with Penn at UFC 118. Edgar‘s UFC 125 title fight with Maynard ended in a draw, but he was able to finish Maynard in their rematch at UFC 136. He went on to lose his belt in a close decision against Benson Henderson at UFC 144, and he was unable to recapture the title at UFC 150. It was after all of this and a push from the UFC brass that Edgar moved down to featherweight. He was immediately given a title shot against current featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo at UFC 156. Edgar came up short in his bid for the featherweight crown, but not without a fight. Since that contest in 2013, Edgar has taken out B.J. Penn for a third time, and defeated Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira and Urijah Faber. It was after the Faber fight that Edgar called out his boss and accused the UFC of “owing him” a title shot. Edgar gets a chance to prove to all doubters that he does deserve another title shot when he takes on Chad Mendes later this year.
Not all fighters are promised a title shot, but sometimes it’s implied. Take Miesha Tate, for example. This one was right out of left field. Tate had initially lost her belt to Ronda Rousey in Strikeforce and slowly worked her way up to a rematch. Tate had her chance for another shot at Rousey when she took on Cat Zingano at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in 2013. The fight did not go Tate’s way. She was stopped by Zingano, and it seemed that her title dreams had hit a major setback. But Zingano suffered a knee injury and Tate was called upon to replace her opposite Rousey as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 18. Tate went on to give Rousey the toughest — and longest — fight to date of the champion’s career. It seemed that it would only be logical to have a trilogy pairing of the two. Rousey decimated her next four title challengers in less than two and half minutes combined. Tate, meanwhile, started her own four-fight winning streak, with the last fight set to determine who got the next shot at Rousey. Tate dominated Jessica Eye and looked to have secured the trilogy fight that she had earned and was “promised.” But that’s not what happened. Even after saying that Tate had “earned her way back to Rousey,” Dana White announced that Holly Holm would be challenging Rousey next. There’s some logic behind that, but the point is that a promise was made and then blatantly ignored.
What about Alexander Gustafsson? He was one-half of one of the greatest fights that the fans had ever seen when he challenged then light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. It was a fight that could have gone either way. The pair appeared to be on track for a rematch. Gustafsson was going to get a second shot, which was scheduled for UFC 178, but he injured his knee and was replaced by Daniel Cormier in a fight that didn’t actually happen until UFC 183. Gustafsson went on to lose his chance at another shot at Jones when he was defeated by Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in January. After Jones defeated Cormier, the surrounding controversy of his failed drug test and trouble with the law ended with the UFC to stripping him of the title and pitting Cormier against Johnson to determine a new champ. Cormier captured the vacant title and defended it against Gustafsson just this past weekend at UFC 192.
Last, but not least, there’s the aforementioned Woodley. Up until a few days ago, Woodley and Hendricks were set to clash to determine who would be the next welterweight title challenger. Many believed that Hendricks should have gotten his trilogy fight with Lawler after their last meeting, but Hendricks took on Matt Brown instead and was victorious. The day of the UFC 192 weigh-ins, which took place last week, Hendricks was rushed to the hospital for weight-cutting health issues. Hendricks was subsequently pulled from the card. Soon after, it was announced that Woodley would be the next contender for the title. But not even hours after Dana White tweeted that “promise,” reports started to flood in about White having second thoughts. And rightfully so, to be honest. What if the title fight between Lawler and Condit goes to a draw like Edgar-Maynard did? What if the fight ends in controversial fashion or in a split decision that prompts a rematch? Is Woodley really going to wait that long? I don’t think so.
Just because a title shot is “promised” or earned, it doesn’t mean that it’s a guarantee. When fighters talk about staying on the sidelines in order to protect that title shot, what if that shot never comes? Those fighters have just neglected their fans, their body and their bank account to wait. Sometimes a fighter must just take the risk, because nothing is life is guaranteed. Or promised.