It was comment made in passing by Joe Rogan… Something about how it would be nice if the heavyweight division got split into two weight classes. It didn’t register with me right away, but as I sat, reflecting on UFC 102 and what the results would mean in the future, the comment grabbed hold of a couple synapses and gave them a good tug. "The UFC," my synapses said, "has been around long enough now that the talent pool available to it is significant. Having just five weight classes spanning 110 pounds might need to be a structure that is reviewed for change." Let’s take a quick look at the breakdown:
- Lightweight: 145 to 155 lb (66 to 70 kg)
- Welterweight: 156 to 170 lb (71 to 77 kg)
- Middleweight: 171 to 185 lb (78 to 84 kg)
- Light Heavyweight: 186 to 205 lb (84 to 93 kg)
- Heavyweight: 206 to 265 lb (93 to 120 kg)
These are the bare essential weight class designations as outlined by the Unified Rules which the UFC adopted during those dark days when the sport was fighting political opposition. Boxing abides by the same rules; however "the sweet science" makes use of all the weight classifications offered. The topic of adding weight classes did come up last summer following the Montreal convention for the Association of Boxing Commissions. When asked about the rules changes being implemented, Dana White reportedly responded negatively:
"There's going to be a fight," said White when talking about new rules being implemented. "And you know I don't roll over easily."
Source: MMA Junkie - July 2008
The time may have come to rethink this position, though. When looking at the heavyweight division and its 60 pound swing, one can't help but wonder if the good fighters in the 230 range aren't getting the short end of the stick. With a growing number of truly large heavyweights and a champion who cuts weight to make 265 (and has all the athleticism of a 185er!), guys who can't make 205, but are also not mutants, just don't stand a chance. I know that the UFC began without any weight classes at all and MMA was supposed to be all about technique over size and strength... "As real as it gets!" I remember all that, but the sport has evolved to the point that the big guys have that same technique now too. When all else is equal, size and strength will make the difference. Most recently, we have GSP vs. BJ Penn to help prove that point.
The argument for added weight divisions doesn't end there, though. There is the business side of things to consider. This weekend was a perfect example. We saw a main event held that featured two legends in the sport - one fighting in his old home town - where the arena was full of empty seats. Although the data isn't out yet, I am also willing to bet the PPV numbers were not stellar either. Why is this? I liken it to baseball in which teams out of contention don't put butts in seats. Major League Baseball did the smartest thing (even if it pissed off the traditionalists) when they implemented a wildcard and suddenly we started seeing Septembers with a half dozen teams worth watching. Attendance numbers soared. Do you think the arena would have been full tonight if the Couture - Nogueira match was for the UFC NAMETHECLASS Title of the World? I see the energy difference in the crowd for title fights. There is no comparison.
What about the other divisions, though? Certainly the argument for the heavyweight split is the strongest. We can't make the same argument about the physicality becoming insurmountable for the rest of the classes with a 15 pound swing, but we can consider how much more interesting it would be if the jumps were all halved. I don't want an alphabet soup style mess of champions any more than the next MMA fan, but jumping to 10 divisions would not be the same ridiculous scenario we see in boxing. A large part of the problem with the boxing championships comes from so many sanctioning bodies offering belts. There would still be only ONE UFC champion at each weight and having another class available for guys like John Fitch, Diego Sanchez, Dan Henderson, Thiago Silva and maybe even Nate Marquardt would give these guys who can't quite get past the SUPER elite fighters a chance to grow and build their own mystique. The resulting match-ups when one fighter moves to another division to face another champion could be the recipe for epic bouts the likes of which we hoped to get out of Penn - GSP fight, but couldn't because 15 pounds at that level of skill is just too much to overcome. With a larger (but not ridiculously so) cadre of title belts being tussled over, the UFC could have championship fights on every card. We could see build up to fights that become pieces of history (think Hagler - Hearns, De La Hoya - Trinidad/Whitaker/Mayweather, etc...). It's not 2000 anymore. The UFC has enough of a talent pool to draw from to make this more than doable.
As I often like to close... In the words of my favorite long distance runner: "That's all I have to say about that."