Superfight Between Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre Makes No Sense
In the wake of Jon Jones' one-sided domination of Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, fans present at UFC 128 immediately began buzzing with the thought of a super fight between the new light-heavyweight champion and longtime middleweight ruler Anderson Silva. Thankfully, this is nothing more than hype and talk at this point, for there are an abundance of challenges waiting for the new champion.
Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility of another unwarranted matchup – if welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre defeats Jake Shields, he will move to middleweight to fight Silva. While this is certainly an interesting matchup, it is not one that should be made – at least not yet.
If GSP beats Shields, there is the (very valid) argument that there is nothing left for him at welterweight. He has run through everyone put in front of him, and convincingly avenged his losses to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra. A case could be made that his talents are being wasted against his outclassed competition, and a move to middleweight and the challenge offered by much bigger and stronger fighters would be the next logical step in GSP's continually building legend.
Middleweight champion Anderson Silva faces a similar situation – he has destroyed practically the entire division; besting submission specialists Demian Maia and Thales Leites, world-class wrestler Chael Sonnen, blazing striker Vitor Belfort, and well-rounded fighters such as Rich Franklin and Nate Marquardt. He's even teased a move to 205 a few times, smashing James Irvin and former champion Forrest Griffin with disturbing ease. It only makes sense for him to face an equally dominant fighter to find out the sport's true pound-for-pound greatest.
The Elephant in the Room
While GSP could hold a very legitimate claim to beating everyone worth beating in his division, Silva cannot, at least not yet. Since 2006, Yushin Okami has been as impressive as anyone in the division and holds a contentious DQ victory over the champion – something Silva has been vocal about wishing to avenge. Unfortunately, Okami has suffered a pair of horribly-timed hiccups in his otherwise spotless run: an uneventful decision loss to former champ Rich Franklin (a fight in which Okami managed the only actual meaningful offense, but was too timid and dropped the first two rounds), and another decision loss to future contender Chael Sonnen. Beyond that, Okami has been nearly flawless, racking up victories over Nate Marquardt, former champ Evan Tanner, and ADCC champion Dean Lister during his stint in the promotion.
Simply put, to deny Okami a shot – especially after his performance in a supposed title eliminator against Marquardt, is unfair to say the least. The bottom line is that a marketable champion like Sonnen – or at the very least, a champion capable of producing ultra-violence like Silva – is better for business than a soft-spoken fighter with a grinding style. The loss to Sonnen was a legitimate setback, but to pass him over for a shot in favor of Vitor Belfort – who had exactly zero wins in the UFC middleweight division prior to his title bout – makes it abundantly clear that the concern is more with finding a champion who draws, rather than a champion who is the best.
Silva's proposed superfight with GSP – who has never fought at middleweight in his career – does nothing to dispel this notion. This is simply something that is not found in non-combative sports. If a baseball team with a small fan base and very little national appeal wins the most games, they still get to play in the World Series, even if the majority of people would rather see the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees chase another title. For all of the UFC's effort to become accepted as a legitimate sport, they seem to be painfully unconcerned with legitimate title challenges.
An Unproven Challenger
In addition, one must consider what exactly GSP has done to earn his shot at middleweight. The division is stronger than it has ever been, and GSP is completely untested. He will be facing fighters significantly larger and stronger than any he has seen at welterweight, and with vastly different skillsets. While GSP ran over Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, Chael Sonnen is significantly larger than both, and a superior wrestler. A bloated BJ Penn is still a huge grappling challenge, but not on the level of Demian Maia at his ideal weight. There is no one at welterweight that presents problems like Vitor's lightning-fast hands or Rousimar Palhares' sadistic submission game. If Georges wants a shot at Silva, he should have to run the gauntlet and prove he's worthy of a title shot. In addition, St. Pierre is a huge draw, so a fight with any other contender would still do good business and offers the potential to elevate a fairly unknown fighter like Palhares in the process.
Better Options for Silva
While Okami remains the most legitimate challenger to the title, hardcore fans (this author included) are becoming resigned to the idea that he will continue to be overlooked. In that case, with Zuffa's recent acquisition of Strikeforce, a champion vs. champion bout with Strikeforce middleweight champ Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza is far more interesting and legitimate than one with GSP at this point. While Silva has dismantled BJJ specialists Maia and Leites in the past, neither one had the wrestling ability of Souza, and neither were able to force Silva to engage them on the ground for any significant amount of time. A returning Dan Henderson would also be worthwhile, as Henderson is the Strikeforce 205-pound champion and put up one of the better efforts in his first crack at Silva. And of course, there is the rematch with Chael Sonnen, who completely dominated the champion for 23 minutes before being caught in an incredible come-from-behind submission win for Silva.
Georges St.Pierre is truly an amazing fighter. He might even be able to beat Anderson Silva, but he hasn't earned the chance to try yet. Give GSP some fights against tough contenders, let him test the waters at middleweight and see how his game stands up against stronger, more dangerous adversaries. Sonnen more than deserves a rematch with Silva. Take him out of his fight with Michael Bisping and let him fight for the title again. Feed Bisping to Okami in a title eliminator, let Okami benefit from the exposure of that comes with beating a well-known fighter, and then let him challenge the winner of Sonnen/Silva II. By this time, GSP should have had a few fights in the division, and provided he wins, then – and only then – he will have earned a chance to become a multidivisional champion.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Eric Kowal's rebuttal argument as to why the fight between Silva and St-Pierre makes perfect sense for the UFC and fans across the world.