There Is No Need For a Cruiserweight Division in the UFC

Darren WongSenior Analyst IJune 7, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 26:  UFC fighter Frank Mir (pictured) weighs in for his fight against UFC fighter Shane Carwin for their Interim Championship Heavyweight fight at UFC 111: St-Pierre vs. Hardy Weigh-In on March 26, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

When news surfaced last week that Frank Mir is considering a move down to 205 lbs, it started a whole new round of fans and media people saying that the UFC should adopt a cruiserweight division at 235 lbs.

As is usual with most of MMA's often-discussed topics, frankly, it's already been settled for those who have bothered to actually give the topic any deep thought.

There is no need for a cruiserweight division.

The History of The MMA Cruiserweight Discussion

The whole hullabaloo over the need for a cruiserweight division in the UFC really started in the lead-up to the UFC 91 fight between Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture.

Couture came into the fight officially 45 pounds smaller than Lesnar, and the weight difference was probably another 10 pounds greater than that by the time Lesnar re-hydrated after the weigh-ins.

When Lesnar defeated Couture in strongman-esque fashion, it only intensified the gut reaction people had that says we need some kind of intermediate division separating civilized heavyweights like Couture from their gorilla-sized counterparts like as Lesnar.

The Longer History Of Heavyweight MMA

Lost in the recent discussion and rhetoric about the need for a cruiserweight division is a deeper historical look into the history of MMA heavyweights.

Consider the following list:

Randy Couture, Fedor Emelianenko, Minotauro Nogueira, and Mirko Cro Cop.

This list is a list of four of the greatest heavyweights in MMA history. Coincidentally, it's also a list of four relatively small heavyweights.

A 220 pound, 45-year-old Couture managed to fight fairly competitively with Lesnar despite the age and weight differences.

In fights past, Couture has weighed more, but he's never been a large heavyweight, and was always no more than a diet and a weight cut away from being a regular-sized 205er.

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic also was never a particularly large heavyweight. Lately, Cro Cop has been fighting at about 225 pounds, which is no more than what some light-heavyweights weigh as they step into the Octagon after re-hydrating.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, owner of the second greatest resume in heavyweight MMA history, fought the best part of his career weighing about 230 pounds.

The greatest historical heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko is actually small for a heavyweight. He weighs around 230 pounds, while carrying around a good 15 pounds more fat than your typical UFC 205-pound fighter.

If he lost that "extra" fat, and did a proper weight cut, it would be completely unsurprising if Emelianenko could make the 185-pound weight class.

In truth, most of the best heavyweights in MMA history have been smaller heavyweights.

What Has Changed?

In the past few years, a few gigantic heavyweights have emerged who have managed to convince the masses that the big heavyweights are just too big.

Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Alistair Overeem, are three intimidating physical presences, and without these three guys, there is practically no way people can argue that the big heavyweights are just too big.

After all, nobody is complaining about weight advantage when it comes to guys like Tim Sylvia, Brett Rogers, and Ben Rothwell, who also weigh in at the 265-pound limit.

Back to the big three...

Lesnar, Carwin, and Overeem are so big that people have begun to think that they're just too big for the rest of the competition, but for all their size, the evidence of their superiority just isn't there.

As previously stated, Lesnar was visibly tired after fighting one round with Couture, who was a really small heavyweight.

With that in mind, I find it interesting to think about what might happen if he fought Cain Velasquez, a wrestling heavyweight who at 240 is 20 pounds heavier than Couture, and he is known for having insanely good cardio.

In fact, I'll go as far as to say I think a fight between Lesnar and Velasquez would be no better an even match, if not worse for Lesnar.

I'm equally interested in how Carwin would fare against Velasquez. Carwin's reputation has been built on the back of wins over Gabriel Gonzaga and Frank Mir.

The interesting thing about Carwin's opposition to this point is that Gonzaga and Mir were both similar in size to Carwin.  There are a few important things to keep in mind when thinking about those wins.

First of all, I think it's worth pointing out that Carwin was taken down by a slightly smaller Gonzaga, who in turn was taken down by Couture. With that in mind, I can't help but think that Carwin's wrestling is probably a bit less invincible than some might imagine.

Looking at the way Gonzaga clearly rocked Carwin further made me believe that Carwin is far from unbeatable. If a smaller and more mobile heavyweight like Junior Dos Santos manages to land on the slower Carwin, I can easily imagine Carwin going down.

Overeem certainly looked invincible against Brett Rogers in a fight where he was actually the smaller fighter, and he proved in that fight that technique is more important than size.  It was Overeem's grappling skill that made the difference in that fight, not his size.

Why There's No Reason For A Cruiserweight Division

From what I've written so far, we have three guys who really push the limits of the heavyweight division.

That said, I'm far from convinced that any of those three will wind up proving to be the greatest of the current MMA heavyweights.

In fact, I still favor Emelianenko in the anticipated fight against Overeem, and I think that Velasquez will prove to be more than a match for Lesnar and Carwin.

More than anything though, the main thing to keep in mind is that the supremacy of larger heavyweights is still far from proven.

Part of the reason why small heavyweights have had success historically is because after a certain weight there is a tradeoff of speed and conditioning.  Faster and better conditioned heavyweights can often run circles around larger opponents.

The Theoretical Cruiserweight Division

Over the past few years, a cruiserweight division has been talked about as some sort of mystical dream land where Randy Couture can dance and frolic up until his retirement at the healthy age of 62.

This is hardly how a cruiserweight division would play out.

For starters, Randy Couture wouldn't be a champ there because at the very least, Minotauro Nogueira, a guy who beat him decisively, could easily make that weight limit.

The truth about Couture is that he was simply too small to be a heavyweight, and the only reason he ever moved back up there to face Tim Sylvia is because that option was seemed a lot easier than returning again at 205 against the likes of Quinton Jackson and Chuck Liddell, who knocked him out twice.

Anybody who weighs less than 230 pounds should be cutting down to 205 pounds anyway.

The guys who could actually be fighting at cruiserweight would be guys like Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Minotauro Nogueira, and Fedor Emelianenko.

In fact, Alistair Overeem could probably dehydrate down to the 235-pound limit with few problems.

Yet as I've already said, I think that Velasquez and Emelianenko could be competitive against guys like Carwin and Lesnar anyway, so I hardly see the point of creating a pointless division that encompasses almost everybody but leaves Lesnar and Carwin stranded out in no-man's land.

As for Frank Mir, the reason that he got beaten by Carwin had very little to do with a size advantage, and had much more to do with Mir not being able to do anything about Carwin's dirty boxing, and generally not being able to stand up to punishment very well.

Frank Mir may not be as big as Carwin or Lesnar, but he's certainly not as fast as Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans, or Lyoto Machida, so he'd gain little competitive edge by dropping a weight class.

The only thing Frank Mir gains by dropping a weight class is another chance to reinvent himself in the eyes of the public and media, which is probably what his weight class talk is really about.


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