UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie must have been a fan of the 1988 Van-Damme masterpiece, Bloodsport. Like the iconic flick, the Ultimate Fighting Championship claimed to pit the best fighters from different disciplines against one another in a no-holds-barred eight-man tournament.
The shock-and-awe of this concept garnered many curious viewers, but the evolution of the sport has made a no-weight class tournament downright impossible. No fan wants to see flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson get destroyed by his heavyweight counterpart, Cain Velasquez.
As MMA's legitimacy grows, fighter safety is of the utmost concern and a no-weight class tournament would undermine the progress the sport has made over the last 20 years.
In the early days, fighters were not multifaceted and possessed only one skill-set. The UFC sought to solve age-old barroom debates like: "Could a jiu-jitsu practitioner submit a boxer?"
There were no weight classes and virtually no rules. These first bouts were often David versus Goliath affairs. In fact, Keith Hackney earned the nickname "The Giant Killer" following his TKO win over the 600-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough at UFC 3.
This spectacle gave rise to the popular notion that mixed martial arts was nothing more than human cockfighting. The sport shouldered this stigma until 2000, at which time the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board created the Unified Rules for MMA. These regulations instituted fighter safety precautions and most notably weight classes.
The UFC adopted the Unified Rules in 2001, legitimizing the brand throughout North America.
As the sport evolved, so did the techniques and disciplines. Early fights served as a roadmap for success inside the Octagon. Fighters began training and mastering the aspects of many practices in an effort to become a true mixed martial artist.
Now an entire generation of aspiring fighters has grown up not wanting to be the next Mike Tyson, but rather the next Anderson Silva. Recently, the sport has begun to draw world-class talent in droves.
Reigning light heavyweight champ Jon Jones is the model upon which the new breed of MMA prospects will be built. With two brothers in the NFL, Jones has an athletic pedigree unlike those that have fought under the UFC banner before him.
Moving forward, fighters like Jones are sure to be the norm and not the exception.
To give even an accomplished fighter like Jose Aldo a snowball's chance in hell of beating Jones would be generous. That is not to take anything away from Aldo, because he is a great fighter.
Rather, this is a commentary on how well-rounded at each discipline fighters have become. The weight and reach differences are magnified tremendously—so much so, that combatants' safety would be of serious concern.
With big money sponsorships and a burgeoning relationship with FOX, the UFC cannot afford any setbacks. A no-weight class tournament would be a huge risk and potentially disastrous for the brand.
However, the UFC does have a way to satiate the fans' hunger for spectacular weight-class defying bouts. The era of the superfight is upon us. The best pound-for-pound fighters will go at each other in epic fashion; it's just a matter of time. But unlike the UFC of 20-years ago, these bouts are to be closely monitored and heavily regulated.
While the no-holds-barred, no-weight class tournaments are ancient history, fans are sure to enjoy many amazing superfights to come...if the first couple events can be pulled off successfully.
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