To understand the depth of MMA’s current obsession with interdivisional superfights, it’s important to remember that Johny Hendricks isn’t even UFC welterweight champion yet.
Hendricks still has to fight Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 in mid-March before we find out who will fill Georges St-Pierre’s shoes as the company’s 170-pound champion.
Yet, a Google search for Hendricks’ name late last week—nearly 40 days before that bout is scheduled to happen—elicited as its top news story a headline from Yahoo Sports asking: (Is) UFC’s Johny Hendricks Targeting Chris Weidman?
Answer: Yes...sort of.
Hendricks is targeting Weidman in the same way many of us “target” going back to school to finish up that degree, quitting smoking or dropping those pesky 20 extra pounds.
“That would be great, wouldn’t it?” says Hendricks, once you follow the daisy chain back to his original comments on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour (h/t MMA Fighting). “I want to win (the title), defend it, do whatever the UFC wants me to do…and say, hey, can I move up to 185?”
So it has come to this: A guy who is not yet the champion of his own weight class is daydreaming about a future superfight against a man who last week celebrated his own seven-month anniversary as UFC middleweight titlist.
How did we ever get here?
Bit by bit, it seems.
You’ll recall that 2013 was supposed to be the year of the superfight in the UFC. It fizzled in large part due to the handiwork of Hendricks and Weidman, as well as a rash of injuries among the company's reigning champions.
It might have been tempting to think all this pie-in-the-sky talk of weight-mixing megafights was over and done last November, when UFC president Dana White officially declared longstanding rumors of a meeting between St-Pierre and Anderson Silva “dead,” via MMA Fighting.
Alas, just three months later, superfights are back in vogue.
Or maybe they never really went out of fashion.
Our dreams of St-Pierre vs. Silva begot dreams of Silva vs. Jon Jones and, eventually, the idea of Jones at heavyweight. Plans to have Anthony Pettis drop to featherweight last December were scrapped and replaced by more recent notions of Jose Aldo moving up to lightweight.
It’s been a whirlwind, one that even swept level-headed guys like Hendricks and Weidman into answering questions about their long-term futures before they’ve even locked down the here and now.
For his part, Weidman has said he wouldn’t mind moving up to fight Jones at 205 pounds, per Steph Daniels of Bloody Elbow. Over the weekend, Jones responded on AXS TV's Inside MMA (h/t MMA Fighting), saying the new middleweight champ should slow his roll and concentrate on beating the top competition in his own division first.
Besides, Jones says he's eyeing a bout with heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez.
Starting to get the picture? These days it seems like everybody wants a superfight.
Or at least they want to talk about it.
I have to admit that all this clear-eyed, full-hearted dreaming feels pretty out of character for this sport.
Despite a generalized reputation for cynicism, MMA fans are apparently willing to indulge nearly endless superfight chatter. It’s a fun topic that is perfect for empty, consequence-free speculation. With nearly every MMA website meticulously curating its own pound-for-pound list—and UFC brass always up for adding their two cents—it’s natural to try to conjure some practical applications.
For journalists, it’s an easy question to have at the ready, and for fighters, it's an even easier one to answer. Sure, why not say your goal is to be regarded as the best in the world? Why not say you’re out to build a resume so flawless that onlookers have no choice but to clamor for you to fight the rest of MMA’s pound-for-pound greats?
Why not imply that—cough, while you’re definitely not overlooking your next opponent, cough—in a year or three, you’d definitely be interested in fighting the champ from the next weight class up?
It’s not like anybody’s actually going to hold you to it.
Besides, if all that’s not part of the plan, you’re probably in the wrong line of work.
If the last year has taught us anything, however, it’s that superfights are a lot easier to plan than they are to finish. Despite the tireless talk and the best intentions of fantasy matchmakers everywhere, we still have yet to see an honest-to-goodness superfight come to fruition inside the Octagon.
The latest incarnation of Aldo vs. Pettis is the closest we’ve come, and even it remains fraught with uncertainty.
Assuming it happens, then perhaps 2014 will succeed where 2013 failed. Perhaps the UFC was merely off by a year with its marketing strategy.
Perhaps this year will serve up a little less talk about superfights and a few more actual superfights.
Who knows—maybe Hendricks will even get his chance to move up to 185 pounds to fight Weidman.
That is, unless Weidman has already gone to light heavyweight.