The fingerprints from Joe Silva’s work with the UFC are long lasting. Hired back when it was an SEG property, Silva was the first – and for many years, only – matchmaker of the promotion’s modern, Zuffa era. He’s credited, along with John McCarthy and Jeff Blatnick, for helping modernize the organization in ways that would appeal to regulators who had driven MMA out of the major venues of North America—and into rural backwaters like Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The institution of gloves, stricter adherence to when fighters can strike where, and how, and, of course, the introduction of weight classes were instrumental improvements. None of these were new concepts, even if they were fairly new to MMA. But it’s that last one, the creating of true divisions that became the lasting hallmark of Silva’s time with the world’s largest MMA promotion.
There’s a clear sensibility to that. After all, Silva’s job was to create fights, and that’s much easier to do with a list of fighters who all weigh about the same and have agreed to compete within that set range. But, Silva’s determination to keep the system in tight control may have slipped into the extreme. Notorious for his uncompromising negotiations with fighters over the progression of their careers, Silva seemed to have been hyper focused on the micro-climates of MMA. Under his watch, each division appeared as its own little kingdom, and would be governed accordingly.
There’s a bigger, macro-level truth missing there, however. One that’s become a lot more evident since Silva’s departure. While a novella (at least) could be written on the physical, tactical, and technical differences between a flyweight and a heavyweight, at the end of the day, each and every fight is governed by its own competitors and their actions within. Could Georges St-Pierre have beat Anderson Silva? We never got to find out. But in the post-Joe Silva era we now know he could go up to middleweight and dethrone Michael Bisping. Could Jose Aldo have taken out lightweight Anthony Pettis at the height of the ‘Showtime’ era? Who can say? But he put up a hell of a scrap going after bantamweight gold. Could Demetrious Johnson have formed a flyweight Voltron to decimate a sea-level Cain Velasquez? The world will never know.
Essentially, there are fights to be made in the MMA ecosystem that aren’t going to strictly adhere to the traditional idea of divisional dynamics. Not every title shot needs to be earned by a slow, persistent progress up the ladder of a weight class. On Saturday night, Jessica Andrade proved this.
A former strawweight champion, Andrade has carved out her name as a physical force among her peers. While some fighters may only thrive in the narrow confines of weight classes limitations, Andrade has been a powerful bully even going back to her time in the bantamweight division. What she did to Katlyn Chookagian – picking the 5’9” flyweight up over her head and slamming her into the mat, soon to finish her with a series of thudding body shots – was a stark reminder that she’s a singularly violent fighter, at whatever weight she’s competing.
And it should, unquestionably, make her the next flyweight title contender. Of all the women who have tried to claim Shevchenko’s throne, Andrade would be the only one to have even one TKO/KO in the women’s flyweight division—after only a single performance therein. Outside of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she’d be the only one to have even two TKO/KOs in any division in the UFC. Four total puts her in a class all her own. Only Amanda Nunes has been a more consistently violent finisher at the UFC level than Andrade among all Shevchenko’s opponents. Even ‘Bullet’ herself hasn’t created those kinds of results.
There’s something to be said for coloring inside the lines; for looking at Andrade’s record on paper, seeing those two recent losses to Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas, and thinking ‘This isn’t what a title challenger is supposed to be.’ But, the story in the cage is far more compelling in her favor. Jessica Andrade is dangerous. She’s a finisher at any weight. And right now, that makes her far and away the ‘must see’ contender to the flyweight title.
If this were the UFC of five years ago, she may never have got that chance. She may have stayed relegated to chasing strawweight gold, or have entered 125 with a hill to climb. But in a promotion that’s now seen three different double-champs crowned over the past half-decade, there’s clearly a different climate at work when it comes to booking fights. One that, hopefully, Andrade will get to use to her advantage.