Failure to capitalize; a lack of potential challengers in a thin division

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Picking a weight division as a fighter shouldn't be just about comfort, but about opportunity as well and fighters seem to be missing a major one.

I am essentially the last person to ever recommend a fighter change weight classes outside the first few years of his or her career. In fact, not long ago I wrote a whole article about how it's one of the most useless things a fighter can do. But, in the examination of that article, and more time spent considering its ramifications, one thing became clear: More than anything, a successful change in weight is about opportunity rather than size. Demetrious Johnson, Sean Sherk, Rich Franklin, each of these fighters made changes in their weight class because that change led to an almost instantaneous opportunity. It could even be said that Alistair Overeem's move to heavyweight came at a time when 205 was still considered a "deep" division and heavyweight was... well, what heavyweight almost always is.

It's this line of thought that brings me to the light heavyweight division of today; a veritable land of opportunity and yet a wasteland for young fighters. Even five years ago I would venture a guess that close to 1/3 of the current UFC middleweight division would be considered "natural" light heavyweights. Men well over six feet in height with extremely powerful, muscled physiques. Men who, even today, are significantly larger (at a glance) than some of the UFC's current light heavyweight crop. Increased emphasis on weight cutting, not to mention a generally higher athletic standard for big fighters have pushed larger athletes into lower divisions. For every Lorenz Larkin, Mark Munoz, or Thales Leites there's a Francis Carmont, Luke Barnatt, or Luke Rockhold. Tall, powerful fighters, who don't look unnatural at 185 lbs, but could easily fight up a division if they chose to do so.

To a point, several fighters have chosen to do so. Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Alan Belcher, and Dan Henderson are all former middleweights flirting with the light heavyweight division. And, for Sonnen and Belfort, the move has paid off. Both fighters stepped directly into title shots, not because they'd earned them, but because nobody else had. Granted, Luke Barnatt isn't stepping straight into a title shot at light heavyweight if he moves to 205, but he's a lot further up the line than he would be at middleweight.

A thin division is a division with opportunities. Brad Pickett has some fans convinced that he should be in the conversation for a flyweight title shot after beating Neil Seery. His claiming a win over the current champion in their 135 lb past helps his argument, but nobody would be talking about Clay Guida deserving a shot at Anthony Pettis if he jumped back to 155 and beat Katsunori Kikuno.

Finding the place where you're comfortable competing is important for a fighter, but if the Ultimate Fighter has taught us anything, it's that comfort shouldn't come at the expense of opportunity. A fighter who can fight out of their natural weight class can take a major step forward in their journey to becoming a top fighter. Right now it appears that there are a lot of opportunities to be taken in the light heavyweight division, but few young fighters seem to be taking any notice.

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