Ed Soares, the longtime manager of middleweight deity Anderson Silva, recently went on record to state the Silva camp’s preference to fight Cung Le rather than Chris Weidman.
No, I'm serious. He really did. Check out the first few minutes of his interview with Cagefanatic.
You see, Soares' criteria for selecting an opponent for Silva is centered on the principles of getting “someone with as big a name as possible,” and someone “that’s on a winning record, or a winning run right now.”
Both reasonable prerequisites if you ask me, the only problem is that they hardly give cause to linger at Le's name any longer than Weidman's.
Look at each fighter's current winning streak. Both guys are riding consecutive victories, but Le’s streak is the smallest possible length a streak, by definition, can be: two. Weidman’s streak, on the other hand, sits at nine, which is also the number of professional fights he has had to date.
And while strength of schedule (clearly) doesn't factor into the job description for a middleweight No. 1 contender that Soares has drawn up, Weidman's recent hit-list is far superior to Le's.
Le's last two wins came over the nearly retired Rich Franklin and the oft-released Patrick Cote. Prior to those triumphs, Le was knocked out by the decrepit version of Wanderlei Silva, and split contests with Scott Smith.
Weidman's most recent wins came over consensus top 10 middleweights Mark Munoz and (now welterweight contender) Demian Maia.
Add this juxtaposition to the fundamental concept that nine is more than two, and Soares' partiality towards Le seems entirely unfounded. Maybe outright confusing describes it better.
But performance is only half the equation. What about notoriety?
Comparing the fanfare surrounding two fighters is a difficult task because while there are hard statistics which point to an answer, none tell a comprehensive story. For example, as of Jan 28, 2013, Le had 42,643 Twitter followers to Weidman's 35,129 followers. This comparison suggests Le is the more recognizable guy, but how accurately that paints the picture, and by what discrepancy is unclear.
Still, I will concede that Le is probably the more well known of the two. After all, in addition to his combat career, he has been in several films, whereas all Weidman has done is gain Division I All American wrestling honors, twice, and qualify for the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.
So in this sense, Soares has a point. Only he may be overestimating the difference. It's not like Weidman just crawled out from underneath a rock. He's even headlined a UFC show before.
Even so, Soares steadfastly maintains that Silva vs. Wediman would be a dud.
He’s [Weidman's] a phenomenal talent, and no disrespect to his fighting abilities, but we would like to fight somebody with a little more recognition and maybe Weidman is a fight or two away…He’s going into that fight, most people, the general public are like, Anderson is fighting some guy named Weidman from New York, you know, he’s going to walk through him. So if he doesn’t walk through him? There’s really nothing to gain other than another win and money in his pocket.
Perhaps Weidman might still be "some guy...from New York" to some casual MMA fans, but his reputation speaks for itself. Anyone with the ambition to so much as look at his Wikipedia page can tell that he's no ordinary New Yorker.
On the other hand, I’m not certain what type of expectations would follow Silva into the Octagon if he were to fight the 40-year-old Le, but my guess is that there wouldn't be too many fans pointing to a victory, no matter how impressive, as one of his shining moments.
In fact, fans might even recognize the bout for what it was—a mismatch designed to build Silva’s legacy—but Soares remains hopeful that that's something we'll overlook.
I mean no disrespect to Le when I emphasize the discrepancy between he and Silva, but it's not like my stance is grounded in personal opinion. He's never shared the cage with a top 10 middleweight, let alone beaten one, and he's just 2-1 in the UFC. What's there to make anyone believe the match would be anything but a blowout?
True, Brock Lesnar was given the same opportunity at heavyweight for accomplishing less, but Cung Le is not Brock Lesnar. And the notion that he deserves a title shot before Weidman is ludicrous.
I understand that Soares would rather have his fighter compete against a reasonably well-known, relatively nonthreatening opponent instead of a truly challenging one with a slighter following. It's a logical business stance.
Silva's next middleweight title defense should be against:
But that Soares can't even be bothered to pretend that talent-level, recent production and genuine merit should factor into becoming a No. 1 contender ahead of spectacle undermines the fundamental concept of competition. Not just in the noble sense, but the pragmatic sense as well. Even though the UFC does not utilize official rankings, they usually exercise logic in making matches. Some logic anyway.
That's why it's lucky the UFC has the final say in the matter. Because if the duty were left to managers (at least those like Soares), a truly great champion like Silva might by relegated to fringe top 15 middleweights rather than legitimately threatening challengers like Weidman, who would have to bump up his number of Twitter followers before getting a turn.