The Search for Balance in Today’s UFC Landscape

Sorry Chris Weidman, but middleweight is the division I have the hardest time getting into. Unfortunately, this doesn’t have much to do with the current middleweight landscape.

With the likes of Weidman, Jacaré, Yoel Romero, Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, as well as former top light-heavyweights Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans in the mix, you’re probably asking yourself, “What the hell is the problem.”

Well, there is no problem per sé. It’s just that we’re not that far removed from the Spider-era.

During the dominant reign of Anderson Silva, which included a title win and nine subsequent defenses, there was a true air of invincibility. There was a wealth of talent in the middleweight division, but everyone was inevitably fighting to be second-best.

While contenders such as Demian Maia, Nate Marquardt and even Vitor Belfort were turning in memorable performances against anyone not named Anderson Silva, the ones who made it through the fray never really stood a chance at convincing us of their ability to usurp the throne. Over the course of seven years, it was nearly unavoidable that the 185lb title picture became stale.

Now, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on middleweights. The division is actually glaringly different than it was. As good as Weidman is, there are plenty of viable contenders who realistically have a chance of taking his strap, thus creating interest in the division. It simply draws an analogy to similar situations we have seen in the past, as well as presently.

The balance of having a talented, likable champion and a division with intrigue and fluidity is a difficult one to find. One one hand, you do have the Anderson Silva – era middleweight division. The Jon Jones-ruled light-heavyweights and Rousey’s kingdom. On the other, the LHW days of the championship merry-go-round of the Griffin, Rashad, Rampage days. Two opposite extremes, similar results in weightclass interest. In the former, unless you have a personal attachment to the dominant fighter in question, it runs that risk of becoming tiresome. In the latter, there’s an instability many find unpalatable.

The GSP-era, or the Hughes-era before it struck probably the closest chord to the perfect one.

In Hughes’ case, the UFC mainstream media machine was new and fresh enough to have us believe the Joe Rogan soundbites that talked about the Frank Triggs and Joe Riggs of the world as if they were the kryptonite needed to take out the corn-fed man of steel. Not to mention the triumvirate of BJ Penn, St Pierre and Hughes himself keeping the welterweight wheel turning as if, at any time, one could dethrone the other could dethrone the other.

During GSP’s reign, however, as successful as he was, and as dominant as we see him to be, via hindsight, as a longtime GSP fan, there were not many title defenses “Rush” went into that did not involve some nail-biting. The combination of athleticism, personality, charisma and respect for the game, coupled with his mortality made GSP the perfect balance. “Rush” was simultaneously the fighter you bet the house on, and facepalmed with regret the moment you did it. But that is what made this champion, and this division at the time, great.

Whether it was Matt Serra shocking the fairytale world, or folding the second go around, Hughes or Penn, Jake Shields, Thiago Alves, Condit, Diaz or Hendricks, you had the sense, perhaps the knowledge that St Pierre could be beaten. That is what kept things interesting.

The memories of not buying an Anderson Silva PPV because of the foregone conclusion of a “Spider” victory still permeate, while, in my particular case, there was not a single GSP-headlined event that went unpurchased because of the uncertainty of a winner.

And therein lies the intrigue. Nobody wants to pay $16.00 for a movie to which they already know the ending. Give them uncertainty and the possibility of surprise, however, and you’ve got yourself a bona-fide summer blockbuster.

The UFC’s current 185lb landscape should not suffer from the effects of its predecessor. That hasn’t been my point from the start. The dominant champions of the UFC also should not bear the blame for this. Instead, the pressure lies with the contenders, the up-and-comers. It is, ironically, the Chris Weidmans of the world that will have to step up and change how we view the future through hindsight-tinted glasses. Looking around the sport to UFC contenders like Rockhold, Gustafsson, Holly Holm and Henry Cejudo, I can only hope these contenders have what it takes to, at the very least, stir the proverbial pot and cause some speculation.

The present feels dominant in many places in our beloved sport. If “the future is now,” as many people say, I can’t wait to see tomorrow.

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Cory Santos

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