Cents vs. Dollars – Why Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson has a Chance at Being MMA’s Frazier/Ali … and why there shouldn’t be an immediate rematch

In the midst of the fallout of Jon Jones’s sixth title defense, in what was perhaps the greatest fight in light heavyweight title history, the thoughts of an immediate rematch came to mind. Gustafsson won the fight in many eyes, arguably more than those who scored the fight for Jones, and thoughts turned for many to a rematch right away between the two. It felt like the right thing to do on a number of levels and immediate rematches have been something the UFC has done for any number of fighters.

BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar both got rematches after controversial defeats and Lyoto Machida defended against Shogun Rua after retaining in a hotly contested fight. There was talk of Sonnen/Silva 2 immediately after UFC 117, as well, before Sonnen’s personal problems made that impractical. So there was precedent for it. Some questions could be answered with a second go around. Could Gustafsson do the job again? Or would Jones learn from his mistakes and dominantly defend the title this time around?

The UFC made the better decision by making Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixiera instead.

We all tend to forget that Sonnen/Silva 2 was a much bigger fight because they waited above all else. Silva took a number of fights between, Sonnen fought his way back into a title shot by going through another murderer’s row of contenders. By the time UFC 148 rolled around there was a palpable buzz. Silva/Sonnen 2 was the biggest fight of 2012 for the UFC, the only PPV that close to hitting a million buys as well as nearly $7 million at the gate. It was a success in every conceivable way in part because of the time between fights. The first fight did 600,000 buys and the second 925,000 or so.

All numbers are estimated guesses, of course, because we don’t have official numbers from the UFC. So we have to take it on faith, of course, but it’s the best we have.

Historically immediate rematches don’t do as well as their original fights, either. Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson 2 was bought a lot less than the first as was Edgar/Maynard 3 against Edgar/Maynard 2. Machida/Rua 2 did nominally better than the first fight. Immediate rematches in the UFC haven’t done as well as their original fights for any number of reasons but unfortunately controversy hasn’t done much to move the needle in that regard.

Jones/Teixiera isn’t nearly as sexy a fight now, especially with Glover’s comeback win over Ryan Bader recently, but keeping Jones and Gustafsson away from each other for a while is the better business move as well as the better move for the sport as a whole. Divisions need to move forward, even in controversy, and a pair of wins from both men before a rematch makes the second fight that much bigger.

The best rivalries in the UFC have come when time is spent away from one another. GSP vs. Matt Hughes felt bigger each time, and did bigger business, because both fighters spent considerable time away from one another. Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell was a bigger rivalry because of the time spent away from one another. And Gustafsson/Jones 2 at the end of 2014/early 2015 will feel like a bigger fight then, as well, than it would now. Jon Jones isn’t getting an easy out in Glover Teixiera, far from it at all, and Gustafsson won’t be lighting up a light heavyweight version of Buddy Roberts in Sweden next year. The UFC is taking an educated risk in not doing it but it’s a good risk to take.

This is about a potential fight that could become the biggest fight in MMA history as opposed to a big rematch. History shows us that. Ali and Frazier spent years away from one another in between rematches in the trilogy that defined the heavyweight division at the time. The time spent away made each fight bigger and the UFC waiting on the rematch, instead of making it right away, is the better move for the long run. It makes sense in the short run for the UFC to do an immediate rematch with Jones/Gustafsson … and over Super Bowl Weekend 2014 it could be a big fight.

Think of this like the conversation between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the movie HEAT: Jones/Gustafsson 2 is sticking up a liquor store with a “Born to Lose” tattoo on your chest. Jones/Teixiera is setting you up for a big score. why settle for chump change when the big score will be available if you wait a while?

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