Those few elite fighters who have been able to separate themselves from their peers and capture UFC titles are the same kind of fighters that are constantly looking to challenge themselves; many seek to do so by moving up a weight class to try their luck against stronger and heavier opponents. Former UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn, current reigning UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre and current reigning UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva, have all voiced their desire to compete in different weight classes; with Penn and Silva having already taken the plunge. Despite the eagerness of his champions, UFC President Dana White has remained adamant that a champion must clear out his weight class of worthy contenders before moving on to challenge himself in another division. Despite his odd and fan-polarizing performance at UFC 112, White said during Thursday’s UFC 113 pre-fight press conference that he believes that Anderson Silva is only two fights away from clearing out the UFC’s middleweight division.
“In my opinion, [Anderson’s] got Chael, who’s earned that title shot, and he’s got Vitor Belfort,” White said, according to MMAJunkie.com. “Once he fights those two guys, he’s cleaned out that division, and I will press very hard for him to move to 205 pounds.”
Silva was supposed to face Belfort, who has never competed at middleweight in the UFC before, in defense of his title at UFC 112 before Belfort was forced to withdraw due to injury. He was of course replaced by Demian Maia who joined Silva in the cage to make one of the strangest fights in UFC history. Despite still not having competed in the UFC’s middleweight division, White believes that Vitor Belfort’s legendary status and recent consistency (marked by a five fight win streak) gives him enough credit to be considered a legitimate contender.
“Vitor is a worthy opponent that I think people will want to see,” said White. “He’s a former champion at 205 pounds. He’s a legend in the sport. I’ve had my issues with Vitor in the past, too, but to say that Vitor isn’t a top contender at 185 is crazy.”
White reiterated his feeling that Silva is close to closing the door on the middleweight portion of his UFC career, saying, “In my opinion, [Anderson’s] got two more fights at 185.”
While he may be missing an opportunity at making big revenue by pitting champion against champion at the height of their reign and popularity White insists that, in order to maintain legitimacy, a champion must earn his shot at a higher weight class by cementing his legacy as the undisputed champion of his current weight class.
“I believe that when you make a move like that, for me, it’s always all about legacy,” White said. “It’s never about money or any of that [expletive], so you have to clean out the division.”
In direct contradiction to what he allowed former Lightweight Champion BJ Penn the chance to do at UFC 94, White said that Silva will not be able to keep his middleweight belt if he decides to challenge for the light-heavyweight belt.
“What he wants to do I think is keep his 185-pound title and fight at 205, which you can’t do,” White said. “You have to vacate that title and move up.”
Ignoring the apparently new Zuffa house-rule that a champion cannot hold two belts at one time, the thing that seems to be missing the most in this conversation is talk of Anderson Silva dropping weight to face Georges St. Pierre. This fight seemed to be all but a done deal until Silva’s UFC 112 bout against Maia went down. Even still, UFC announcers Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg went as far as declaring that the fight would definitely happen if Silva got past Maia, which he did. Considering the nature of his performance it would be understandable to push the Silva-St. Pierre super-fight back but to scrap the bout altogether would be a great disappointment. Too many times we have seen long-clamored-for fights occur when one or both fighters have past their prime (think Liddell-Silva) to some disappointment. We are currently in a position to see two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world square off at the peak of their abilities so, hopefully, we will see a Silva-St. Pierre fight materialize before it is too late too matter. It would be a shame to see that fight turn into the MMA fans’ version of Pacquiao-Mayweather; the greatest fight that may never happen.