Anderson Silva and Jon Jones
It all started with Anderson Silva.
He's the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. He's the most dominant UFC fighter of all time, and easily the greatest champion in the history of the promotion.
He's vanquished every foe he ever faced in the UFC with ease—except for one notable occasion—and he finished that foe emphatically the second time around.
He's also nearing the end of his career. As much as we'd like him to, Silva won't be pulling a Randy Couture and sticking around for another decade. He's got about two years left in this game, tops, and even that comes as a blessing for those of us who enjoy watching him. After all, it was just two years ago that he was already speaking of retirement in imminent terms.
Because of that history, because of his enduring status as the greatest of all time, Silva has earned the right to pick and choose his opponents. It's that simple. If Silva only wants to face big-name opponents, well, that's the kind of opposition that should be offered to him.
But that lofty status puts the UFC in a sticky situation. One of Dana White's biggest selling points for mixed martial arts and the UFC—as opposed to, say, boxing—is that he makes the fights that the fans want to see. And outside of a few select scenarios—Fedor Emelianenko versus any top UFC heavyweight, for example—he's largely been able to deliver on that promise.
But as a wise man once wrote: the times, they are a-changin'.
The UFC middleweight picture is becoming increasingly muddled by the day. Who's the next guy in line for a crack at Silva? Some folks say the winner of September's bout between Michael Bisping and Brian Stann should get the shot. Tim Boetsch is making waves in the division. And Chris Weidman made an emphatic case for himself with his dominant win over Mark Munoz.
Silva isn't interested in a fight with Weidman, though. As his manager Ed Soares told MMAFighting.com earlier today:
"I mean, because he had an impressive win over Mark Munoz and [Demian] Maia?" Soares paused and rolled his eyes before adding "Sure."
Soares went on to say that Silva would have to consider anyone the UFC puts in front of them, because they don't really have a choice.
And for the longest time, I would've agreed that was the case. If the UFC wants a fight booked, they're going to find a way to book it. Sometimes this takes little more than an intense conversation with Dana White. Other times, they need to open up the checkbook and add one or two zeroes to make it happen.
The point is, they've always gotten it done. Well, besides that Fedor situation I referenced earlier, but that one can be overlooked given the difficult demands put forward by M-1 Global during the negotiations.
That may not be the standard for much longer, though.
Let's say Silva really and truly doesn't want to fight Weidman. And let's say there is no dollar amount he'll take in order to accept the fight. Let's say that White can't get Silva to give in.
What happens then?
I don't know if you'll see a sea change in the way fighters respond to fight requests. Very few guys are on Silva's level, and very few of them have the clout to turn down the UFC. Jon Jones is getting close to that level. Georges St-Pierre is already there, but he'll never turn down a fight because, well, he just isn't that guy.
But eventually, there will come a day when fighters take a more active role in choosing their opponents. All it takes is a few top-level superstars. And when that day comes—and I think it'll come around sooner than you think—the UFC's mantra of "making the fights the fans want to see" will be a lot more difficult to deliver on.