A REASONABLE REALIGNMENT OF MMA WEIGHT CLASSES

Kevin SampsonCorrespondent IIINovember 14, 2009

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Mixed Martial Arts weight classes need fixing.  There are a number of things that are broken or that simply don’t make any sense at all. 

But first of all, I want to assure everyone that this is not another “Poor Randy Couture” rant.  I completely disagree with the premise of creating a new weight division just so the fans of one fighter can feel reassured that their man isn’t being picked on.  Randy never asked to be babied nor coddled, and everyone who is up in arms over Brock Lesnar overwhelming him by sheer size alone must have missed the rest of Randy’s entire Heavyweight career.  He’s always the David to his opponent’s Goliath.  The most obvious example was Tim Sylvia, who coincidentally weighs the almost exactly the same as Brock.  Tim Sylvia lost, and that fight wasn’t even close. 

The most dominant Heavyweights of all time are Fedor Emelianenko (233 lbs—31 wins, 1 loss, 1 no contest), Antonio Nogueira (231 lbs—32 wins, 5 losses, 1 no contest) and Randy Couture (220 lbs—16 wins, 10 losses.  10 of his wins were title fights.)  The only giant MMA fighter who could arguably make the list would be Tim Sylvia, and he lost to all three of these men. 

My point is simple: Until we see the huge Heavyweights dominate the division year after year, one can hardly make a case that guys like Big-Nog, Randy and Fedor need a new weight class to protect them.  As soon as they stop beating the crap out of the giant men of the sport, I’ll be convinced. 

Enough said about all that.  Let’s focus on the matter at hand:

What’s wrong with MMA weight classes? 

The Unified Rules of MMA that are adopted by the UFC, Strikeforce and every other US-based promotion specifies the weight classes that we have currently.  Most promotions based in foreign countries do their best to have roughly the same weight classes.  At a glance, I suppose they sort of make sense.  Here they are in all their glory:

  • Flyweight   125 lb 57 kg
  • Bantamweight   135 lb 61 kg
  • Featherweight   145 lb 66 kg
  • Lightweight   155 lb 70 kg
  • Welterweight   170 lb 77 kg
  • Middleweight   185 lb 84 kg
  • Light Heavyweight  205 lb 93 kg
  • Heavyweight   265 lb 120 kg
  • Super Heavyweight  No upper weight limit

Problem Number One: “I cannot Math!!  I have the Stupid!!”   Starting from the bottom we have the Flyweight Division.  Flyweight is capped at 125 lbs.  Hey, why bother starting with a round number that’s easy to remember when you can arbitrarily grab 125 lbs out of thin air, right?  From there we move by ten pound increments to Bantamweight, then to Featherweight and finally to Lightweight. 

Then, for some strange reason, we change to fifteen pound increments, going to Welterweight, then to Middleweight. 

Next we jump twenty pounds to make the jump from Middleweight to Light Heavyweight.  The reason for this is clear: Every set of twins generally has a total of twenty fingers total. Joking of course.

Then we move up to Heavyweight—traditionally an open-weight class, but not in MMA!  For Heavyweight, we shoot up sixty pounds to a weight cap of  265.  Why 60 lbs?  I’ve got no idea, but it’s probably because 265 is a nice round number in some culture we’ve never heard of.  Might have something to do with space aliens having 265 toes or something.  Finally, we have our completely useless open-weight division called the Super-Heavyweight Division.  This takes us directly to problem two.

Problem Number Two: The Super-Heavyweight Division is a Failed Concept.   The UFC doesn’t have this weight class.  Neither does Strikeforce.  Almost everyone doesn’t bother creating a Super-Heavyweight Division.  Why do you think that is?  Lets look at a few of the most noteworthy examples of the huge men that Super-Heavyweight was created for:
Bob Sapp (342 lbs)
Paulo César da "The Giant" Silva (385 lbs)
Hong Man-Choi (320 lbs)
Dan Bobish (330 lbs)
Zuluzinho (390 lbs)
Eric "Butterbean" Esch (416 lbs)
Jimmy Ambriz (315 lbs)

Now what all of these men have in common:
A.) They're probably too big to cut down to 265.
B.) Put them in against any top Heavyweight or even Light Heavyweight, and they will lose, guaranteed.  Just look at their records if you doubt me. 

Meanwhile, notable Super-Heavyweights with real fighting credentials and decent MMA records such as Semmy Schilt, Ron Waterman and Mark Hunt are all close enough in weight to make Heavyweight, no problem. 

Super Heavyweight is a bizarre reversal of logic.  People don’t fight at Super Heavyweight because they’re too big and too dominant for Heavyweights to handle.  They fight at Super Heavyweights because they have no chance of winning against any world-class Heavyweight, or are too big to cut down to Heavyweight.  Usually both are true.  Life is just easier at Super Heavyweight. 

I would suggest we don’t get rid of the Super Heavyweight division entirely.  Instead, keep it as an option, but leave it on the back burner.  Who knows?  Maybe someday we’ll see a sudden influx of dominant 350+ pound fighters.  Until that day comes, let’s put this utterly useless division to bed and let’s put your Hong Man-Choi’s and  Zuluzinho’s back on the big stage known as the Heavyweight Division.  It's certainly a lot of fun watching guys like Fedor and Minowaman systematically destroy giant freaks of nature.  Everybody wins! 

Problem Number Three: MMA needs more title fights, and the fighters need more opportunities.   The UFC is your most obvious promotion that desperately needs more champions.  They put on between 10 and 15 Pay Per View events per year, but they only have five champions to spread around amongst those shows. 

The average MMA fan wants a title fight for their $50, and they’re not getting it. 

Meanwhile, the UFC weight divisions get over-crowded and has to let go of a lot of fighters when they lose two or three fights in a row.  This happens largely because a losing streak of two or three fights might drop them out of title contention indefinitely and the UFC needs room for prospects with title-fight potential.  Younger promotions like Strikeforce are not in any dire need of more champions yet, but if they grow their business enough to survive, they’ll get there very quickly. 

Problem Four: Overcrowded Weight Divisions.   The UFC has a little too much depth at in pretty much every division.  

Light Heavyweight is the most obvious example.  Shogun, Rampage, and Rashad could all make a run at the title and stand a decent chance of slaying the Dragon.  Then there is Thiago Silva, Brandon Vera, Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Ryan Bader—all looking for future title contention.  Look at all the stars, past and present: Gegard Mousasi, Thiago Silva, Forrest Griffin, Tito Ortiz, Little-Nog, Ricardo Arona, Rich Franklin, Keith Jardine, Dan Henderson, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva.  Some are in the UFC, some might be at some future date.  Some may go to Strikeforce and swell the ranks of that Light Heavyweight division.  The overcrowded Light Heavyweight Division has more than enough talent and star-power to split it in two. 

The same could be said of the UFC’s Lightweight, Welterweight and Middleweight divisions.  There's room for expansion across the board! 


Here is what I would suggest:
1.) Make the increments between weight classes consistent.
2.) Create one or two more weight classes.
3.) Eliminate the upper limit to Heavyweight unless and until we actually see giant men actually begin to dominate there.

  • Strawweight   120 lb  57 kg
  • Flyweight   130 lb  61 kg
  • Bantamweight   140 lb  66 kg
  • Featherweight   150 lb  70 kg
  • Lightweight   160 lb  73 kg
  • Welterweight   170 lb  77 kg
  • Super Welterweight 180 lb  84 kg
  • Middleweight   190 lb  86 kg
  • Super Middleweight  200 lb  91 kg
  • Light Heavyweight  210 lb  95 kg
  • Cruiserweight   220 lb  100 kg
  • Heavyweight   No upper weight limit
  • Super-Heavyweight (optional) Over  300 lb 136kg  [Note: Super-Heavyweight can be instituted by a promotion if they choose.  By so doing, a weight limit of 300 lbs/136 kg goes into effect for that promotions’ Heavyweight Division.] 

I think this effectively solves a lot of problems: The weight divisions are easy to keep track of and line up by even ten pound increments.  Mixed martial arts fighters would have more opportunities, while their fans would get more title fights.  The Heavyweight Division would once again mean what we think it means—it would be an open-weight division for the biggest, baddest fighters on the planet.

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