The championship fight. The pinnacle of achievement across combat sports for centuries. A premiere attraction that draws millions every year. But not all title bouts are created equally.
So which title bouts every week are the ones to watch? We’ll look over every title fight from across the combat sports landscape and give you the five best based on five criteria:
- Competitiveness: Is this an even matchup? Or just a warm body to throw at a champion? It’s a title fight, so we want the best possible at that division in that promotion.
- Excitement: How exciting will this fight be? A clash of two elite talents throwing everything they have at each other in an attempt to win the gold? Or a half-dead plod-fest devoid of action or risk?
- Juice: A sort of catch-all term for all the factors behind the matchup. Is there a story leading up to the match? A true rivalry? Anticipated rematch? Do the fighters dislike each other? Were the circumstances leading to the fight extraordinary, or was it just a promoter putting two names against each other? Is there a lot of excitement or hype going into it?
- Prestige: Applies to the belt itself, but also to the fighter wearing it. Is this a long-tenured champion defending? Is this an interim title or one that was vacated? Has the champion increased the prestige of the title or is this a fight that will increase the prestige of it?
- Viewing Ease: We all don’t mind suffering for our art (or hobbies), but sometimes paying twenty dollars for a choppy stream, or searching your cable plan for a channel you’re pretty sure was just invented three days ago in the 6000s isn’t the best of times. How easy, affordable, and stress-free is this bout to watch?
So here are your five best gold options for the weekend.
1. Bellator Featherweight Championship: Daniel Straus (c) (24-6) vs. Patricio Freire (25-4)
When/Where: Friday, 9:00pm, Spike
Juice: 5: I mean, it’s their fourth meeting, with Pitbull having the 2-1 advantage, will Straus defend his title and even the score, or will Pitbull prove he is truly the better fighter?
Prestige: 4: I really wanted to make this a five, but until one of the neverending triangle of Straus, Curran, or Pitbull goes to the UFC and proves they’re world championship material like Eddie Alvarez did, I just can’t give them that last mark.
Viewing Ease: 4
2. WBC World Junior Middleweight Championship: Jermell Charlo (c) (28-0) vs. Charles Hatley (26-1-1)
When/Where: Saturday, 9:30pm, Showtime
Competitiveness: 3: Hatley isn’t a worthy world title contender, but by the letter of the law, he did win the WBC Silver Junior Middleweight strap by TKOing Anthony Mundine, which is a solid-enough win. He’ll lose, but he isn’t unworthy.
Excitement: 4: Neither of these two aren’t traditional barnburners, but both are finding some power lately. Most notably, Charlo’s Hail Mary KO of John Jackson after being clearly behind on the scorecards in the eighth round was unbelievable.
Viewing Ease: 4
3. OneFC Lightweight Championship: Eduard Folayang (c) (17-5) vs. Ev Ting (13-3)
When/Where: Friday, 8:30am, OneFC.com
Competitiveness: 5: This is a legit title fight. Ting has won his last four fights over top OneFC lightweights.
Prestige: 3: I think we all thought OneFC would have been bigger by now, and an MMA organization that should change the status quo. It looks now that Rizin, EFN, and ACB are taking up that mantle, and One has become just another Asian promotion. However, Folayang defeating Shinya Aoki for the title elevates it to a 3 instead of a 2.
Viewing Ease: 3
4. K-1 Super Lightweight Championship: Kaew Fairtex (c) (136-31-4) vs. Hideaki Yamazaki (27-6-1)
When/Where: Saturday, 1:30am, AbemaTV (Japan)
Competitiveness: 2: Yamazaki is an all-heart fighter, but he just doesn’t have the tools in his shed for this, adding to the fact that he’s already lost to Fairtex previously.
Prestige: 5: The K-1 name still carries some serious weight, and to be a K-1 champion is still just about the pinnacle of many kickboxers.
Viewing Ease: 1
5. UAEJJF 82kg Superfight Championship: Vitor Ribeiro (c) vs. Kenny Florian
When/Where: Saturday, 2:00am, FloGrappling
Competitiveness: 2: Outside of his family and friends, you’ll seldom find a bigger KenFlo fan than myself, and am so happy he’s (possibly) returning to competition, but we’re talking about a fighter, who, aside from one lackluster grappling performance, who has been retired for five years against someone in Shaolin, who has been much more active as a BJJ competitor.
Prestige: 3: UAEJJF carries some weight, and even casual grappling fans know that Abu Dhabi is a big deal, but these Superfight titles are so rarely defended, that they’re used more as a prop.
Viewing Ease: 4