A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about Joanna Jędrzejczyk and her attempt to become the first defeated UFC champion to reclaim their belt in an immediate rematch since August 2004.
Her attempt was not successful. Jędrzejczyk’s unanimous decision loss to Rose Namajunas meant she joined Andrei Arlovski, B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar, Anderson Silva and José Aldo in the list of former champions who have came up short since Randy Couture’s success at UFC 49.
In just a few months, at UFC 227, Cody Garbrandt will be next to receive the immediate rematch treatment when he takes on T.J. Dillashaw. This will be the first time in UFC history that a defeated champion receives an immediate rematch without a prior successful UFC title defense on their record.
Garbrandt lost to Dillashaw last November via second-round TKO, losing the UFC bantamweight title. It was a fantastic fight whilst it lasted- a technical, back and forth affair that saw both men dropped to the canvas during the bout.
But what’s the rush?
The last six fighters to attempt to immediately reclaim their titles are a combined 0-6. And the one fighter in UFC history who did accomplish this feat, Randy Couture, only initially lost the belt after a cut forced a doctor’s stoppage.
And where did they go from there?
Arlovski never fought for a UFC title again and neither did B.J. Penn. Frankie Edgar immediately left the lightweight division, whilst Anderson Silva currently has one win in his last six fights.
Neither Aldo nor Jędrzejczyk have competed since losing their immediate rematches, but it’s safe to say the route back to a title shot seems tricky for both.
Now it’s certainly no foregone conclusion that Dillashaw beats Garbrandt again- far from it. The first fight was competitive, to say the least, and Garbrandt could argue that if the first round was just a little longer he may have been able to finish Dillashaw.
And at just 26 years old, even if Garbrandt were to suffer consecutive defeats to Dillashaw, the ramifications wouldn’t be quite as severe as those listed above. Consecutive defeats would not critically impact Garbrandt’s career here, but it’s undeniable that back-to-back losses to the champion would have lasting effects.
So why even run the risk of having Garbrandt’s career stall in such a way?
When I think of the most memorable rivalries in MMA history, I think of Couture-Liddell, Wanderlei-Rampage, Hughes-GSP, Hughes-Penn… None of these trilogies ever saw an immediate rematch booked- they were all given time to breathe and grow naturally.
Dillashaw did not receive such generous treatment when his first title reign ended back in January 2016, despite having held the belt for almost two years and making two successful defenses before his close split-decision loss to Dominick Cruz.
But that worked- it allowed the division to progress. Cruz went on to defeat Urijah Faber in their rubber match, before dropping the belt to a 25-year-old Garbrandt in one of the most dominant, breakthrough title-winning performances in recent memory.
If Dillashaw-Cruz had been rebooked immediately, perhaps we’d have missed out on that memorable Garbrandt performance. And maybe in rebooking Dillashaw-Garbrandt, we’re missing out on a similar breakthrough performance from a Raphael Assunção, a Marlon Moraes or a Jimmie Rivera.
There’s no doubt that Garbrandt is good enough to go out, put a winning streak together and organically work his way back into another title shot.
In fact, his inevitable showdown with Dillashaw would be much better for it.