UFC Division Killers: a Cut above the Rest

Tim MannCorrespondent IMay 28, 2008

I feel that the unpredictability of the sport of MMA is one of its most attractive facets.

Small gloves, hard punches, strikers vs. grapplers, wrestling vs. submissions, and those who are all-around great fighters.

In a sport where brawlers knock out technical strikers, highly-touted submission fighters get finished by their own moves, and sometimes the simple inability to get up off your back can give you a loss, there are so many things that can happen that watching a fight is truly a thrill of volatile uncertainty.

But every so often there comes along a champion who has that aura of invincibility. The perception that they are champion not simply because they beat the previous titleholder, but that they truly are the best fighter around. The question is, does this make them more or less fun to watch?

In the Ultimate Fighting Championship, there are currently several champions that could be referred to as "division killers."

The Heavyweight Submission Ace, Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira

The Middleweight Sniper, Anderson "Spider" Silva

The Welterweight Juggernaut, Georges "Rush" St. Pierre

The Lighweight Superman, BJ "The Prodigy" Penn

Pretty much every one of these men has just beaten the fighter who was considered the greatest threat to them. And all have passed with flying colors.

Penn just put away Sean Sherk, the former lighweight champion and the man who was supposed to give him problems with his "suspect" cardio. What happened was that Sherk either refused or was unable to get a takedown, and wound up on the bad end of a three round boxing match that culminated in him being pounded out at the bell. Penn truly looks to be a level above everyone in the division.

GSP has decisively beaten nearly every challenger in the division already, going through former champ Matt Hughes twice and decimating the only other man to defeat him, Matt Serra. Along the way he also manhandled upcoming prospect Josh Koscheck and has more or less dominated everyone in his path, appearing to gain skill and strength with every fight.

A showdown with contender Jon Fitch looms on the horizon, but with the skills that St. Pierre has displayed and the fact that Fitch looked less than stellar in his last bout, it becomes difficult to envision Fitch winning. After that, the division is full of talent, but much of it not really having reached the championship level yet, let alone the intense dominance displayed by a newly-focused GSP.

Anderson Silva, well, everyone knows his story by now. Having crushed everyone who has stepped up to him in the UFC in under two rounds, Silva most recently put away the iron-chinned and rarely-submitted "Dangerous" Dan Henderson by...rocking him with strikes and submitting him. The supposed "wrestling gap" in Silva's game has not really been much of a detriment in his dispatching of some of the best wrestlers in the division.

There appears to be a huge gap between Silva and the rest of the division; those who possess the skills to outclass him in any aspect of MMA—if possible—lack the tools to force him into that area of combat. The intrigue in watching Silva fight seems to have changed with the dispatching of Henderson, and gone from "who can beat him" to "who can last the longest."

As for Nogueira, well, he is about as proven and credible a fighter as they come; iron jaw, iron will, iron grip and the submission savvy to go with it. Seemingly impossible to finish and more than willing to take punishment in order to get his opportunity to attack. "Minotauro" just won the title by absorbing two rounds of Tim Sylvia's punishment (vintage Tim Sylvia, not the point-jabbing version) before finally getting the fight to the ground and locking in a choke within seconds.

Nogueira is the last fighter that should ever be doubted in the first place, but he is also benefitting from a depleted heavyweight division. Gone are division mainstays Sylvia and Randy Couture. The only two men to beat Nogueira in the last eight years, Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko are nowhere near the UFC and don't appear to have interest in getting any closer.

Currently the division seems to be filled with raw rookies and one-dimensional fighters. Frankly, if Nogueira can get past Frank Mir (and I believe he can), I don't see much of a challenge for him in the UFC presently.

Even in the Zuffa-owned WEC, featherweight champion Urijah Faber has been speaking about moving down to 135 pounds for a dream match with Japanese legend Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, and his fans often express a desire for his moving up to the 155-pound division, preferably in the UFC. Many feel that if he can defeat a newly-revitalized 145-pound Jens Pulver, that there will be little challenge left for him in his current division, a division he definitely helped to build in the U.S.

Perhaps this is the reason that these "division-killers" are more and more the subject of inter-divisional bout discussions. BJ Penn called out Georges St. Pierre after his fight last weekend. A Silva/GSP match has been lighting up internet discussion forums and interviews for months now. There has even been talk of Silva moving up to fight Light Heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson.

The rationale behind this is interesting. Do we simply want to see the best fight the best, regardless of weight? Do we feel that some dominant fighters are benefitting from a size advantage in their current divisions? Are we longing for a better place for the second-best, those displaced champs—Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, Rich Franklin—who cannot beat the champion but still are top level in their divisions ? Or do we want—or NEED—to see these fighters lose? To make them look human, to shake things up, provide some fresh matchups, and to restore the unpredictability that we love about our sport?

I think it might be all of the above.