Occupy The Throne – Edition #27

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I take a look at super fights in the UFC.

Jeremy Lambert: Unless you’re Bellator, super fights don’t come along very often. For a lot of people, a super fight is one of two things: either a fighter is moving weight classes to challenge the champion or the two best in their respective weight classes will fight to see who the #1 fighter in the world is. And while the latter happens quite often, people don’t always consider them anything more than a title fight if the outcome never seems in doubt or the general audience isn’t paying attention. For example, did anyone call Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes a super fight? Didn’t think so.

We’re on the verge of a number of legit super fights though. While the casual fan may not tune in to former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar dropping weight to challenge featherweight champion Jose Aldo, you’d be hard pressed to name a hardcore fan who isn’t pumped for that fight. The other two super fights appeal to casuals and hardcores alike as Anderson Silva could face Georges St. Pierre to determine the greatest fighter of all-time while Ronda Rousey could fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in a battle of the two best female fighters in the sports history.

We’ve heard super fight talk before, especially Silva vs. St. Pierre, only to be disappointed. It’s important to remember that, as much as we want these fights, it’s not as simple as Dana White saying, “These two are fighting on this date. If you want to watch, figure that shit out now.”

Samer Kadi: It is a touch ironic that one of the most overused terms in MMA stands for what is in reality, the rarest form of mixed martial arts contests. Legit “super fights” are few and far in between, and with good reason. In theory, the most common form of high level MMA is witnessed in UFC title fights, where the champion – the best in the division – takes on a challenger. And yet, that seldom makes for a super fight. Despite Jon Jones being — by a country mile — the best light heavyweight in the world, and Dan Henderson being one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen, their scheduled bout was not viewed as a super fight.

For one reason or another, the term “super fight” is generally reserved for bouts that require shifts in weight classes, or shifts in promotions. In the case of the latter, the example that stands out the most when it comes to the overusing the term is the Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz fight that never was. By sheer virtue of Diaz being a Strikeforce fighter moving to the UFC, fans were labeling the bout with GSP as a super fight, despite the fact that in reality, it was simply a contest between the 170 lbs. champion and a top five welterweight – something that is a common occurrence in the sport. Chuck Liddell against Wanderlei Silva in their primes would have been a super fight, as it would have featured two highly decorated and dominant champions at the top of their game. St-Pierre/Diaz is simply a great fight.

Technicalities and semantics aside, if true super fights were not so rare, they would lose their “super” billing. Fortunately, with Aldo/Edgar on the horizon, we might finally be in line for one. Due to their relatively modest profile compared to fighters like GSP or Anderson Silva, some might take issue with considering Aldo and Edgar’s bout a super fight. However, when factoring the fact that Frankie Edgar is an accomplished lightweight who enjoyed a memorable title reign — and should have regained his title had it not been for poor judging — and Jose Aldo is easily the greatest featherweight to have graced the sport, the fight suddenly feels much more special.

The UFC pulling the trigger on this bout is a matter of circumstances. Frankie Edgar’s second loss to Ben Henderson, however unfair, meant that a drop in weight classes finally made sense. Meanwhile, Eric Koch’s injury left the UFC with very few options. Anderson Silva’s potential super fight with Georges St-Piere however, is going to prove far more complicated. Generally, Zuffa are reluctant to green light super fights that require changes in weight classes, especially those involving champions, with BJ Penn’s rematch with GSP being a notable exception. Aside from putting two divisions on hold, the UFC fears the repercussions of one of their champions losing, and therefore hurting his marketability. And while that logic is understandable, it is ultimately flawed. Following a crushing loss to St-Pierre, BJ Penn returned to headline UFC 101 against Kenny Florian, and helped the event to a stunning buy-rate that fell just short of one million buys. He then went on to produce another solid 650,000 buys in his title defense against Diego Sanchez at UFC 107.

Even with a decisive loss to Silva, would a loss hurt St-Pierre that much? Would Canadians suddenly stop caring about their beloved champion? Would people not tune in to watch him defend his title against Nick Diaz anymore? The answer to all those questions is an emphatic no. And yet, even if the UFC comes to this realization, a handful of obstacles could still stand in the way.

Jeremy Lambert: We’ve heard talk of Silva vs. St. Pierre for years now and yet it’s never come to fruition for one reason or another. At one point it seemed clear that both fighters cleaned out their respective divisions, but instead of fighting each other they fought Dan Hardy and Demian Maia.

The reluctance to take the fight has usually fallen on the shoulders of GSP, as he would be the likely candidate to change weight classes for the super fight to happen. GSP consistently stated that he would need a year off to bulk up to 185 though, which really stopped the super fight talk before it got too heated. Things are different this time though, as Silva appears willing to move down to 170 or at least meet St. Pierre in the middle.

If I’m a fan, I still wouldn’t hold my breath on this bout happening. First off, St. Pierre has to get through a very tough Carlos Condit, which isn’t an easy fight under normal circumstances and is a much tougher fight now given the fact that GSP is coming off major knee surgery. Even if he beats Condit, there’s still a cloud of smoke named Nick Diaz that appears to be constantly hovering around the Canadian. If GSP had his choice of Silva or Diaz, knowing that he’s going to make bank in either fight, I’d bet Samer’s dying affection for the welterweight champion that “Rush” would choose to fight Diaz.

While St. Pierre actually has other options besides Silva, “The Spider” is not only running low on contenders, but possibly time as well, leaving him scrambling for big fights while he can get them.

Samer Kadi: Pulling the trigger on super fights can at times seem arbitrary. There isn’t one explanation as to why they will happen, and there always seems to be a handful of issues preventing them, including some unconvincing excuses offered by the concerned parties. For years, we have heard that St-Pierre and Silva would fight “once they clean out their divisions.” In reality, there is no such thing. Contenders are always going to arise, and there always is going to be a fighter putting together a decent winning streak to earn himself a title shot. However, the fact remains that what Silva and St-Pierre have done in their respective divisions is unprecedented, and there comes a time where, whether a contender is awaiting them or not, it makes sense for them to square off.

When Anderson Silva took on Forrest Griffin (thought labeling that as a super fight is debatable), it was because he looked bored at middleweight. When the UFC announced Aldo against Edgar, it was because they needed a viable replacement for Erik Koch, and Edgar provided them with a better alternative to the initially scheduled bout. When BJ Penn got his second crack at St-Pierre despite barely defending his lightweight title, it was because he asked for that fight. With Silva and St-Pierre, the fight is about legacy.

Anyone can offer a laundry list of excuses as to why it shouldn’t happen, from the Brazilian supposedly being too gigantic to him somehow needing to beat Chris Weidman first – ignoring the fact that by that time, he would need to beat another contender after that. However, when push comes to shove, Anderson Silva against Georges St-Pierre would be the biggest fight this sport has ever seen, with nothing else coming close. Never were we fortunate enough to have the two greatest fighters in the sport – if not in history – close enough in weight to face off, let alone two whose dominant runs coincided the way Silva and St-Pierre’s reigns have. If Georges St-Pierre gets past Carlos Condit, and if he is keen on taking the fight, it needs to happen.

Likewise, it is not surprising to see Silva so actively pursuing the fight. Despite recent comments about wanting to compete for six more years, the middleweight champion knows that at 37 years of age, he needs to get these fights while he’s still in his prime. Financially, it makes far too much sense for him to fight against St-Pierre than, from his perspective, “waste” fights against the likes of Chris Weidman. The fact is, at middleweight, Anderson Silva has nothing left to prove. And while a champion’s obligation is to defend his title, there comes a time where certain fighters earn the right for exceptions.

Jeremy Lambert: While fans have been clamoring for St. Pierre vs. Silva for years, it’s not the only super fight on Silva’s plate. Having been up to light heavyweight twice, and proving to be extremely successful, it’s not unfathomable to think that he makes a return trip. People say that Silva can cut to 170 because he did it 10 years ago, but at his age, it’s much easier for him to put on weight than it is to lose it.

A move back up to 205 can only result in one fight though and that’s Silva vs. current champion Jon Jones. Unfortunately for fans, neither fighter seems too keen on the idea of fighting each other because of “friendship” and “respect” in a sport where the goal is to beat up your opponent until he can’t fight back. It’s possible that Silva could return to light heavyweight though, but only if Jones moves up to heavyweight. Therein lies another super fight option: Jones vs. Junior dos Santos, or whomever the champion may be at the time of Jon’s potential weight gain.

As evident by the UFC calling upon middleweights to try and challenges Jones, he’s quickly running out of contenders at 205. He’s still young enough to where he can cut the weight without much of an issue, but in a couple of years, it’ll likely be easier for him to be a small but quick heavyweight, which has quickly become the trend. Jones has always talked about wanting to be the best, and he’ll soon enough be talking about wanting to be the best of all-time, what better way to accomplish that than win two titles in two separate divisions? Randy Couture and BJ Penn cemented their legacy by doing just that, and the competition level is much stiffer nowadays than it was when they did it.

Samer Kadi: The reason why many are fans of fighters changing weight classes is because it opens up a ton of new, previously unforeseen fight possibilities, with some of them being – dare I say – super fights. In next twelve months or so, Jon Jones could potentially start weighing in on the possibility of moving up in weight, something that could be rendered all the more likely given his ever growing frame. For someone as good as Jones, super fights might be the only way for him to challenge himself. Despite the current ongoing drama with the UFC higher ups, everyone one is aware that whether they like it or not, Jones is the present and future of the sport, and will likely be at the heart of MMA’s biggest fights in the next couple of years.

That however, is still a while away. For now, we have Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre to pray for, while hopefully wising up that just because a fighter is smaller than another, does not mean a fight shouldn’t happen. After all, does St-Pierre have less of a chance than Rich Franklin, Nate Marquardt, Forrest Griffin, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia or even Vitor Belfort?

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