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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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?
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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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