UFC 95 did a nice job of narrowing things down for us in the middleweight class last weekend.
Contenders Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia were outstanding in their respective victories at 185 pounds. Marquardt finished Wilson Gouveia with a combination of strikes that appeared to originate from a joystick, while Maia surprised no one with another fabulous submission win over Chael Sonnen.
Marquardt and Maia certainly separated themselves. They are now officially the two most likely pieces of meat to be thrown into the cage with sharp-toothed belt-holder Anderson Silva.
Good for them. Really.
However, it’s going to take some major work from the UFC’s marketing minds to convince me that either of those fine fighters have a snowball’s shot at dethroning a champion, Silva, who possesses a hellish array of talent.
Keeping Silva at middleweight, to me, has become a frustrating waste of time.
First off, don’t get me wrong: The prospect of watching a master like “The Spider” perform in the Octagon – against anyone, at any weight – will never turn off fans. It will never get old.
But he will.
Maybe he already has.
Not in the degenerative, faculty-eroding sense of the word, of course. But in the ho-hum, I’m-tired-of-taking-on-inferior-opponents-and-wondering-what-else-is-out-there sense of the word.
Whether through talk of retirement, off-the-cuff comments about his interest in boxing (Roy Jones Jr.) or toying antics in the cage (versus Patrick Cote), the 33-year-old Silva seems to be twiddling his thumbs.
Silva (23-4 and on a nine-fight win streak) held out his hand to help up Cote in the midst of their perplexing October bout, for goodness sake, then continued what amounted to be a bizarre dance show before Cote’s knee buckled without contact at the start of the third round.
Now, instead of being gripped by Silva’s prowess, we’re more drawn into his upcoming match against Thales Leites to see if the champ struts to the Octagon, strips his T-shirt, gets his face greased and has the referee discover that, again, he’s wearing kiddie gloves instead of the combat gear required of the badass we came to know.
The appeal of watching Silva perform has shifted from simply witnessing another ethereal display of MMA, to gauging his level of enthusiasm for his challenger.
That’s not a concern with the sport’s other big attractions, for example. Fedor takes everyone seriously – even 7-foot freaks. Randy Couture’s grit is his defining trait. Georges St. Pierre is a fighting machine and workout fiend (not the kind of fiend, mind you, who would wrongfully use Vaseline). Brock Lesnar has too much to prove to let up on any opponent. Even bantamweight speedster Miguel Torres never slows down in time to consider easing off a foe.
In any realm of life, the onset of boredom signals an obvious starting point for a new venture. Sick of your job? Time to find a new one. Hate your girlfriend? Time to dump her.
Assuming “The Spider” has declared playtime over, he will cast his web over Leites on April 18 at UFC 97. That would leave only one more logical match at middleweight, against Marquardt or Maia, before Silva has effectively Windexed the division (unless it’s unfortunately decided that he needs to avenge his 3-year-old loss to Yushin Okami, which came via illegal kick).
And that seems like a formality.
Of the two alternatives, it would be ideal if Maia prevailed over Marquardt to land a spot opposite Silva. There really is no point to any rematch for Silva – even if Marquardt is much-improved since his 2007 TKO loss to the champ.
Maia, meanwhile, is perhaps the world’s premier BJJ player. He is quite capable of snagging one of Silva’s lanky limbs and forcing a tap. But Silva’s deadeye striking likely would never allow the fight advance that far – if he’s in the right mindset.
So, after that, who will be left for “The Spider”? I’m getting way ahead of myself here, but part of column-writing is speculation and wishful thinking. Bigger men, bigger threats and bigger thrills await Silva at 205, a weight he easily made against James Irvin last July.
Plus, it’s a chance for him expand his legacy. Only three men have held major titles at two different weight classes – Couture (UFC light heavyweight; heavyweight), B.J. Penn (UFC welterweight; lightweight) and Dan Henderson (Pride middleweight; light heavy).
And Silva might not have much time before (dare I say?) age forces some kind of mortal plateau.
The UFC should ignore the honor Silva has for extending his UFC middleweight reign. And it should forget his nonsensical refusal to fight friends (his bond with Lyoto Machida is one reason he has shied away from the 205-pound ranks). If Silva wants to be seen as the greatest champion and perhaps elevate the sport’s recognition, he should agree to move up for good.
A refusal would kind of be like a minor league baseball player turning down a promotion. Silva has proven that the players below him at middleweight are farmhands to his major league talent. So, what’s the holdup?
First, there is the matter of Leites, whom Silva must dispatch with his familiar finality. Then he must do the same to the next man in line.
But maybe it would be justice if, suddenly, Silva took some lumps. It would just be unfortunate if he took them as a disinterested middleweight rather than a sternly tested light heavyweight.