In the last three years, the UFC has cemented itself as the place where the cream of the crop in MMA compete. That has been true for years when it came to fighters in the lightweight division and above. But when they absorbed the WEC in late 2010 and brought in the flyweight division in 2012, they could truly state that they had a virtual monopoly (they don't like that word, but it fits here) of the top talent across almost every relevant weight class in MMA. UFC president Dana White has even been talking about bringing in a 115-pound division of late.
Here's a wild thought though - instead of trying to corner the market share on another division that's going to struggle for a long time to gain a big fanbase, why not finally pull the trigger on a division that's been on the minds of fans for years? A division where there's already a ton of marketable talent? A division where a title belt would be an automatic draw on pay-per-view? Yes, I'm talking about the mythical 195-pound weight class. Or Franklinweight, if you will.
Back in 2007, Rich Franklin tried and failed to regain his UFC middleweight title from Anderson Silva after getting knocked out by The Spider in late 2006. After beating up Travis Lutter, the UFC asked him to go up to light heavyweight since it was clear he'd never be facing Silva again. Franklin had competed at LHW before, but he was one of those unlucky guys that was too small for LHW but the weight cut to 185 pounds was pretty harsh. He obliged the promotion, but ended up getting booked in a couple of 195-pound bouts in 2009 as a favor to the organization (and because they were both in the main event). He went 1-1 and moved on. But a seed was planted.
Since then, Franklin has been a vocal advocate of permanent 195-pound division. And it's pretty clear that there is a ton of talent at 185 and 205 that would be more comfortable at 195. Fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, and most recently Alan Belcher have either asked to fight at catchweights or been vocal about a return to 205 because making 185 was very hard on them. Dan Henderson is a perfect example of a guy that can make 185, but it has a huge effect on his ability to fight so he doesn't want to do it any more. Michael Bisping has talked of a return to 205 if necessary. Chael Sonnen? He fits too. How about Lyoto Machida? Rashad Evans? Shogun Rua? Those are all LHW's that could make 195. Throw in Gegard Mousasi and you've got yourself a seriously competitive division right away. Hell, if Anderson Silva loses again to Chris Weidman, he'd even be a possibility there. I know, I know...it's a longshot. But still.
There would be a price to pay, of course. A 195-pound division would definitely siphon some talent from 185 and 205. Despite LHW being a division that draws very well, it's somewhat shallow. The UFC only has 34 fighters under contract at light heavyweight right now, less than half the number of welterweights they currently have (76). Middleweight could take the hit better because there are currently 62 guys under contract. But there would be growing pains, and elite big men don't grow on trees.
With that being said, the addition of a new title belt to prop up PPV's with (one that actually draws, unlike 125/135 or even 145) would be a huge benefit. It's certainly more rich in talent than a women's 145-lb division, or a 115-lb division. The roster wouldn't need to be expanded much for 195 to work. There's nothing to build because the fighters there are already built. You just throw in a belt, and have a four-man tournament similar to flyweight. An eight-man tournament would be even better and fans would be all over it, but White is notorious for his resistance to tourneys.
I know this is something that comes up every year or so, and it's not the first time you've heard this argument. I get that. Overall though, there has never been a better time for this in terms of talent available, the need for more viable PPV headliners, and presumable fan interest. I certainly don't expect this to be announced tomorrow, if ever. But it is something the UFC should look at. Because it's a great fit for everyone involved right now.