SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In addition to prompting discussions on weight-cutting practices and the depth of events lately, UFC 177 posed a question:
When, if ever, can a UFC champion turn a fight down?
TJ Dillashaw chose to be a "company man" over the weekend and defend the 135-pound title against Joe Soto on basically 24-hour notice, after Renan Barao failed to make weight the day before the fight.
Many observers might ask, "What's the big risk in that? Soto is clearly an easier fight than Barao." It's true that Barao would have been a tougher opponent, but at least Dillashaw prepared for him. And UFC champions love to be prepared.
The sport of mixed martial arts is filled with unforeseen variables. Even fighters as talented as UFC champions can't eliminate every one of them, but they can somewhat limit them. Changing an opponent the day before a championship fight adds a major variable.
Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw's coach, said he thought UFC should have taken Dillashaw's belt off the table once Barao pulled out. If the promotion needed him to still headline the card, Ludwig said, fine -- but make it a nontitle fight.
"I thought this should have been a nontitle fight because you lose the mystique of the belt itself," Ludwig said. "Make it a five-round, nontitle fight instead."
Of course, Ludwig had Dillashaw's interest in mind, but he has a point. UFC promotes its titles as "world championships" -- the highest distinction in the sport.
Does throwing an unranked fighter, making his UFC debut, into a title fight just for the sake of keeping it a title fight send a mixed message about the weight of the belt?
And not to forget, is it fair for UFC to demand one of its champions defend a belt, which carries significant financial ties, under such weird circumstances?
We know the company's stance on the last one. Everyone remembers UFC president Dana White's reaction when light heavyweight champion Jon Jones refused to fight Chael Sonnen on eight days notice in 2012, resulting in the cancellation of UFC 151.
It took a long time for White and Jones' relationship to recover from that, but it doesn't appear to have changed White's opinion on the topic: UFC champions don't really have rights when it comes to the circumstances of a title defense.
"I don't know if a champion is ever in a position to not accept a fight," White said the day before UFC 177. "You're the champion, which means you're the best guy in the world and you should be ready to take on all comers. Whether it's the No. 1-ranked guy or the 100th-ranked guy, there should never be a guy you turn down or deny."
There isn't a right side to be on here. UFC promotes pay-per-view events, which benefit from having a championship fight involved. The titles belong more to UFC than any individual fighter. It can ask of its champions what it wants.
On the other hand, UFC titleholders literally commit thousands of hours to winning a title that significantly changes their life financially. They want to be as prepared as possible, and no one can blame them for that.
Everything worked out over the weekend, but one has to wonder if Dillashaw would have so willingly played the company man had this been his 10th title defense rather than his first and he would have had more leverage.
When can a UFC champion turn down a fight? It's a question that is bound to surface in a White-Jones-UFC 151 way again, eventually. For now, let's review fighter grades from UFC 177.