Victories for Chris Weidman and Johny Hendricks would be of greater benefit to the UFC in the long term than victories for Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre.
Yes, you read that right. It's actually better that the established names lose in this case—it's a matter of age and roster circumstances.
Silva and GSP are the UFC's two longest-reigning champions. Silva has defended his UFC middleweight title 10 times, while St-Pierre has defended the UFC welterweight championship eight times.
St-Pierre has been champion for five years, Silva for nearly seven.
Unfortunately, Silva and St-Pierre's facilities with unarmed violence cannot stop Father Time. In all sports, older competitors must eventually give way to the younger ones. This applies more to the 37-year-old Silva than to the 31-year-old St-Pierre.
Chris Weidman, who will be facing Silva at UFC 162 in July, is nearly a decade younger than the Brazilian. Silva might say he has six more years in him, but that's unlikely. And even if he sticks around, it's practically guaranteed that his talents will wane as he gets older. Not many fighters can perform at an elite level in their late 30s and early 40s (unless their name is Randy Couture).
Weidman winning would be better because he can be marketed for longer; his sell-by date is much further down the line than Silva's.
Alas, the same can't really be said for GSP and Hendricks since there's only a two-year age difference (31 and 29, respectively).
But there's more to the issue than age. Each weight class has unique circumstances—circumstances that would improve if Weidman and Hendricks won their fights.
Anderson Silva was the only middleweight fighter fans knew or cared about until Chael Sonnen came along and spiced things up by nearly defeating him. But then, "The Spider" dispatched Sonnen in the long-awaited rematch and interest waned again. Who cares about the lesser fighters that contested their way to the top only to be masterfully beaten down by a bored-looking Anderson Silva?
Just compare the buyrates of Silva's fights to see this phenomenon in action. The two highest draws were Silva-Sonnen II (925,000) and Silva-Belfort (725,000). Some of Silva's other fights didn't pull half these numbers.
It's time to rekindle interest in the middleweight division.
A Chris Weidman victory can do that. Weidman winning would shake the rust out of a division that's remained relatively stagnant and boring for quite some time. Fans will finally have interesting, unpredictable title fights instead of a slew of contenders that fans know aren't a match for the champ.
There are more narratives and therefore more fights to be sold with Weidman winning and Silva losing. Will Silva go on the comeback trail? Who will he fight to work his way up? Is Weidman really the next big thing or was his win a fluke? Fans will tune in to see the answers to these questions.
This argument also applies to Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks. However, admittedly, a GSP loss might not be as beneficial as a Silva loss.
St-Pierre is one of the UFC's best draws. He drew over 50,000 fans at the Rogers Centre in Canada, and his buyrates have always been above average at worst and great at best.
A GSP comeback trail could sell some pay-per-views, but that's the problem. There might not be a GSP comeback trail. The champ's trainer, Firas Zahabi, recently spoke about how much longer St-Pierre would be in the sport, and let's just say it didn't sound like he'd be fighting four or five more years.
However, GSP losing to Hendricks would give the UFC the chance to build up a series of fighters in the division rather than use one and only one as the division's selling point. "Hey, look, it's GSP vs. some guy who isn't GSP" would be replaced by "Hey, look, two equally matched competitors who have defeated a bunch of really skilled guys are about to fight!"
Johny Hendricks, the resurgent Demian Maia, Carlos Condit and others could collectively fill the void that a post-defeat GSP retirement would create.
Silva and GSP have become dominant so long that fans have accepted them as givens, as forces of nature in MMA that would always be there. But this is wrong. Time stands still for no man, even the toughest ones. Young lions eventually have to vanquish the champions of old and brave swaths of contenders while carrying the UFC's banner through the Fox era.
Chris Weidman and Johny Hendricks are these young lions. Their victories will help bring the UFC to its destiny, not keep it locked in the past.
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