The UFC Lightweight champion almost fought for the Featherweight title. People want the UFC Light Heavyweight champion to fight the Heavyweight Champion. The Flyweight champion fought for the Bantamweight title.
No need to be confused. Versatility is a good thing, and sticking to a single weight class could be dead.
Obviously, gone are the days of open weight battles. Size can matter in the sport of mixed martial arts, but, as evidenced in the past year particularly, the lines are being blurred for weight divisions within the sport.
Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis, who was slated to fight Jose Aldo for the UFC Featherweight Title last summer, is now the UFC’s Lightweight Champion. Despite never having fought at featherweight prior, the UFC was fully prepared to give Pettis a main event title fight against Jose Aldo.
It was a smart move.
MMA is a sport, and one of the most exciting in the world. For die-hard fans, it’s easy to forget that business comes first. While the UFC is oft-criticized for questionable title shots that weren’t ‘earned’, the company wouldn’t exist if it didn’t profit. Sports are business.
What has helped make MMA, and particularly the UFC a versatile business is it’s versatile stars. There were so many exceptional bantamweights that were undersized, that in 2012, the Flyweight division was created. Veteran middleweights and Light Heavyweights such as Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva and others seem to have no permanent home as it pertains to weight divisions. It makes matchups easier to make, a promoter’s dream.
Moving between weight divisions does more than just create new matchups. A fighter that hasn’t established himself, and switches divisions can breathe new life into the prospect. See Ricardo Lamas, who is now near the top of the featherweight division, was having mixed results in the lightweight division.
In addition, inconsistent fan favorites or veterans, such as the aforementioned Chael Sonnen, or Clay Guida can move between divisions, and give their fan bases a new sense of optimism. Even if their results aren’t any better after the change, their followings are established, and emotionally invested fights bring in the most money. In just 6 weeks, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort will have a number 1 contender’s fight for the middleweight title. The fight itself will be contested at Light Heavyweight.
Some fighters will cut to a lower weight in order to have a competitive advantage when stepping into the cage. Others will move up a weight class in order to avoid a weight cut altogether, which when done improperly can have long term negative effects on the bodies of fighters.
Now more than ever, that aforementioned versatility is crucial. The UFC looks to run 40+ events in 2014, and likely more in the future. Fighters are looking the compete more often, even if it means fighting at a more natural (or in some cases unnatural) weight division.
This is a different age of MMA. While it’s not likely to see open weight fights become the norm again, there are more fight possibilities now than at any point in the past decade of the sport.
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