Saturday night’s Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva made quite an impact on the history of mixed martial arts but perhaps no point was greater illustrated than the size differences among heavyweight MMA fighters.
The former Pride heavyweight champion, Fedor Emelianenko weighed in for his most recent fight at 230-pounds, a number that he has hovered relatively close to throughout most of his MMA career. Even at this fairly low weight, Emelianenko’s body is not toned. In fact, many would say that this legendary fighter is overweight given his frame.
Fedor’s opponent, Antonio Silva, was another story altogether as he tipped the scales, looking ripped at an impressive 264-pounds.
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
While Emelianenko sticks around 230-pounds and doesn’t really cut weight, “Bigfoot” Silva drops significant pounds to make weight for his fights.
While Silva has to get below the 265-pound maximum weight for the heavyweight division the day before the fights, there is no rule that says he has to be that weight when he steps into the cage to fight.
Rumors are that Silva was somewhere around 285-pounds on Saturday night at fight time. By adding back the water-weight and re-fueling his body, this giant’s advantage got even bigger. The 35-pound weight advantage that he had the day before had become a 55-pound weight advantage when the two were set to do battle.
Here is a quick look at the weight classes under the current weight class rules in mixed martial arts among the major U.S. promotions:
Bantamweight: 126 - 135-pounds
Featherweight: 136 - 145-pounds
Lightweight: 146 - 155-pounds
Welterweight: 156 - 170-pounds
Middleweight: 171 - 185-pounds
Light Heavyweight: 186 - 205-pounds
Heavyweight: 206 - 265-pounds
With just a quick glance, the problem here should be very evident as the current heavyweight division has about a 60-pound weight range.
These numbers are actually quite deceiving as well, because most MMA fighters tend to cut at least a bit of weight from their natural size to make sure they are near the top of the weight limits for their given class. It’s very rare to see a fighter in the light heavyweight division or class below that weigh in at more than two pounds under the limit. At the time of the fight, most fighters in the lower weight classes are within a few pounds of one another.
This fairness in weight makes the competition in these weight classes very fair as neither man (or woman as the case may be) steps into the cage with a significant advantage one way or another.
But the heavyweight division is a completely different beast.
While there are fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, Fabricio Werdum, and Junior Dos Santos generally tip the scales at under 240-pounds, there are also fighters such as Brock Lesnar, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Shane Carwin who need to cut weight to make it to 265-pounds. As we saw with Silva and as we have seen in the past with Lesnar and Carwin, this can often mean a huge difference in the weight that they step into the cage at, as they may be as big as 285-plus pounds.
The massive difference in these weights is very obvious. But what if I made you this comparison?
The 55-pound weight advantage that Fedor Emelianenko conceded to Antonio Silva last night would be comparable to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson fighting Frankie Edgar.
Now I realize that the percentage of weight isn’t the same between that potential matchup and the Fedor vs. Silva matchup, but the comparison is really just to help illustrate how ridiculous this 55-pound weight advantage really is.
What’s even scarier is that this isn’t even the biggest weight advantage we’ve seen in recent memory.
When Randy Couture defended his UFC Heavyweight Championship against Brock Lesnar in Nov., 2008, we saw an even bigger weight differential. Lesnar, known to walk around at around 285-pounds prior to cutting weight, weighed in at the 265-pound limit. But Couture wasn’t anywhere near that. Before the bout, Couture said that his goal was to weigh in at 225 pounds. He didn’t even make it there. Couture weighed in at just 220-pounds.
With Lesnar likely getting back up to around 280-285-pounds at fight time, this meant that Couture was at a 60-65-pound weight disadvantage at the time of the fight.
Much like what happened in the Fedor vs. Silva fight this past Saturday, Lesnar’s weight and general size advantage played an integral role in the fight’s outcome as he was able to stop Couture in the second round of the fight to become the UFC Heavyweight champion.
But Couture and Fedor are not alone as smaller heavyweights who often have the monumental task of not only defeating a very skilled fighter, but a skilled fighter who can throw them around like a child.
MMA used to be full of “giants” who were significantly larger than their opponents but would still lose fights because they weren’t as skilled as fighters. But now, we see mammoths like Brock Lesnar and Antonio Silva step into the cage who are as skilled, if not more skilled than their opponents—and they outweigh them by as much as 50 or more pounds.
Since no one is going to suggest that these smaller heavyweights should add on 30-plus pounds of fat or take steroids to add that much muscle, there are really only two solutions to this problem:
- Tell all of these under-240-pound fighters to cut huge amounts of weight and get down to 205-pounds to compete in the light heavyweight division.
- Create a new “Cruiserweight” division to house this large group of athletes.
The first solution sounds good as you first hear it, but it’s just not realistic for some of these fighters. While a few fighters like Randy Couture have gone back and forth between heavyweight and light heavyweight, many of these men have never cut weight in their entire lives. We simply don’t know how depleting their bodies and potentially needing to lose muscle mass would affect these fighters.
Not to mention, most of these fighters are too proud to admit that they are over-matched against their larger opponents, and would choose to just continue fighting them anyway.
The second option, creating a new weight division, seems significantly more plausible. Boxing had a similar problem to this and created their own weight class to add more competitiveness to the sport.
My suggestion would be creating a “Cruiserweight” division that will take fighters from 206 - 235-pounds. The heavyweight division would remain a 265-pound top-end limit but the smaller fighters would no longer be required to face opponents who are so much bigger than them.
This concept is not only fair but one could argue that it is also potentially more profitable for the MMA organizations. While we certainly don’t want to dilute the market with too many championships, adding one more wouldn’t hurt. By adding another title-holder to the mix, we would also be adding an additional champion of the cruiserweight division and thus someone who could be legitimately featured in five-round main events.
A new weight class simply makes all the sense in the world right now as the heavyweight division gets more and more stacked by these monstrous athletes at the top-end of the weight limit.
We wouldn’t expect Urijah Faber to fight Anderson Silva, so why do we expect Fedor Emelianenko to fight Antonio Silva?
It’s time for a cruiserweight division.