Does Excellence Draw? Jake Shields and the Anderson Silva Paradox

Jake Shields signing a Zuffa contract to compete in the UFC's welterweight division is a great thing in a lot of ways. Shields is an amazing fighter, unbeaten in five and a half years since falling to Shooto's Akira Kikuchi. That was a long time ago, predating The Ultimate Fighter and MMA's explosion as a mainstream phenomenon. The last time Shields lost a fight, athletes masturbating onto sushi rolls or drunkenly yelling back and forth happened only in the privacy of their own homes.  And in Vegas of course.

I think it's safe to say Shields was one of the five best fighters in the world not already competing under the Zuffa banner-and his inclusion opens the doors to a lot of new and intriguing matchups. Jake Shields is about to be put to the test, challenged in ways that will either propel him to the top of the sport or send him slinking back towards the middle of the pack. 

What's interesting for Zuffa is the first option, and by interesting, I mean potentially disastrous.  What happens if Shields exceeds all expectations, conquering Martin Kampmann, Georges St. Pierre, and the UFC's bevy of talented welterweights? That's great right? That would make Shields one of the very best fighters in the sport, and surely greatness equals box office bonanzas? Yahoo's Dave Meltzer is not so sure.

As we discussed earlier in the week, and as Meltzer confirmed after conversations with Strikeforce officials, no one was too bent out of shape about losing Jake Shields. When Shields fights, channels are changed-it's as simple as that:

If he’s in there with a wrong opponent, he can have really boring fights and they’ve done this with you know even with like you know Fitch and Yushin Okami, guys that are winning fighters with great records, they put them on undercards for various reasons for fear of slowing the pace down on the live show and with the wrong opponent, Jake definitely can be a guy like that...

The UFC has already seen this phenomenon.Do the best fighters in the world draw big money for the biggest promotion in the world? Statistics don't lie...and they are coming after the jump.

To many, Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world. When we asked Bloody Elbow readers who deserved to step into Fedor Emelianenko's spot as the "Kingpin," the best fighter in the sport, they made Silva the clear winner. Silva has won twelve consecutive fights, ten by knockout or submission. But the fans have rejected him in record numbers.

In 2007, a Silva main event attracted just 80 percent of the average UFC pay per view that year, costing the UFC millions of dollars every time he fought. In 2008, things got even worse for the champion. Silva's title defenses were worth less than 60 percent of the promotion's average that year.  For whatever reason, the fans just weren't responding to "the Spider."

                                                               2007 UFC PPV Average: 454,000

                                                               2007 Anderson Silva Average: 366,666

                                                               2008 UFC PPV Average: 527,083

                                                               2008 Anderson Silva Average: 312,500

The UFC had seen this before. As UFC PPV's exploded in 2005, Zuffa had an unpopular Heavyweight champion named Tim Sylvia. Sylvia simply couldn't get the job done at the box office, so events with a Heavyweight fight had to be supported by a stellar co-main event. Sylvia got help from Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, and teammate Matt Hughes. Today, Silva is in the same role. Unable to draw on his own, the UFC has propped the middleweight champion up with B.J Penn and Chuck Liddell, two popular fighters that could help pick up the slack.

There's only room for a select few fighters who can't attract an audience-the UFC already has Anderson Silva. The divide between sport and commerce can only stretch so far before bean counters revolt. And the accountants are no doubt getting nervous. For people at Zuffa who love the sweet smell of money, Jake Shields ascending to the top of the welterweight division would be a disaster.

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