In almost all great sports, you’re destined to see the best fight the best. In boxing, guys move up and down divisions to fight each other. We got Mayweather-De La Hoya, though we all regretted that pathetic excuse of wasted hype. The Colts-Patriots and Steelers-Ravens lock horns every year. Even if we don’t get to see Kobe and LeBron battle it out for the NBA Finals, we get to see them in the regular season. And you know that, at one time or another, Lefty will be gunning after Tiger in a big round of golf this year.
Sadly, the same can not be said for the UFC, a league that struggles against Lady Luck as much as it does against its own set of rules. Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre and Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva are considered the two best “pound for pound” fighters in all of MMA, and their resumes make it very difficult to discern that indelible fact.
Let’s start with the man known as “The Spider”, Anderson Silva. In five years, he’s had just one loss when he struck an illegal kick on Yushin Okami. In his career, Silva is a staggering 24-4 SU. In his last fight, Thales Leites was so scared of fighting The Spider that he practically laid down for him in the match to a chorus of boos from the Montreal crowd. Trust me – I was there, and it was almost as disappointing as "The Watchmen" .
Silva will run in to the brawling battering ram of Forrest Griffin at UFC 101, but many doubt that Griffin’s unrelenting offense will be enough against Silva’s unique counter-striking abilities. Regardless, Griffin will bring the pain for Silva, and likely get knocked out in the process, but Silva will have plenty of people to fight between the Light Heavyweight and Middleweight Division.
It’s reasonably safe to say that Silva has some decent and marketable competition at his level. There are light heavyweights dropping down to challenge him. There are guys in his division rising to test him. From Griffin to the newly resurrected Dan Henderson, Silva has plenty to keep his hands full.
You can’t say the same about Georges “Rush” St. Pierre.
St. Pierre has dominated the Welterweight division, outlasting Thiago Alves at UFC 100 with a torn groin, dismantling B.J. Penn, and having already beaten rising star Jon Fitch. There’s nobody left to challenge St. Pierre in this division. If Alves can’t beat Rush when he has a torn groin, I don’t think anyone can. Check that – I’m pretty damn sure that nobody can. So what’s left?
Fans have been demanding it, and now it’s time for Dana White to deliver. The fans want Silva vs. St. Pierre, and White, who resembles a young Vince McMahon, is not one to disappoint his fans. White first and foremost is a fight fan, so booking this bout has to remain high on his priority list. Whether he realizes it or not, time is of the essence.
White is coming off his most successful UFC pay-per-view in company history, due to Brock Lesnar’s star power and a stacked fight card. The difference between UFC fighters and other sports is that glory and mystique can turn in to disaster in a heartbeat. Griffin, for example, was an unstoppable juggernaut before Keith Jardine posted a huge upset on him. Cro Cop was decimated by Nogueira. The point is that UFC fighters are one punch away from a free-fall from grace.
Think about it if you will: in what other sport can a champion go from “unstoppable” to “mid-level contender” in a heartbeat? The Patriots lost a perfect season and a Superbowl championship to the New York Giants, and stormed back as heavy favorites to win the Superbowl in 2008 on all the oddsmakers ranking. LeBron hasn’t made it back to the Finals since 2007, where he was embarrassed by San Antonio and Tim Duncan, yet that hasn’t faulted his allure one bit. Even Tiger Woods, winless in the majors and a victim of the dreaded “cut” at The Open Championship just a few weeks ago, still retains his mystique and grandeur as the man to beat.
Not in the UFC. A fighter can go from “boom” to “bust’ whenever four knuckles connect with a chin, or a guy gets his arm wrapped around another’s throat. Sure, guys like St. Pierre and Silva fight virtually mistake-free, but the theory of a “puncher’s chance” carries so much weight in MMA that it’s almost scary. One loss can debase a fighter’s credibility for months, sometimes years.
That’s why White can’t afford to sit on his hands while St. Pierre and Silva are in his prime. How exciting would a “Best Pound for Pound” mega fight be to MMA fans, and non-fans? It would perhaps be the greatest fight of the decade. It’s easy to market, easy to sell and a deliverance of exactly what those close to the octagon want to see. It’s the perfect fight to sell.
Fans get this chance once in a generation to see titans clash head-first in their primes. Brady and Manning may never meet in the AFC Championship again. LeBron and Kobe could, conceivably, avoid each other in the NBA Finals each season (though the odds are slim). The difference is that the UFC has booking power – they control who fights who, with the only things standing in their way being reputation, fight credibility and weight class. The first two are taken care of. Silva-St. Pierre would be the biggest draw in the known universe. The latter is up to the fighters, and St. Pierre isn’t going to go through the hassle of gaining ten pounds just to have Dana White turn him away at the door.
I said earlier that Dana White is a fight fan first, but secondly he is a promoter. Ask Don King. Ask Vince McMahon. Ask any fight promoter and they’ll tell you that if you have the chance to book the biggest fight in your sport, you don’t wait. The hype could never be bigger, or more fragile, for Dana White. If St. Pierre or Silva lose another fight before meeting, I guarantee people will care less than they would if they both retained their undefeated streaks. White can not afford to hope that fight fans will care about this fight if either loses before they hopefully take on each other.
For now we sit and wait to be given exactly what we want. The decision is one man’s to make. Mr. White, as your ring announcer will tell you: “IT’S TIME!”