How Anderson Silva Ruined the Middleweight Division


It wasn't that long ago that the middleweight division had once again began to pick up steam.  Sure, Anderson Silva was still the clear top dog but Dan Henderson had re-established himself as a legitimate threat to any fighter on the planet, Nate Marquardt became a more complete fighter, and Vitor Belfort was only a win over Rich Franklin away from putting himself in line for a title shot.  And this doesn't even get into guys like Demian Maia who are "down the road" potential challengers or Yushin Okami who just needed to stay healthy and pick up a couple wins.

Of course then everything went to hell.  Anderson Silva and manager Ed Soares made it clear that they weren't interested in fighting Marquardt or Henderson until one defeated the other in a title eliminator.  On the other side of the fence was Hendo himself who made it clear that he was the number one contender and had no interest in fighting a title eliminator against Nate.  As it became more and more obvious that the UFC wanted Anderson to get in the ring with one of the two men (thereby not ruining another potential challenger with an eliminator bout) news came out that Anderson Silva had undergone elbow surgery.  To MMA conspiracy theorists this did seem like a nice way to force the UFC into a title eliminator between Nate and Dan while the champ recovered.

Of course, a few days later when talk of a potential Randy Couture/Anderson Silva bout started making the rounds out came Ed Soares to clarify that no, Anderson did not go under the knife and was perfectly willing to take a fight with Randy Couture.

Because the story couldn't possibly have enough wrinkles the news then came out that Dan Henderson was, in fact, now a free agent.  This put Hendo in the driver's seat.  He wanted the title shot but if he wasn't going to get it he was going to demand top shelf pay to take on Marquardt.  As it became clear that the Henderson fight wasn't going to be forced on him Anderson went public stating that he was "200% healthy" and wanted to fight Frank Mir and challenge himself at heavyweight.

With the Mir fight clearly not happening Vitor Belfort blazed into the title picture with a knockout of Rich Franklin at 195 pounds.  It was all but a sure thing that a win in the fight cemented Belfort a shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight championship.  Sure enough, on September 25 the LA Times announced that the two men agreed to fight at UFC 108.  This led to Dan Henderson complaining that he beat Belfort back in PRIDE and once again saying he should be getting the title shot.  During all of this the UFC and Dan drifter further apart on the contract negotiations to the point where Dana White has basically announced that the talk of a new deal is dead.

Regardless of where Henderson was at least we had Belfort/Silva for the belt to look forward to.  Not so fast.  Silva and Soares were quick to jump out and start claiming that Vitor was not worthy of a title shot and that the true challenger should still be the winner of the fantasy Marquardt vs. Hendo match-up.  Not only do they not feel that Belfort earned a shot at the belt, but the previously "200% healthy" Silva DID end up having elbow surgery and now that was turning into a possible factor that would prevent the fight from happening.  In talking down Belfort they are also breaking one of the golden rules of fight promotion by making it look like the challenger didn't earn his shot.  It works for a guy like Lesnar because that is a part of his mystique, but it can significantly damage a fight's drawing power when the challenger is framed as not being deserving and probably being third or fourth in line for the shot to begin with.

So now we went from a division brimming with potentially huge fights and legitimate challengers to Silva/Belfort which may not happen because of the elbow which seems to always be hurt when Anderson doesn't like the fight he has been offered, Dan Henderson seemingly out of the UFC, and Nate Marquardt in limbo.

But hey, at least Hendo is free to go be the one legitimate challenger to Gegard Mousasi's Strikeforce light heavyweight belt...right?  Well, only if the money is right for Gegard:

I personally wouldn’t like to fight him, because if I fight a high-calibre fighter like Dan Henderson or a bum I would get paid the same, so there isn’t any motivation to fight a better fighter – although for the right money I would fight even Godzilla.

It's hard to completely fault Anderson for his actions.  As Mike Fagan pointed out fighters need to make decisions that maximize their pay.  And yes, he has ran through everyone placed in front of him.  But it's still hard not to see Silva as the finger that nudges the first domino.  Now we just wait to see if his elbow will keep him from fighting at 108, or if he'll be finding ways to smash it into Vitor's dome.

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