UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov and the Prestige of Five Rounds

This Saturday night in Nashville, Tennessee, a UFC event will controversially be headlined by a fight between Cub Swanson and Artem Lobov. Swanson has been an exciting contender for years now and is an acceptable main eventer for cards of this scale but Lobov’s placement here seems questionable. ‘The Russian Hammer’ is 2-2 inside the octagon and only recently made his overall MMA record a winning one. It can’t be disputed that the fight doesn’t have much allure for a headline bout and that’s been represented by the lukewarm response. It feels lopsided too with Swanson not only being much more known but also number four in the UFC rankings whilst Lobov is completely unranked and has yet to fight anymore at this level before.

However, I honestly don’t have too big an issue with its spot on top of the card. It’s not a PPV show and there’s a couple of decent fights featured underneath so it doesn’t strike me as too big of a deal. Also, Lobov is coming off of a solid win over Teruto Ishihara and I’m sure stylistically this will provide some entertainment so in reality, does it matter much? Well, for all I just said, I would argue that there’s one factor that a show like this continues to expose as senseless and puzzling: the lack of continuity between five round main events. It was 2011 when the rule was made that all main events would now be five round bouts and at the time it was a welcome change.

It’s easy to forget now but back then three round PPV main events weren’t actually all that uncommon. A good example that came just months prior to the rule change could be the unfulfilling draw between Jon Fitch and BJ Penn, a result that likely would have been different over five rounds. Marquee bouts had even fallen victim to this in the past with the huge ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rashad Evans fight taking place over three rounds. When the rule that problem was finally gone but now fast forward almost six years later and the landscape has altered dramatically.

There are more events now and arguably less stars, the product feels diluted and at times it feels like a struggle to even find PPV main events, let alone headline fights for smaller shows like this Saturday’s. However, take a quick glance at UFC 211 and you’ll see that some of these problems are actually avoidable. In the same way that Artem Lobov seems forced into a five round affair, the UFC 211 PPV card features multiple bouts that seem ill-fit for just the three rounds. A perfect example is the mouth-watering Welterweight contender clash between Jorge Masvidal and Demian Maia.

On a card featuring two title fights, one at Heavyweight and the other at Strawweight, the inclusion of Masival vs. Maia is unlikely to really shift any extra PPVs which begs the question: why isn’t that a FOX Sports 1 headliner? As a fight it’s certainly a better fit for 25 minutes than Swanson and Lobov in both style and importance. Nonetheless, I understand the urge to create a blockbuster event but that isn’t even the only example. That same event also features the Frankie Edgar Yair Rodriguez fight, a legend and former champion opposing the innovative rising star in an intriguing crossroads tilt.

It’s a fight with genuine intrigue and would be a great fit for any headline spot but once again, here it’s just another great bout on a stacked card. The most confusing inclusion of all though seems to be Eddie Alvarez’s pivotal fight with Dustin Poirier, a bout currently positioned as the prelim headliner. Surely if that fight is going to be on free TV anyway it should be switched with Saturday’s main event. Alvarez has an immaculate pedigree and only just lost his title so I struggle to see anyone disputing his worth as a main event fighter, let alone with Poirier as an opponent and especially on a FOX Sports show. To conclude, I feel that if anything Saturday represents how bizarre the current usage of five round fights is.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen Chris Weidman, Gegard Mousasi, Robert Whittaker and ‘Jacare’ all scheduled for three rounds yet unranked Artem Lobov is booked for five this Saturday night. It lacks any cohesion and it’s to a point where in order to have a great PPV card, we have to sacrifice seeing those same bouts in their best possible scenario. Meanwhile, some fights are forced into the top spot by necessity. This matters too because it can’t be denied that a fight’s duration can dramatically impact its outcome and that makes it all the more frustrating. Personally, I would rather fights be treated more individually or at the very least be based on rankings in some way as in its current form, the usage five round bouts are becoming increasingly disjointed.

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