After a year he’s branded as “unique” and “fascinating,” former UFC star Chael Sonnen has an idea in mind for the promotion moving forward.
A number of organizations boast different formats and traditions, from PFL‘s unique season and playoff structure to the UFC’s more conventional rankings systems. But one setup that has featured across a wide range of promotions is the tournament formula.
As well as PRIDE Fighting Championship becoming renowned for that type of competition during its existence, the Scott Coker-led Strikeforce also held World Grands Prix, something the South Korean-born American promoter has continued to host under the Bellator MMA banner.
Tournaments have also been prominent beyond American shores, with the likes of ONE Championship and K-1 also adding GPs to its scheduling.
One notable absentee, however, is the MMA leader.
The foundations of the UFC were built on one-night tournaments. UFC 1, for instance, saw eight competitors fill a bracket that required three wins for the overall victory. On that night in 1993, it was Royce Gracie who outlasted seven others to have his hand raised in the final.
While the promotion continued with that format during its early existence, UFC 17 marked the final time that the tournament-style structure featured as a normal occurrence, with a Japanese tournament at UFC 23 and lightweight bracket at UFC 39 later representing returns.
While that leaves the format two decades into the UFC’s past, one former two-division title challenger is pushing for its comeback.
Sonnen: ‘Let’s Find Out Who The World’s Best Fighter Really Is’
During a video uploaded to his YouTube channel, former middleweight and light heavyweight contender Chael Sonnen recalled the days when tournaments were the norm inside the Octagon.
While he noted that the growing ability level and damage fighters were taken meant the same-night format was no longer viable, Sonnen insisted that even drawn-out tournaments, as still seen in other promotions, remains the best way to determine the best, skill for skill.
“The tournaments were truly the great days. The tournaments used to be done, eight-man tournaments, three fights in one night; three victories in one night to win,” Sonnen said. “Now, the guys got too good, the fights got too damaging. So we do away with the tournaments, but let’s keep that in mind because it took all the politics out of it.
“The skills were forced to live and die on their own. And that’s awesome. That’s what we know of sport. That’s what the Olympics is,” Sonnen added. “The cream rises to the top… it’s just hard to do (in MMA)… I would love to see a tournament. I would just love it.”
Sonnen also supported his claim by looking back on a memorable 2022 of UFC action as a new year approaches.
After suggesting that this year marked a change of pace for the MMA leader, with a number of belts changing hands, lesser names receiving opportunities, and the importance of stardom and entertainment falling, “The American Gangster” claimed that now would be the best time for tournaments to return.
“The belt (UFC titles) has changed hands nine times (in 2022). That’s damn near one a month,” Sonnen noted. “If we are in fact at a different time right now where this is not as star and story driven as it once was… Do me a favor, let’s have a tournament. I would just appreciate that.
“2022 has been very different. It’s been a real year of competition. The entertainment era wasn’t as strong. And if you’re doing that, we’re gonna move forward with that, and we really can put damn near anybody as long as they’re good in there with damn near anybody as long as they’re good, let’s do a tournament… Find out who the best fighter in the world really is,” Sonnen concluded.
While some might feel that Sonnen makes a compelling case, it appears that the UFC and Dana White see things differently.
The tournament format certainly presents some difficulties, ranging from the chances of freaks accidents and injuries impacting the bracket to the inability to hold rematches for controversial results. It’s also been suggested that the tournament format quickly eliminates a number of matchups that could transpire over the course of many years.
Do you agree with Chael Sonnen? Would you like to see tournaments return to the UFC?
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