The Best Man Doesn’t Always Win: Taking a Look at Tournament Fighting

By E. Spencer Kyte (

Ah, tournament fighting.

The system that was the foundation for the original incarnation of the UFC and remains a staple of both World Victory Road’s Sengoku events and DREAM’s fight cards as well, this morning’s results from the Featherweight Grand Prix illustrate why having multiple fights in the same night is challenging for both the fighter and the organization.

In one of the semi-finals of the Featherweight Grand Prix, Hatsu Hioki earned a hard-fought victory over Masanori Kanehara, dominating the first two rounds before tiring in the third.

However, Hioki was unable to continue in the tournament and Kanehara was put through to the finals where he ended up defeating Michihiro Omigawa to be crowned the 2009 Featherweight Champion.

Of course, this is far from the first time something like this has happened.

During last year’s DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix, Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen lost his semi-final match to Eddie Alvarez in one of 2008’s Fight of Year contenders, only to replace the Philadelphia-based fighter in the finals against Shinya Aoki when Alvarez sustained a cut in his win over Tatsuya Kawajiri.

From there, the Norwegian defeated “The Tobikan Judan” to claim the DREAM Lightweight title. At least Hansen won a fight to earn the right to replace Alvarez. UFC 3 winner Steve Jennum was just in the right place at the right time.

You remember UFC 3, don’t you?

Royce Gracie battled Kimo in a tough ground war, leaving himself dehydrated and unable to continue. Harold Howard earned his place in the history books as the first man to “beat” Royce Gracie and advanced to the finals where he was supposed to face Ken Shamrock.

Only problem was, once Gracie was unable to continue, Shamrock had no interest in continuing either. His sole purpose in taking part in UFC 3 was to avenge his loss to Gracie from UFC 1 and when that couldn’t happen, Shamrock withdrew as well, leaving the door open for Steve Jennum.

The Nebraska police officer made Howard tap to strikes and claimed the UFC 3 tournament title without having had to fight a soul for the opportunity, which prompted the UFC to change the rules to avoid a similar situation ever happening again.

While I understand the drama and tremendous show of athleticism and conditioning competing in multiple fights on the same evening takes, the possibility of results like these leave me questioning the value of such a practice.

Earlier this year, Bellator’s tournament format went off without a hitch, as all the winners managed to emerge from their fights without serious injury and able to continue in the next round.

Hypothetically speaking, if Eddie Alvarez had sustained an injury in his first round fight, he would have had four weeks to recuperate, instead of simply being replaced by a fighter he had just defeated or an alternate.

To me, if tournaments are the way you want to go, the Bellator setup is much more favorable to the fighters than the two fights in the same night method used in Japan.

But that’s just me.

What do you think?

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