King of the Hill: Cleaning out a Division
In order for a fighter to have truly cleaned out their division they must have soundly defeated every worthy opponent set before them leaving no one left to challenge for their title. If we’re going to talk about one fighter taking out every other top contender in their division than I must mention Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. These champions of the octagon have proven time and time again that they are the best in their weight class. Combined these three men have 22 consecutive title defenses which undoubtedly shows their dominance in the UFC.
Don’t worry I didn’t forget about Jose Aldo who has never lost a fight at 145 pounds. When a division gets cleaned out it leaves a lot of questions for both fans and the UFC’s match makers. As a fan I have mixed emotions as I like seeing top dogs beat the shizzz out of everyone they fight, but then again I’m also a fan of routine. For the UFC it leaves them in dire need of having to find a quality fighter that the champion hasn’t already beaten 2 or 3 times.
In Jose Aldo’s case the 145 pound division is running low on big name opponents with drawing power, arguably with the exception of two ; the Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung and Aldo’s new UFC 153 opponent Frankie Edgar. If Aldo is able to get past the former 155 pound champion, most likely a fight with the Jung will be on the horizon or a battle with the man he was suppose to face at 153 Erik Koch is also a possibility. The issues with Koch, is that although he is a talented fighter much like many of the other remaining challengers at 145, he lacks the marketability needed to help the Champion headline an event. There are a decent number of potential opponents lining up to face Aldo after Edgar and KZ get their shots including; Koch, Charles Oliveira, Dennis Siver, and Ricardo Lamas. But none of these men have ever headlined a UFC or even WEC event in the past which drastically diminishes their drawing power amongst the casual fan. Looking even further ahead, should Jose Aldo defeat these fighters he will have a laundry list of rematches to get to. This scenario applies to the other champions mentioned above, which may not be a bad thing when you think back to the epic wars between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.
In the past, a cleaned out division has led to the UFC signing such fighters as Nick Diaz and Jake Shields at Welterweight, who despite a decent effort was quite unsuccessful in his attempt to dethrone GSP. Even though the UFC has resorted to signing other organizations top fighters it has also done a tremendous job of growing its own talent through the Ultimate Fighter series. This farm league mentality will surely produce a generation of great fighters and subsequently several top contenders for every division.
Examining the realm of potentially the greatest fighter of all time, Anderson Silva, we can see how difficult it can be to truly empty out a division. It was not that long ago the list of potential challengers for the Spider was growing thin, but a new crop of talented opponents are now preparing for their own shot at the title. Perennial top contender Michael Bisping may only be a win away from a title fight, the same can be said for his next opponent Brian Stann. Tim Boetsch had made a new home at 185 and is only a win or 2 away from getting the call, while two of the most exciting prospects in the division Alan Belcher and Chris Weidman have quickly ascended the ranks and will no doubt eventually fight for the title. Even with as dominant as Anderson has been there is still many challenges left for him at 185.
When a champion does successfully thin the heard of potential challengers what should the UFC do? Ask their Champions to move a weight classes in an effort to setup super fights, look to fighters like Frankie Edgar or Rashad Evans to change divisions in search of a title shot, or maybe we could all just sit back and watch elite athletes do what they do. Who cares if the title challenger isn’t on the same level as the champ, if they have earned their opportunity to fight for the title give them the shot. That is after all why this sport is the best in the world; Champions are the best because they dominate the competition and challengers are expected to aspire to do just what their name implies- challenge them. While the Champions may often dominate their opposition, I think some UFC fighters would have to disagree with me on ease of defending a title. Chael Sonnen almost defeated one of the pound for pound greatest fighters of all time in Anderson Silva only a year after not even being considered a top 10 fighter in the division and GSP who appeared seemingly unbeatable at the time was stopped in the first round by one of the biggest underdog title challengers in UFC history, Matt Serra. These are two perfect examples of how a fighter only needs to be given a chance to rise to the occasion against even the greatest champions in the sport.
Even with the continued long-term success of champions like Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones while fighting against the best their divisions have to offer we are shown time and time again that in an MMA fight anything can happen and anyone can win. I’m sure we all remember the Lyoto Machida era that lasted less than a year or how suddenly the Heavyweight title run of Brock Lesnar came crashing down. A lot of people including myself thought these champions would remain on top for many years but that’s the true beauty of MMA, anyone can become a champion on any given day. As long as every division has fighters willing to step up to the challenge and walk intoOctagon with the champion then no division can ever truly be considered cleaned out.