There has been a lot of pissing and moaning about the fact that Rampage and Rashad are coaching TUF10. Mainly, the criticism has hinged on one question: If Rampage is booked for TUF, then who fights Lyoto Machida? The biggest rumor floating around is that PRIDE standout Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua will be getting the first Machida-era crack at the belt. Cage Potato is about as happy with this as Brock Lesnar was when Iowa legalized same-sex marriages.
The guy beat up an elderly, gassed Mark Coleman (barely) and an old, on-his-way-into-retirement Chuck Liddell (convincingly). Look at just about anybody’s rankings and you won’t see him any higher than the number five spot. This is the guy they want to get the first crack at the champ who no one is supposed to have a chance against?
The UFC is essentially fabricating a number one contender here for the sheer sake of convenience. In other words, they’re making the same mistake that boxing made over and over again — a mistake that has helped drive that sport to the fringe of American consciousness. Even if they don’t put Rua against Machida first, virtually anyone they get would be a disappointment.
But for the sake of TV they’re going to pretend someone has earned a shot when they haven’t … So much for the legitimacy of establishing a number one contender. So much for the UFC making decisions based on anything other than the pursuit of the quickest possible buck.
Not everyone is going to agree on booking decisions and title shots. One thing that can be agreed upon is that Rampage Jackson is inarguably the number one contender to the light heavyweight title. The guy has gone 4-1 in his last five fights, which were all against top 10 opposition. Two of those victories were career-altering KOs and the one blemish was a fight that honestly could have been decided either way.
But the criticism here is as though by having Machida fight Shogun instead of Rampage, the UFC is putting some undeserving TUF cast-off into a title fight and trying to tell us it is a compelling match-up. And that’s simply not the case. Shogun is a guy who not-too-long ago was ranked number one in the world in the 205 pound division. He destroyed Gono, Overeem (2x), Arona, Lil Nog, and Rampage before signing with the UFC, where he most recently stopped Liddell, the most high-profile MMA fighter on the planet. Rua’s disappointing loss to Forrest and his embarassment of a fight with Coleman are still fresh in the mind of everyone, but this is still a guy who is worthy of challenging for the title. He might not be as worthy as Rampage, but there is no denying that this guy has accomplished enough in mixed martial arts to warrant a crack at the belt.
What people are forgetting is that the UFC books its main events in the attempt to find a balance between what makes sense from a sporting perspective and what will maxmize the entertainment value. In most circumstances, what satisfies the former will also satisfy the latter. Other times, the situation gets a bit more complex. Here, every other major star and division is booked up over the next few months, leaving the light heavyweights as the only available coaches for TUF10 (and, before you bitch about TUF, don’t forget that it is the promotional tool responsible for building this sport).
Booking Rampage and Machida as the coaches would leave the belt undefended until December or January, in which case the beat-to-death critique of TUF would be pulled out: the show creates a layoff between title defenses that is far too long. Putting Rashad as a coach opposite Rampage means that there will be legitimate heat between the two coaches, as opposed to having Machida in there. It also means a high-profile fight at the end of the show that casual and hardcore fans alike will be excited about. The light heavyweight title gets defended and we get to see Machida back in action, sooner rather than later, against a quality opponent that poses a legitimate threat to his crown.
Would I have liked to see Rampage get the first shot at the new champ? Sure. But in consideration of all the circumstances, I would say the UFC made the right decision. With Machida v. Shogun, Rampage v. Rashad, and Forrest v. Anderson Silva all on the horizon, the light heavyweight division is as exciting as ever.