While I enjoy a title fight just as much as the next guy, I have always found myself more drawn to fights created out of hunger, pride, or grudge.
I have spent quite some time over the past few days mulling over what I feel are the best possible non-title fights that the UFC can produce for each division. I took into account such important factors as title implications, level of excitement, and a fighter's popularity amongst fans. Following these guidelines I have come up with what I feel are the best possible non-title fights that can be contested in all five weight classes.
Lightweight(155 lbs.)- Mac Danzig (18-4-1) vs. Nate Diaz (9-2)
Honestly, a few weeks ago, I would have said Kenny Florian vs. Roger Huerta, two of the most exciting fighters in an already dynamic division, but it would appear that Joe Silva beat me to the punch on that one and penciled in the two for UFC 87 on August 9.
My choice, however, is just as intriguing. While both of these young fighters are quite some time away from challenging for the title, I would not be at all surprised if either Danzig or Diaz were adorned with the lightweight gold in the future.
Despite glaring differences in appearance and speech, Diaz slurs as if drinking since noon and Danzig enunciates each word with zen-like focus, the two are similar on multiple levels. Both are TUF winners, Diaz the winner of season five, Danzig six, well versed in jiu-jitsu, favoring chokes above all, and fight out of California, Danzig from L.A. and Diaz from Stockton. But there is one key similarity that made me dub this potential bout a dream fight.
While on the MMA proving ground/reality show/psychological experiment known as UFC's The Ultimate Fighter I noticed that both are, aside from irritable and short-fused, convinced that they are the next big thing and will fight anyone who says otherwise. Throw some gloves on the two and we have ourselves a classic western showdown where one of the two might even state, "This Octagon ain't big enough for the two of us."
Welterweight(170 lbs.)- Thiago Alves (15-3) vs. Diego Sanchez (19-2)
This was admittedly a tough one to call. Alves, to me, was a no-brainer coming off consecutive TKOs of Karo Parisyan and future hall of famer, Matt Hughes. But when considering an opponent it was up in the air between long-time rivals Diego Sanchez and Josh Koscheck. Both own losses to the participants in August's Welterweight championship, Sanchez to Fitch and Koscheck to St. Pierre, and I may have been inclined to pick "Kos", but at the TUF 7 finale Sanchez reminded us why he is known as the "Nightmare".
The Sanchez we saw at the finale was focused, calm, and precise; and should this fight ever take place, that's the Sanchez who needs to touch gloves with the "Pitbull". Not the Sanchez who gets jittery and anxious in marquee match-ups and loses decisions he could have won were he not swinging for the fences.
This match is highly interesting because it would pit a knockout artist against a ground tactician who has convinced himself, and is convincing many others, that he can turn the lights out just as effectively. The question is if Sanchez would try and stand with Alves or would he keep things safe on the ground where he has five wins and Thiago can only claim two losses.
The winner of such a bout would be ripe for a title shot.
Middleweight(185 lbs.) - Rich Franklin (23-3) vs. Dan Henderson (22-7)
This is the only of the five theoretical bouts that has little or no implications towards the belt that is gathering dust in Anderson Silva's closet while he is out hunting down another. This is also the potential fight that made me consider this whole list.
"Ace" vs. "Hendo", it just sounds right, like it was meant to be. The former PRIDE fighter truly fights for pride.
Dana White has been more than generous to Henderson, making his first two fights back in the UFC title fights. I say, now, if you want more fights Dan, you gotta earn 'em. Where is the Henderson that edged out Minotaurs and knocked out Axe Murderers.
Both fighters are more than likely on the back nine of their careers, Franklin is 33 and Henderson, 37. The younger Franklin is coming off a TKO win of Travis Lutter, proving that he's still got some TNT tucked in those gloves. Franklin may never get a shot at Silva again, having been TKO'd by him twice, the more recent effort considerably more valiant than the former.
I don't know if this matchup is anywhere in Joe Silva's mind, but if it is, it alone would be worth the $40 PPV fee.
Side Note: I strongly considered Rousimar Palhares vs. Demian Maia, both have displayed impressive skills on the ground but not everyone can appreciate jiu-jitsu displays, even great ones. Also, neither have truly proven themself in the UFC quite yet.
Light Heavyweight(205 lbs.) - Lyoto Machida (13-0) vs. Wanderlei Silva(32-8-1)
What do you do when you have someone who you're pretty sure might be one of the best fighters in the world, but you can't really tell because he somehow manages to win while throwing a fifth of the punches as his opponent? Solution: Lock him in a steel cage with an absolute psycho who will completely and utterly massacre him if he dosen't fight back.
For some time, Lyoto Machida has chosen to sit back and wait for his opponent to open the door for him and invite him to deliver a point-scoring blow while his own doors remain air-tight. If he were to use that strategy against Wanderlei Silva then those doors would simply be hacked to bits by the "Axe Murderer" who has a tendency to invite himself in. If there is anyone who can bring out the "Dragon" in Machida, it's Silva.
This fight is plain and simple. Old-school vs. new-school. Legend vs. hopeful. Put up or go down. Winner fights for gold.
Heavyweight(265 lbs.) - Cheick Kongo (11-4-1) vs. Fabricio Werdum (11-3-1)
Fun fact: there are heavyweights not named Lesnar, Slice, or Emilianenko. I know, crazy, right? Well, here's another one for ya! If given the chance, Cheick Kongo will become the dominant force in the heavyweight division. That sort of thing tends to happen when your game runs the world's most dangerous striker out of town.
He may have lost most recently to Heath Herring, a fight I failed to witness, but the scorecard said it was a split decision, so at least one person feels he won the fight. Besides, Kongo is one scary dude and has the look to be the poster boy of the UFC.
I'll admit it, I am rather partial to members of Chute Boxe. But "Vai Cavalo's" outing against Andrei Arlovski in his UFC debut looked more like S--t Boxe. In case you fell asleep, Arlovski won the decision and was compelled to apologize to the crowd for how horrendous the fight was. But since then, Werdum has TKO'd Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera, in the first round no less, putting him well on the road to the belt.
Kongo has heavy hands and has put them to good use, earning himself seven TKO or KO wins. As stated before, Werdum's last two wins came by way of TKO, a stark contrast to his six submission wins. So we are left to wonder, would Werdum's well-roundedness overcome Kongo's one area of expertise he has been training since five years old?
There you have it, UFC 89: Devin's Delight. Well maybe not quite, but any one of those bouts on a fightcard would be sure to turn heads away from the glimmering gold. Let's just hope Joe Silva checks out the Bleacher Report from time to time.