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Belts are for Defending, not for Your Trophy Case


Very often there is a disconnect between the fighter, the promotion and the fan. Fans need something to constantly keep them interested in the product. It’s the promoter’s job to give that to them. It’s the fighter’s job to work with the promoter to not only further his career and reputation, but also give the fans a satisfying, worthwhile combat sports experience.

Creating Interest Through Storytelling

As a commentator, I can say that the easiest way to do this is through storytelling. And in combat sports, the easiest story to tell is “Who’s the Best?” This is the main goal of fighting, isn’t it? We want to find out who the best is. The most logical way to do that is through a ranking system and a champion. Winners are matched up against other winners and whoever has the best record and ranking fight for the title of “champion”. The champion is rewarded with a belt to signify that he is the best. It’s easy enough to figure out, right? It seems obvious, but doesn’t always happen that way.

Belts Aren’t Trophies

Too often, fighters have the wrong mentality. Belts are not awards. You’re not winning a Grammy or an Oscar. It’s not a one-time thing. Professional fighting is not like amateur fighting. Winning a championship belt is not like winning a medal at an amateur tournament.

If you want to be the best as a professional fighter, you have to keep proving it, over and over again. Winning the belt is not the end, it’s just the beginning. Winning a belt is not an accomplishment, it’s a duty. There’s an obligation to defend it against the next challenger who is now saying, “If you’re truly the best, prove it. Face me”. As the champion, you have a non-negotiable responsibility to keep proving yourself as the champion. The belt is not something you just win, put in your trophy case and forget about. You owe it to the fans and the promoter to be a real champion and defend the title.

I Got My Title - I’m out

Bigger organizations like the UFC, One FC and Glory Kickboxing understand this concept and are able to fulfill it most of the time. This is probably because of money, contracts and the fact that these organizations represent to fighters the highest tier of combat sports.

However, for other organizations, it’s more difficult for them to keep their champions and keep them defending the belts. The reason for this is that once a fighter becomes the champion of a promotion, he starts to think to himself “Okay, so I’m the best in this organization. That means that I’m now worth more money in other organizations. So, it’s my chance now to start shopping around to see where else I can go and how much more money I can get”.

Although I understand this mindset, it absolutely kills the business. This is a selfish and egoistical mindset to have. After all, it was only because of this promotion that you are now the champion. It was this organization that made you something special. They built you up, invested in you and gave you opportunities. You now owe it to this organization to keep fighting for them and to defend the title.

I understand the allure of more money and fame. I also understand the negotiating factor. Bigger organizations will be more willing to listen to you if you have just won a championship. But there should be a sense of duty and loyalty to the promoter and fans that made you a champion in the first place. Without them, you wouldn’t have anywhere to fight!

However, that being said, the promoter also needs to take his new champion more seriously. If you want to keep your champion, treat him like a champion. Bigger fights, better competition, more rounds, harder training and more fan interest all require more money. Invest in your champions! Reward your champions!

In Defense of Defending

Although a lot of fighters will opt to look elsewhere once they win the title, here are several reasons why staying put and defending the championship is a better idea.

1) Winning the title and then leaving makes you look bad. It makes you look disloyal, opportunistic and undependable - all qualities that promoters hate.

2) If you win the title and leave, it makes you look like a coward. If you refuse to defend the title against the next contender, you are not a real champion.

3) The promotion that made you a champion will not want you back again, especially if you lose. Nobody wants to bring back a fighter who couldn’t cut it in another organization.

4) There is no guarantee that the new promotion will take you as seriously as the one you’re in now. In other words, you might be walking into a trap. There is a lot of competition between organizations and some promoters would like nothing better than to have another promotion’s champion come to fight for them … and lose! This new promotion might not give you fair matchmaking or might try to set you up for failure. Then where will you be having already burned that bridge?

5) It’s good to be king! Why not stay in the promotion you are already in where you are the best? People know you, people respect you and people want to see you fight again! It won’t be that way in the new promotion. Many times you will have to start all over again at the bottom and work your way back up to the top, which could take years. And if you lose in the meantime, there’s no guarantee you will be given more opportunities.

6) Defending the title turns champions into legends. Why is it that most people consider Anderson Silva the greatest UFC Middleweight Champion of all time and nobody feels the same way about Dave Menne? It’s because Sliva defended the title ten times and Menne never even defended it once. Silva was the champion for SEVEN YEARS!! He defended the title against the best competition in the world. So there’s no way you can say he’s not the greatest champion of all time. Would he be remembered the same way if he had just won the championship for the first time and then went to another organization? Probably not.

In Conclusion

For what it’s worth, in my opinion, winning a promotion’s championship and then leaving the promotion is a selfish, egotistical, inconsiderate move. It leaves everyone with an unsatisfying sour taste in their mouth. It also cheapens the importance of the title and leaves the promotion to start all over again. A champion who stays, and wins, does the opposite. He strengthens the promotion, builds fan interest, carves out a legend for himself and at the same time creates an easy to tell story that fans can really sink their teeth into.

Nothing creates bigger moments in combat sports than the two very best fighters facing each other. But when a champion decides to turn his back on the fans and promotion that supported him, everyone loses.

- Daniel Austin










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