Tomorrow the current UFC middleweight champion and top ranked pound for pound fighter Anderson Silva will meet Yushin Okami at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This will be Silva’s ninth title defense and he will be looking to make it a perfect 14-0 in the UFC.
As with every Anderson Silva fight comes the question of when will Silva begin to fight out of his weight class and truly defend the title of pound for pound fighter in the world.
Silva has dabbled in the light heavyweight division with fights against James Irving and Forrest Griffin. However, outside of his own weight class and one fight with Griffin, Silva has not faced many top name fighters. Plus, when you get down to it, Griffin was a very favorable match up for Silva.
Do not get me wrong, I am not disputed that Silva is one of the best in the world, but at what point do we stop pointing the finger at Dana White for holding Silva at 185 and begin to point the finger at Silva.
Until recently Dana White was adamant about Silva “cleaning out” his division before potential super fights were to be discussed.
White told MMAjunkie.com earlier this week that “Silva wants big fights” and “fights that mean something.” Well, frankly, every title defense means something. With every win Silva gets it separates him from the rest of the greats like Royce Gracie, Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell in wins in a row and title defenses.
At this point, it may not be stretch to say that the middleweight title is keeping Silva from “big fights.” Okami, Chael Sonnen, and Vitor Belfort are top contenders and top talent, but do fights with these three competitors meet the criteria of the fan for “big fights?” Do they even meet the criteria of the champ as “big fights?”
It seems that when the term big fight is associated with a fight it constitutes two things. Marquee names that are big money draws as well as top tier talent. BJ Penn versus Georges St-Pierre, Randy Couture versus Brock Lesnar, Wanderlei Silva versus Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes versus Royce Gracie and Tito Ortiz versus Chuck Liddell would meet the big fight terms. When those fights took place, they transcended the event and possibly the UFC.
Each of those names in their day and some even still, draw money individually. When you put them together in any combination, you get an instant big fight. When is the last time Anderson Silva stepped into the cage to face someone who has equal drawing power and name recognition? May be against Forrest Griffin or perhaps against Rich Franklin?
It is not that Silva has failed to face solid competition. His last fourteen opponents have a combined winning percentage of right under 74%. In comparison, Georges St-Pierre’s last fourteen opponents have a combined winning percentage of just a few points shy of 78%.
The only thing that has been lacking is opponents that have name recognition. The name recognition is where the big paydays come. At age 36, who knows how many more years Silva will want to continue fighting but if it is about the money, Silva’s future should be in the light heavyweight division. The only thing holding him back at this point is the title.
Should Silva defeat Okami, the only other logical fight at 185 for him would be against Dan Henderson. While Hendo has stated in the past that he would like another bout with Silva, would he go back to 185 to make that fight happen? Should Chael Sonnen make it passed Brian Stann in Houston, he may have a case for a rematch in spite of the drug test failure.
The GSP-Silva fight that fans dream of is a lot further away that we think. In reality, it is unlikely that Silva would drop to 170 despite the fact that he stated he would consider it and St-Pierre seems even less sold on dropping his title for a run at 185.
What the UFC should do with Silva is allow him rise above champion status and move into special attraction status. He does not need the title to solidify his status any longer; he needs top name opponents not just top talent opponents. Do casual fans remember Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, James Irving, or Travis Lutter? They would, however, remember Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, and Shogun Rua.
So Anderson Silva, get on with it! Stop flirting with the idea of a move in weight class. Stop tempting fans with your open mindedness to super fights at multiple weight classes and just move forward with growing your legacy. If it is about the money, and it is always about the money, is there any doubt that Silva versus any of the aforementioned light heavyweights would draw huge PPV and gate numbers?