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Old 09-08-2007, 01:38 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Breaking Down the UFCís Middleweight Division (and Building it Back up)

Usually when I conduct an interview for CBSSports.com, my editor and I end up making edits that can sometimes leave a third of the original Q&A session on the cutting-room floor. Thereís an exception to that rule, and that exception would be Dana White.

The transcript of my recent interview with the UFCís president you see on CBSSports.com is basically how the exact conversation went. Only one cut was made, and it had to do with a question pertaining to the future of the middleweight title picture in the UFC.

The best part about interviewing White is that he doesnít dodge any questions. He gives you a straight answer or tells you he canít answer the question and usually explains why. As such, I was a little surprised when I asked him about the middleweight division and an answer didnít immediately pop into his head.

The exchange went as follows:

Question: After Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin face each other at UFC 77, who do you think will be in the middleweight title picture as far as contenders are concerned?

Dana White: God, you know? Off the top of my head, I couldnít even answer that. Iíve got to see what happens with those two and then go from there.

I asked him the question because I sincerely would like to know whatís going on in the UFCís middleweight division. Itís the weakest division in the promotion right now, and there arenít any legitimate contenders lined up for a title shot after Silva vs. Franklin II. If Silva wins the rematch, the division is in trouble because Franklin is the last legitimate contender out there right now.

The crazy thing is, if Franklin wins, then the division is still in trouble because unless we see Franklin vs. Silva III, what other marquee title matchup is there?

The UFC middleweight division not only needs a short-term boost, but there are long-term questions as well. You can only have Franklin and Silva fight each other so many times, and at a certain point, the division will need an infusion of new impact players.

I was left with plenty of questions following Whiteís response and decided to do some brainstorming to come up with some answers of my own. I elected to break down all the possible short-term and long-term ways that the UFC could remake the middleweight division:

Throw established mid-level fighters into title contention.

The UFC could try to put a Band-Aid on the situation by turning to some familiar names who are simply not number one contenders right now. The top options include:

* Jason MacDonald/Yushin Okami ó Iím combining MacDonald and Okami because they will be fighting each other at UFC 77. The winner of this match could be in line for a title shot if Silva defeats Franklin. The UFC will have major short-term problems, though, if Franklin wins because he already holds recent victories over both Okami and MacDonald. The UFC would have a hard time selling Franklin vs. Okami or Franklin vs. MacDonald as anything more than a UFC Fight Night main event.
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* Nate Marquardt ó Man, did he ever fall off the face of the earth? I think the fact that Marquardt lost so quickly and decisively to Silva at UFC 73 really hurt his stock. The fact that he has a reputation for not having the most exciting fights is another issue. I like Marquardt as a fighter because heís so well-rounded, and I believe he should be given a chance to earn another shot, but there doesnít seem like any sense of urgency to have him start climbing the ladder again.
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* Dean Lister ó His Jiu-Jitsu credentials cannot be questioned, and he was one fight away from fighting for the title before losing to Marquardt at UFC Fight Night 8 in January. When reports surfaced last week that he was coming back, it was said that he had put in a request to fight the Silva vs. Franklin winner. Iím sorry, but I donít see that happening. Whatís the point of having a winner to determine a No. 1 contender if the loser ends up getting a title shot anyway? If Lister wants a title shot, then heíll have to earn it.
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* Evan Tanner ó I donít want to leave any stone unturned, and thatís why Iím including Tanner. He has the skill to make one more run at the title, but heís just so unreliable. Oh, thereís also the fact that heís apparently not currently under contract.

Final Analysis: If Silva beats Franklin, then it seems likely his next title defense would be against Okami or MacDonald. While either matchup would be legitimate, is Silva vs. Okami or Silva vs. MacDonald going to get anyone excited about the middleweight division?

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Look to lesser established names currently on the roster.

The UFC has a few less-established fighters who are currently working their way up the ladder. While these fighters have plenty of potential, itís uncertain if they are ready to contend for the title right now.

* Terry Martin ó Martin has been impressive since dropping down from light heavyweight by showing impressive power. His next fight is scheduled for UFC Fight Night 11 on Sept. 19 against Chris Leben, a match that I have little doubt heíll win. If he cuts through Leben in impressive fashion in front of a large television audience, then it wouldnít surprise me if he were selected to fight the winner of Franklin vs. Silva. But is he a legitimate contender for the title right now? Heís still rather short for 185 and would be giving up a lot of reach against Franklin or Silva. Martinís ground game is also a bit of a mystery right now. Having him fight for the title within the next six months might be rushing things, and both the UFC and Martin would benefit from waiting.
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* Martin Kampmann ó Next to Silva, Kampmann might be the best technical striker in the division. But while his technique is excellent, his power is not. Heís more of a combination striker at this point and not someone who is a threat to knock someone out with one shot. When he fought Drew McFedries at UFC 68, he was landing more punches, but McFedries was landing more power shots. Kampmann realized it was a losing battle, and the former Muay Thai champion decided to get the fight on the ground, where he was able to win with an arm triangle at 4:06 of round one. Iím concerned that he might be a little small for the division, and as such, I just donít see him hanging with Silva or Franklin. The even bigger concern is that heís injured, and thereís not a definitive timetable for his return.
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* Drew McFedries Ė It didnít look like he was too far away from a title shot after he steamrolled Jordan Radev in 33 seconds at UFC Fight Night 10 on June 12. The heavy-handed MFS product has a ton of potential and is definitely a fighter to keep an eye on. Heíd be a contender for the title if not for the fact heís still at least seven months from fighting after contracting staph infection last month. McFedries could be a long-term solution, but he canít provide the immediate help that the division needs.
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* Thales Leites ó Leites is 12-1 and currently on a three-fight win streak in the UFC. Heís bounced back nicely after losing a unanimous decision to Kampmann during The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale. His ground game is exceptional, and the UFC has high hopes for him, but heís simply not ready. You could put him in a title situation, but not enough people know about him, and his standup isnít ready for Franklin or Silva. The UFC could potentially ruin a good thing by not exercising some patience. Leites needs to headline a couple of Spike TV events and get some notable wins on his resume against guys like Lister, Leben or Patrick Cote.
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* Kendall Grove ó By his own admission, he felt he was more than a year away from competing for the title. And that was before the upset loss to Cote at UFC 74. Grove is a multidimensional fighter who works very hard at his game, so heíll be back. Iím just not sure how soon.

Breaking Down the UFC’s Middleweight Division (and Building it Back up) -- UFC news at MMAjunkie.com
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Old 09-08-2007, 01:46 PM   #2 (permalink)
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yeh this division sux...it really sux.

compare it to like LHW where we have wandy, shogun, chuck, dan, quinton....arguably the best 5 guys in the world at 205lbs....5 freaking juggernauts and middleweight has what....maybe 2 top 5 fighters arguably...
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Old 09-08-2007, 01:54 PM   #3 (permalink)
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The MW division is really hurting now, and there's not a lot that can be done to remedy that without bringing in new talent. Kampmann is out for a year, Lister's beatdown by Marquardt is still fresh, Marquardt's own beatdown is so recent, MacDonald's corner literally threw in the towel versus the guy who got demolished by Silva, and Grove just got KTFO. The only guy who's really got a reasonable shot at a title fight is Okami, who fought a good match against Franklin. If he can beat Macdonald, than he's the only other real contender.

What they need to do is bring Matt Lindland back, Denis Kang, promote Paulo Filho from the minor leagues, and if Henderson loses have him drop down. The problem, and it's been acknowledged several times on this forum, is that the MW division pretty much sucks across the globe. I mean think about it: Most top 10 lists have Frank Trigg up there, and Trigg sucks. The only real memories I have of Trigg are him getting KTFO out by Sakurai, choked out twice by Hughes, choked out by GSP, and him getting demolished by Lawler. That guy is in the top 10? ...lol. Speaking of Lawler, I'd have loved to see him or Frank Shamrock get picked up, but unfortunately they both have contracts with Elite XC (Lawler recently signed an additional 4 fights I heard).
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Old 09-08-2007, 02:01 PM   #4 (permalink)
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here is the rest of the breakdown.

Final Analysis: McFedries and Kampmann are both on the shelf and will each need at least two wins upon their returns before they can contend. Kampmann could be a year away from fighting for the title, and McFedries could be a year and a half away. Leites needs more time time to develop. The guy here to watch is Martin. If he beats Leben in convincing fashion, then the UFC might be able to get away with Silva vs. Martin or Franklin vs. Martin as a non-main event title match.

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Bring in fighters currently on the roster that arenít fighting in the division.

Two of the UFCís best options at middleweight arenít even fighting at 185 right now. The light heavyweight division is stacked, and 185 could be a potential home for some of the talent overflow.

* Dan Henderson ó If Henderson fights at 185 lbs. to unify the PRIDE welterweight and UFC middleweight titles, heís walking away the winner. No doubt about it. However, Iím not so sure how much interest he has in the middleweight division right now. Light heavyweight is where the big-money main events that will provide solid pay-per-view bonuses are at. The bottom line is Henderson can make more money from potential matchups against Chuck Liddell or Mauricio ďShogunĒ Rua than he can against Franklin or Silva. When Eric ďPerformifyĒ Foster and I interviewed Henderson during a chat here on MMAjunkie.com, Henderson revealed he has just two fights left on his contract. When you think about it, heís already up for renegotiation. It just doesnít make sense from a business standpoint to fight at 185 unless his prospects at 205 dry up.
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* Michael Bisping ó Bisping feels he could move to middleweight and immediately take the title. While I believe he could compete for it right away, Iím not so sure heíd beat Silva. Bispingís style is similar to Franklinís, and we know how the first Franklin vs. Silva fight went down. If Bisping could avoid the clinch, then he might have a valid point. However, if Silva got a hold of him, his fate could be the same as Franklinís. Looking long-term, 185 is a perfect fit for Bisping. Heíd bring a lot of star power and athleticism to the division. Right now heís just another name at 205 with Liddell, Henderson, Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Tito Ortiz and Shogun. Put him at middleweight, and he could be a franchise player. But Bisping put it best in reference to changing weight classes: ďIf itís ainít broke, why fix it?Ē Light heavyweight is stacked right now, but the move to 185 doesnít make sense until he suffers a loss at 205.
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* Mike Swick ó Swick was planning on moving to welterweight, but everything is on hold after he had to pull out of his match against Jonathan Goulet at UFC Fight 11. The idea of Swick moving to 170 lbs. made a lot more sense immediately following his loss to Okami than it does right now. After UFC 69 there was a waiting list for a shot at the middleweight title. Thatís no longer the case. In fact, Swick is much closer to a middleweight title shot than he is to a welterweight shot. Since heís yet to fight at 170 lbs., thereís no reason he canít change his mind and stay at 185 for the time being. Swick is an exciting fighter and has somewhat of a fanbase stemming from his involvement in the first season of TUF. With one or two wins, I think Swick vs. Franklin or Swick vs. Silva could be marketable matchups. He should make one more run at the middleweight title before he considers dropping down.
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* B.J. Penn ó Iím really trying to think out of the box with this one. Penn has competed at middleweight before, just not on an extended basis. From a marketing standpoint, his best weight is 170 lbs. It also seems like the weight he wants to fight at. But perhaps he can be persuaded to make a pit stop at 185 lbs. Penn is extremely competitive and might be interested in the challenge. While a matchup between Penn and Silva would be awkward, can you honestly say you arenít intrigued by it?

Final Analysis: Putting Penn at 185 is interesting but not in his best interests. If Henderson defeats Rampage, we may never see him fight at middleweight again. Middleweight is where Bispingís long-term future is, but thereís no reason for him to make the move until he loses at 205. If I were Swickís manager, Iíd tell him to reconsider moving to welterweight. And if I were the UFC, Iíd lay out a clear path to the middleweight title for him to entice him to stay.

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Transfer fighters from the WEC.

The WEC has a pretty good middleweight division, and while Zuffa doesnít want to use it as a feeder league, desperate times call for desperate measures.

* Paulo Filho ó With Henderson competing at 205 and Matt Lindlandís last fight being at heavyweight, there might not be a better active middleweight in the world right now than Filho. He made a respectable fighter like Joe Doerksen look less than respectable during his WEC debut on Aug. 5. His ground game is sick, and it looks like his standup is finally coming around. The issue is that Zuffa wants to build up Filho, and they feel the WEC is the best place to do it. I wouldnít expect him to be brought over anytime soon because Iíve been told Zuffa feels once they bring one WEC fighter over to the UFC that everyone will look at it as a feeder league. Thereís also the issue of Filho and current UFC champ Silva being friends. When I interviewed Filho last month, he didnít rule out the possibility of fighting Silva ó but didnít seem excited about the prospects of it. Once Filho arrives, he could own the division, but his arrival could take a year and a half.
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* Jason ďMayhemĒ Miller ó During the MMAjunkie.com chat with Henderson, he not only updated us on his own contract status but revealed that Mayhem has just one fight left on his WEC contract. Millerís current deal is actually the same contract he signed for while he was with the now-defunct World Fighting Alliance. The contract was transferred over when Zuffa purchased select assets from the WFA, and Miller didnít have much of a choice. Heíll hold all the cards after his next fight because if he wants to fight for the UFC and Zuffa doesnít accommodate him, heíll likely get a big-money offer from EliteXC. Miller has already done some broadcast work for ProElite.com, so a business relationship already exists on a small level. Even if Mayhem doesnít politic, Zuffa should still move him over to the UFC because itís in their best interests. The guy is already a star on some levels and could become a bigger star with increased exposure. Oh yeah, heís also one hell of a fighter and would deliver some great fights.

Final Analysis: Filho will ultimately be in the UFC, but he might be 4-5 fights away from making the move, and the division needs immediate help. The right move here is to sign Miller to a new contract and move him into the UFC. Why not sign a match between Miller and Swick with the winner being granted a title shot?

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Sign a high-profile free agent.

There are a lot of good middleweights currently not fighting for Zuffa. Guys like Robbie Lawler, Murilo ďNinjaĒ Rua, Frank Shamrock, Trevor Prangley and Joey Villasenor are all legit. Unfortunately, none are available. There are a couple of names who just might be though.

* Denis Kang ó Thereís been a lot of rumors making the rounds that Kang just signed a one-year deal with K-1 Heroís for $100,000 per fight. Business is done differently in Japan than in the U.S., so I wonít be convinced Kang is off the market until he resumes fighting. Dana White thinks highly of Kang but does not consider him to be big enough of a name to match some of the existing offers that are out there. I can understand why a company would want to be fiscally responsible, but Kang is a great fighter and has a marketable personality. It wouldnít take long for him to gain traction with fans that arenít familiar with his work. The UFC middleweight division needs more star power, and if they were going to overspend for one fighter, Kang is the guy. Heís a perfect fit for the UFC, but based on Whiteís comments, I just donít see it happening anytime soon. If Kang is indeed signed to K-1, the UFC could get another shot at him a year from now, but his market value will only increase.
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* Matt Lindland ó Lindland is under contract to BodogFIGHT, but Iím not sure if itís exclusive. The issue, though, is that if you canít be exclusive to the UFC, then you canít fight for the UFC. Right now Lindland canít offer exclusivity to the UFC, but Bodog reportedly has changed its business model and is making cutbacks. Lindland is one of their priciest fighters, so his run with the company could be tenuous. He doesnít have the most exciting style in the world, but heís a tremendous athlete and like Kang, heíd boost the divisionís credibility. The question is, is there legitimate heat between him and Dana White? Theyíve both been asked about it numerous times, and it seems like the story keeps changing. We wonít see Lindland in the UFC again anytime soon, but it doesnít mean I wouldnít love for it to happen.

Final Analysis: Kang and Lindland would add a lot of star power and credibility to the division, but thereís no reason to expect them to fight for the UFC within the next 12 months.

In conclusion, Swick, Martin and Miller could all give 185 an immediate boost. Long-term, Grove, Leites, Kang, Filho and Bisping could be the future of the division.

* * * *
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Old 09-08-2007, 02:19 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I am just surprised that such a good in-depth analysis didn't even bring up Frank Shamrock. I think he has the charisma, talent and fan power to make a good run at MW
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Old 09-08-2007, 02:23 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Cool post. I didn't mean to post in the middle of your two sections, so sorry about that.
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Old 09-08-2007, 02:24 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashokjr
I am just surprised that such a good in-depth analysis didn't even bring up Frank Shamrock. I think he has the charisma, talent and fan power to make a good run at MW
I think he wasn't brought up because he's under contract with Elite XC.
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Old 09-08-2007, 02:24 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I think he wasn't brought up because he's under contract with Elite XC.
and the fact that as long as Dana is the President of the UFC you will never see him fight for the promotion.
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