With all respect to Tyron Woodley, who recently said that the UFC isn’t a sport, the UFC has never been a purely athletic contest in the sense that there are fixed rankings and fighters get fights only based on their performance.
The very early days of the UFC – the first dozen or so UFC events – were primarily to show that Brazilian jiu jitsu was superior to other martial arts and the entrants were carefully selected to make BJJ look good. After Zuffa bought the promotion, the small number of initial fighters meant that they had to, basically, keep fighting each other – which is why we had THREE Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock fighters. Ken won NONE of them, and lost quite badly, each time by TKO, and the first was for the belt . . . even though Ken had lost his previous two fights. Lose two fights and get a title shot? Yep. Shamrock was never in Tito’s league, but it sold tickets, and there were other realities at stake.