The recent UFC/WEC merger has led to a buzz among hardcore fans excited about the possibility of more exciting fights on PPVs. The UFC has expanded from 5 divisions to 7 divisions taking in the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. The WEC had the reputation among MMA fans as not having boring cards and a vast majority of the fights being "good fights". Many hope that this influx will lead to the larger weights "stepping up their game" in order to keep up. Now, while the 145 lb and 135 lb divisions will probably have those more exciting fights, we know that in the UFC you can't get over on great fights alone. Otherwise, Anderson Silva would've been a star a long time ago.
It's been a long-stated mantra in boxing, when the Heavyweight division is relevant, it is king in America. You can look throughout boxing history and see that smaller fighters were often overlooked and underappreciated while being overshadowed by the Heavyweights. The Heavyweight division was the top dog until Ali's decline which led to fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran becoming the face of boxing. The Heavyweight division toiled in mediocrity until a young boxer by the name of Mike Tyson emerged and because one of the biggest draws. He was sent to prison, but the division kept going under Evander Holyfield pretty much consistently until Tyson's release from prison until Tyson met up with British boxer Lennox Lewis. With the foreign Lewis and Klitscho brothers leading the way, America stopped caring about the division, which allowed for small fighters like De la Hoya (and now Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather) to become big draws.
The UFC hasn't had a strong Heavyweight Division since...well, since the beginning of the UFC. Most MMA enthusiasts will tell you that PRIDE in Japan always had the better roster of HWs. Without the looming shadow overhead, many smaller fighters were able to achieve stardom. Even in the absence of a true HW division, the next largest weight class because the drawing group with Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Fast forward to 2008 and the acquisition of Brock Lesnar and Antonio Noguiera, as well as the resurgence of Frank Mir and Randy Couture. Suddenly, the UFC has a viable Heavyweight division. In the last 3 years, the HW title has been biggest draw in the UFC and that doesn't seem like it will let up any time in the future with young fighters like Cain Velasquez and JDS at the forefront along with Roy Nelson and others filling out the roster. Americans love to watch big athletes go at it, so what does that mean for the new divisions?
It means they will have a hard time becoming stars. If you look at the history of the UFC in recent years, the smallest division has basically been a one star division headed by BJ Penn. No other fighter has stepped up to try and become another star. The Welterweight division is in a similar situation with no other stars being established besides the older ones in GSP and Matt Hughes. The Middleweight class has potentially gotten one new star since the HW resurgence, but Chael Sonnen's drawing power hasn't really been proven nor what effect the drug test failure will have on his career has been seen. Looking at the LHW division, this is where the stars have been made. Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Jon Jones, etc. If you go higher up, you've got Cain Velasquez, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, all of those fighters have become stars since the HW revival. It seems that once the HW division is on top, it is harder for the lighter weights to become stars in the UFC.
These smaller fighters can get over on a show full of other smaller fighters, but when they're on a show with a 265 lb Brock Lesnar or a 205 lb Forrest Griffin, they look child-like in comparison. Perception is reality in America. When given the choice, people want to see larger than live athletes. Someone like a Jose Aldo who is 145 lbs and speaks little English unfortunately will have a hard time getting over in America. Someone like Uriah Faber will have an easier time than Aldo, but it still won't be simple. His size is going to hold him back.
Another issue facing these fighters and is why I don't think you'll see 125 lbers in the UFC is that Americans are fat. We are as a country large. And so it becomes harder and harder to find American fighters to fight in those smaller weight classes. Americans want to see themselves fighting in the cage. Yes, a little diversity is nice, but for the most part, people want American fighters to be the best. There's a reason why Middleweight is all but ignored. A non-English speaking Black Brazilian guy is dominating with no real American contenders upcoming. Okami? Belfort? Bisping? When a majority of the division can't speak English, it doesn't matter how exciting their fights are, they are going to have trouble becoming stars and viable draws.
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