With the UFC staging more events than ever in 2014 while spreading out globally, it would seem that before long every weight class will be bursting with talent, like coffers overfilled in a candy store.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a time when any fighter would be forced to compete in a specific weight class. To even entertain the question leaves fans scratching their heads as to why anyone would ponder such an improbability.
I confess that I never thought about it myself until I overheard the notion spoken of by a group of very demanding fans at a bar.
Consider the case of current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
When he comes back from his injury, it does not seem as though there will be anyone in his division with the style and skills to beat him.
That wouldn’t be the case if Daniel Cormier were fighting at heavyweight. Cormier is perhaps the only heavyweight that looks like he could match Velasquez from a style-versus-style perspective.
Imagine if the UFC had the power to mandate not only teammate vs. teammate fights, but the divisions in which a fighter fought?
If such were the case, the UFC could demand that Cormier not only stay at heavyweight, but that he fight his teammate for the heavyweight title.
Now, in this situation, would the best interests of the belt be served? Yes, they would—the belt deserves to be contested by the very best because it is both the ideal and the standard.
However, the best interests of the title are also really only served when the fighters are at their best, training with others who bring out the very best in them. That is where this hypothetical comes off the rails.
As it stands, fighters migrate toward camps that have the best trainers and training partners for obvious reasons. If the UFC had the power to make fighters fight at certain weights, then fighters would be looking to train at camps where they would not have to contend with the turmoil that comes from training with a probable opponent.
In doing so, they would see the level of their game diminished because their new training partners pose no true threat to them in a professional sense. Of course, this would also necessitate fighters to switch camps more often since today’s novice can quickly become tomorrow’s contender.
No longer would the option of switching weight classes in order to preserve a heightened level of training be an option. Thus, fighters would switch camps and have to start the process of integrating themselves into a new training dynamic all over again.
Forward progress would be stalled in favor of acclimation to a new environment, which would probably be temporary as the fighters in the new camp grew in skill and became the next big threat.
Stability is one of the most valuable things in a fighter’s life—at home and in the gym. It allows for fighters to be at their very best and also promotes ambition, which is one of the cornerstones of a great fighter.
If the UFC could control fighters so totally, their dreams of glory would be second to their need to simply survive in a profession that is in near-constant flux as it is.
Who can honestly assume that men like Velasquez and Cormier would be as good in MMA as they are now if they were constantly worrying about having to face each other?
In such a scenario, would they hide certain things from each other in order to have an advantage in the future? Would they really be about the business of sharpening each other to a razor's edge when that razor may be used on them in the future?
The life of a fighter is hectic enough as it is. To assume that “necessity is the mother of invention” applies to all cases is terribly shortsighted. Fighters uprooting their lives to roam from camp to camp isn’t adaptation, it’s upheaval.
Ours is a sport that already demands a great deal from the men and women who ply it as their trade. To ask for more is to show that we don’t appreciate what we already have.
And that is our problem, not theirs.