You can often hear UFC fighters calling each other out in an attempt to “handpick” the opponent during the media work. And in some cases, they might end up sharing the cage with a fighter they called out, which makes some people wonder, do UFC fighters actually choose their opponents?
UFC fighters can’t choose who they are going to fight next. Although fighters often use the media platform to express who they want to fight next, the UFC matchmakers are ultimately in charge of arranging bouts between fighters.
If the matchup a fighter is pushing for makes sense in terms of rankings and many other factors, they will give them a “green light” and the fight is on, if not, they will match them against the different opponent.
Keep reading this article to learn more about the fighters “choosing” the opponents, refusing fights, and how hard it is to make it to the UFC.
Can UFC Fighters Choose Their Opponents?
No, fighters do not have the ability to call their own shots, and this is not how matchmaking works, not just in the UFC, but in other promotions as well. In fact, it all goes the other way around as the UFC matchmakers are the ones who would send a fight offer to a fighter or their managers first. Then, it is up to them to accept or maybe turn down the offer, which they are allowed to do.
But, fighters can use media platforms to call each other out and hype up a potential matchup. But bear in mind that the promotion has the final say when it comes to whether this fight is going to happen or not. If their wishes make sense in terms of rankings, business, and match the UFC’s interests, they will approve it. In fact, they have probably already had this matchup in mind, and the call-out would just help them promote the match better. Still, this doesn’t mean that the matchmakers are “fulfilling” their wishes all the time.
On the other side, there are global superstars like Conor Mcgregor or Brock Lesnar who enjoy huge negotiation power. These fighters are so valuable to the company, in terms of revenue and pay-per-view sales that the UFC will fulfill all of their wishes. The best example was when Mcgregor moved up division to fight Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound title, or when he asked for a rematch against Nate Diaz.
But bear in mind that 99% of other fighters on the UFC roster do not enjoy such a privilege.
Can A UFC Fighter Refuse To Fight?
Yes, fighters have the right to refuse the fight and no one can force them to enter the cage against their will. On average, the UFC offers each fighter around 3 fights per year. It is up to them and their managers to either accept the offer or turn it down. But bear in mind that a fighter needs to have a legitimate reason for refusing to fight. If not, that might have a negative impact on their relationship with the UFC.
In some cases, they may refuse the offer to fight because they don’t have enough time to prepare for a match. Maybe they need to take a time off to heal injuries or deal with family issues like going through a divorce or the loss of the loved one. In this case, the UFC would give them time to resolve all issues, and offer them another match when the better times come.
And there are fighters who refuse to compete because they don’t like the opponent, or want more money. By doing this, they are actually trying to call their own shots, which in most cases, has a negative impact on their relationship with the company. However, this tactic most likely will not work for up-and-coming fighters who have yet to prove their worth to the company.
A good example is Yair Rodriguez who, despite having 6 wins and only 1 loss in the UFC, was fired because he turned down 2 fight offers from the UFC.
Overall, fighters who accept every fight offered can quickly earn the respect from the company and get better treatment in the future. On the other side, the ones who refuse to fight due to unclear reasons are often seen as unprofessional and unreliable. The next time the big opportunity comes around, the UFC would, of course, would most likely return the favor to a fighter who always said “yes”.
What Happens When A UFC Champion Refuses To Fight?
When a champion turns down the offer to fight, the UFC would try to solve the issue first, and if they are unable to, create an interim belt. They would book the #1 and #2 contenders of that weight class to compete for it, or that is how it is supposed to be on paper. On one side, the interim belt allows the “undisputed” champion to take time off without having to vacate their title. At the same time, it keeps the division active and challengers relevant. Once the champ is ready to return, he/she would fight the interim belt title holder for the “unified” title.
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How Are Title Contenders Selected In The UFC?
There are no standardized criteria that the UFC is following when they are deciding which fighter is going to compete for the title. Here is a list of major factors (not all) that matchmakers are taking into consideration:
- Fighting style — is one of the most important factors. Fighters who put on a show in just about every match and are exciting to watch tend to rise much faster than the ones who are “boring”. They usually have a large fan base, are easier to promote, and sell more pay per views. For instance, Jorge Masvidal is an exciting fighter and he got the title shot in 2020 while he was on a three-fight winning streak. At the same time, Leon Edwards, who is considered a “boring” fighter by many, didn’t get that chance despite being on an 8 fight winning streak.
- Fan-favorite matchups — in each division, there are matches that people would love to see. Fierce rivalries and fighters who have “unfinished business”, for instance, are great from the marketing perspective and usually sell much better. If the champion and #3 ranked contender have a public feud that gets lots of attention, the UFC would rather push for that matchup than give the #1 ranked fighter a chance.
- Finishing rate– UFC loves fighters who finish their opponents. This adds more value to their product and attracts more viewers. UFC is more likely to give opportunities to a fighter who has a high finishing rate than the one who often wins decisions. A fighter who scored 5 straight finishes will always be in a better contender position than a fighter with 5 straight decision wins.
- Fan base — fighters who are global stars and have dozens of million followers across different social networks usually have a much shorter road towards the title.
How Do The UFC Rankings Work?
Each UFC weight class includes a list of the top 15 fighters. The rankings are voted by a panel of around 20–30 media members. These media members are, in most cases, journalists who all work within the MMA industry. Each week, they have to submit their votes on who they think are the top 15 fighters in all UFC’s divisions.
They also vote for the “pound for pound” list which consists of the best fighters regardless of the weight class. It’s important to note that the people who work for the UFC do not have the right to vote in the rankings.
Each member of the voting panel must submit their vote within 48 hours of the last UFC event, which is the only major rule they must follow. The UFC would then average the total votes and make changes (if needed) to the ranking lists. Some fighters may move up, down, go from being unranked to ranked, or the other way around.
How Hard Is It To Become A UFC Fighter?
Going from the amateur level all the way up to the UFC is a long road. It is like getting into the NFL in football, or NBA in basketball, and this gives you a great insight into how hard it is to get to the UFC. In most cases, a fighter needs to prove their worth on the regional scene before they can expect a call from the UFC. But how much time does it take?
MMA is an individual sport where all truly depends on a fighter and their ability to win fights. This means that, as long as you keep winning, the UFC scouts will spot the talent in you, and you will receive a chance at some point.
However, some fighters may come into the UFC after a couple of pro fights, while some need to spend close to a decade fighting on the regional scene. The real answer on how hard it is or how much time a fighter needs to reach the UFC truly depends on many factors like:
- The quality of the opponents — the first thing UFC scouts search for is the quality of the opponents. They would rather choose a fighter who scored 4 wins against notable opponents, than a fighter on a 7 fight win streak against low-level ones. This is because the UFC needs to be sure that you are going to deliver against the top-level opponents.
- Good managers– having a good manager to run your career can speed up the process. They all have good connections with UFC matchmakers and top gyms where you can train to improve your game. Even if you are yet to prove your worth, they can convince the UFC that you are a special talent and put you into the UFC contender series for instance.
- Large fan base– UFC loves fighters who have a large fan base on the regional scene. This shows them that a fighter knows how to create attention, sell a fight, and has the potential to mimic that on the global level with the help of the UFC marketing team.
- Exciting fighting style — it’s not a secret that the fighters who finish fights tend to rise much faster than the ones whose matches often go to distance. If you are one of them, and the finishes you scored came against average or above average opposition, then you will have a much easier road towards signing a contract with the UFC than most other fighters.
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Can UFC Fighters Fight Outside Of The Promotion?
As long as they have an active contract with the UFC, fighters are not allowed to fight in other promotions. They need to wait until their contract expires, or the UFC to release them from their roster.
That being said the promotion has a right to approve the fighter’s request to compete in a different promotion, but you won’t see that happening that often. In fact, the last time the UFC did this was when they allowed Conor Mcgregor to compete against Flory Mayweather in pro boxing back in 2017.
UFC is the leading force in the modern MMA world and they would never put the power of their brand and reputation on the line by allowing cross-promotional fights. Although the concept of cross-promotional fights sounds interesting and can generate high pay-per-view sales, the UFC does not have anything to gain with these types of matchups, but on the other side, have a lot to lose in the long run.
Do UFC Fighters Choose Their Own Entrance Music?
Yes, fighters have the right to choose their own walkout song but bear in mind that the promotion is making the final decision. For example, if the song has vulgar or inappropriate lyrics, or the company has a problem getting a license to use it, they might ask the fighter to come out to a different song. Also, most promotions do not allow fighters to change songs and use different ones every time.