If you’re a regular follower of the UFC, you may have heard the term “matchmaking” mentioned a couple of times. As a result, you may be wondering how the UFC matchmaking process works and how exactly each fight card is put together.
Matchmaking is a complex process as UFC president Dana White has stated in the past. It’s not as easy as just pairing fighter X against fighter Y. White has a war room in his office specifically dedicated to building future fights. UFC matchmaking is typically done on a weekly basis by reviewing every top 15 fighter’s name listed on a whiteboard in the UFC war room and figuring out who should fight next and who should fight who based on special UFC criteria.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the UFC matchmaking process so that you can easily understand how it all works as well as have any fleeting questions answered.
What Do UFC Matchmakers Do?
UFC matchmakers play a pivotal role for the Las Vegas-based promotion — they determine and schedule the fights fans see on a weekly basis. They do this by taking into account skill level, current streaks, stylistic matchups, and popularity, among other factors.
That said, they not only plan fights, but also plan entire fight cards and events, ensuring that they are balanced with the right mix of name value and rising prospects. That’s not all either. They also have to build and maintain relationships with the fighters as they will more often than not be in regular communication over booking their next fights.
How Does UFC Matchmaking Work?
The UFC matchmaking process is complex, with many factors taken into account. While it’s true and only natural that matchmakers will have their own biases and preferences, the ultimate goal is to book fights that will appeal to fans and drive revenue for the organization. Here are some of the key factors that are considered in the matchmaking process:
1. Fan consensus: One of the most important factors in UFC matchmaking is the fans. The UFC prides itself on booking the fights all the fans want to see, unlike in boxing. Matchmakers also want to book fights that fans want to see, as it will only further drive ticket sales and pay-per-view buys. Fan consensus can be gauged from social media, fan feedback, and media coverage.
2. Star power: Fighters who have a significant fan base, social media following, or generate a lot of media attention can be a draw for fights. These fighters are more likely to be booked for high-profile matchups that will drive ticket sales and pay-per-view buys.
In some cases, they may even get preferential treatment and leapfrog a more deserving fighter for a title shot, for example. Conor McGregor is a prime example, as he notably took Khabib Nurmagomedov’s title shot against Eddie Alvarez back in 2016.
3. Deserved opportunities: However, fighters who have consistently performed well, stepped up when the UFC have needed them, have a long winning streak, have beaten top-tier competition, or are extremely active fighters are more than likely to get title shots or the fights they want even if they are not big draws. An example of this is Kamaru Usman getting a welterweight title shot over Colby Covington back in 2019.
4. Rankings: The UFC has an official ranking system, which is decided by certain media members. Fighters ranked closer to the top are generally in contention for title fights, especially if the fighters ranked above them have already lost to the current champion. However, other factors come into play, such as availability and scheduling, and a fighter’s ranking is not the sole factor.
5. Stylistic matchups: The stylistic matchup is also taken into consideration. A grappler vs. striker matchup is usually a popular choice, but when the UFC is looking to carefully manage the career path of a fighter, they may choose to give a certain fighter a stylistic matchup. In the case of an exciting striker, they may book them solely against fellow strikers to avoid them getting exposed on the ground.
As for the actual matchmaking process, Dana White has stated that it involves a lot of discussion and debate among his team of matchmakers, with each matchmaker bringing their own perspectives and ideas to the table. He described the process as “a long, drawn-out process that goes on. [The winner] will be part of the bickering and the fighting and the arguing.” Ultimately, the final decision on matchmaking and fights is a result of this collaborative process.
Who Are the UFC Matchmakers?
There are only a select few matchmakers that are known to the public. Joe Silva used to be a matchmaker, but the prominent ones today are UFC president Dana White, Sean Shelby, Mick Maynard, and Hunter Campbell. White aside, the trio of Shelby, Maynard, and Campbell play a huge role behind the scenes, as their matchups can not only shape a fighter’s career but the many narratives and storylines the UFC has going for it.
Additionally, matchmaking is not their only job. For example, in addition to being a matchmaker, Shelby serves as the UFC’s senior vice president of talent relations. Maynard is the vice president of talent relations, while Campbell mainly serves as the UFC executive vice president and chief business officer.
Is UFC Matchmaking All Done by Dana White?
Dana White, as UFC president, does have a significant role in matchmaking, but he is not the sole matchmaker in the organization. Matchmaking is a collaborative effort involving other prominent matchmakers, such as Sean Shelby, Mick Maynard, and Hunter Campbell.
While Dana White has a significant influence on matchmaking given his role, it is a shared responsibility among a group of experienced matchmakers who work together to make the best possible fights for the organization. If he does have a fight he’s fully intent on booking, he won’t book it by himself — he’ll call the rest of the matchmakers and get the wheels in motion.
When and Where Does UFC Matchmaking Usually Take Place?
Unless you’re an avid watcher of UFC post-fight press conferences, it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t know this answer. Whenever Dana White is asked about making a fight following an event, he usually says one of three things: he confirms a fight if there’s absolutely no question about it being made; if it’s up in the air, he usually says he doesn’t make fights on the night of a fight; and finally, he says he’ll have a meeting with the matchmakers on the upcoming Tuesday.
That’s the key day of the week for matchmaking — Tuesdays. Why is it Tuesday? Well, fight nights and pay-per-views are usually on Saturday nights. Sundays are a day off as most people are traveling or resting up. Monday, according to Dana White, is a day you “catch up with sh*t you didn’t get done last week,” and so, Tuesday has become the holy day for matchmaking meetings.
According to White, he and the rest of the matchmakers get into the aforementioned war room in the UFC headquarters and look at all the fighters who shined on the Saturday night a few days earlier. They figure out the trajectory they’re heading in as well as what’s next for them as well as the losers on the night.
Speaking of the war room, White calls it one of the most important rooms in the UFC headquarters. To see and learn more about it, you can watch the video below:
Can UFC Fighters Choose Who They Fight?
For the most part? No. UFC fighters cannot choose who they want to fight. This is mainly dependent on Dana White and the rest of the matchmakers, who have the final say.
All that said, fighters at a certain level could have a say or influence in the matchmaking process. If you’re a champion or a fighter in the good graces of the UFC, you could call for a specific opponent you’d like to face and end up getting your wish.
One such example is former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya getting his choice of fighting Yoel Romero in 2020 despite the latter coming off a loss. Alternatively, if you’re a hype train or rising star, you may get preferential treatment that could come in the form of the promotion offering you beneficial stylistic matchups that you call for.
But in the end, the decision mainly lies with the matchmakers.
What Happens If a UFC Fighter Declines a Fight?
A UFC fighter doesn’t necessarily have to fight everyone that is offered to them. They are well within their rights to turn down a fight. This is a common occurrence in the UFC, as fighters may have a variety of reasons for turning down a fight, such as injury, illness, or personal reasons. What happens then? The UFC will usually look to replace them with another fighter who is willing to take the bout before eventually offering the fighter who turned down a fight another fight down the line.
However, turning down a fight can have extremely negative consequences for a fighter, particularly if they are turning down a title fight or a high-profile matchup. In the case of Colby Covington, he turned down a fight with then-welterweight champion Tyron Woodley as he needed to undergo a procedure. He was later replaced by Darren Till before getting leapfrogged by Kamaru Usman, who went on to win the title. Covington would have to wait over a year to get his title shot after initially turning it down.
Similarly, Dricus Du Plessis turned down a fight with Israel Adesanya due to injury and was replaced by Sean Strickland, who also went on to win the belt. In the Du Plessis case, Dana White made it very clear to everyone that he’s not happy with fighters turning down a fight.
Of course, White has notably claimed on a number of occasions that contractually, the UFC has to offer fighters three fights a year or else they’ll have to compensate the fighter. If a fighter turns down a fight, the UFC has done its job by offering the fight in the first place. However, as seen with Covington and Du Plessis, the brass—UFC management tends to be unhappy with fighters who turn down fights, similar to employers being unhappy with employees rejecting their work assignments.
While it is not guaranteed that a fighter will never be given a title shot after turning down a fight, it is clear that doing so can have negative consequences for their career. That is why it’s important for fighters to consider the potential ramifications of turning down a fight before making a final decision.
How Do You Become a UFC Matchmaker?
Becoming a UFC matchmaker is not the same process as getting a regular job. You won’t be finding a job posting on LinkedIn or Indeed for becoming a matchmaker. Relationships and networking are the way to get a step into the world of UFC. But even that’s not enough.
Because this role is so crucial to the UFC, it is also a matter of trust while seniority also plays a factor. That is why the likes of Campbell, Maynard and Shelby are all matchmakers as they are not only embedded in the sport and have been part of the promotion for a while, but are also among the closest confidants to White.
What Is the Salary of a UFC Matchmaker?
There is currently no disclosed information on what a UFC matchmaker makes as an annual salary. That said, there is likely no fixed salary for a matchmaker either, given that the current matchmakers have other duties as their main job while they also serve as matchmakers.
This ties back to the previous point on how you can’t really apply to become a matchmaker—it’s just a job that you have in addition to your current job at the UFC.
How Does Matchmaking Work In Other MMA Organizations?
Each MMA promotion is different and will have their own rules and set of matchmakers when it comes to booking fights. Peter Murray, CEO of the PFL, plays a big role and as does ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong. With Bellator, president Scott Coker takes on matchmaking duties along with Mike Kogan while Jude Samuel handles European fights. The general gist, however, is likely to be the same as far as fighting criteria goes.