UFC 99 “The Comeback”, scheduled for June 13 in Cologne, Germany, features a very intriguing match-up between former Pride 205-pound champion Wanderlei Silva and former UFC middleweight champion, Rich Franklin. The fight is interesting not only because both guys are in serious need of a win after recent losses but also because the bout is taking place at a unique catchweight of 195-pounds. Personally, I think a catchweight bout is a great idea for both fighters. Silva and Franklin are both legendary veterans who are popular enough to headline a pay-per-view, yet both are facing the problem that they are not in title contention in their particular weight divisions.
Franklin especially, but Silva as well, have been loyal, marketable stars for Zuffa and deserve a bit of a break from the UFC. In the past Franklin has been quite open about how miserable cutting weight makes him. In fact, when approached by UFC President Dana White about fighting at UFC 99, Franklin was adamant that he wanted to fight at 205 pounds and had no interest in dropping to 185. Instead of forcing Franklin’s hand, White came up with a compromise. After a devastating loss at 205 pounds to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Wanderlei Silva was being forced to consider a drop to 185 pounds in hopes of reinvigorating his recently slumping career. Dropping from 205 to 185 is a big drop for Wanderlei so White suggested that a fight at 195 was a good way for Franklin to save himself ten pounds of weight cutting, and for Wanderlei to incrementally adjust to dropping a significant amount of weight for the first time. A catchweight fight between the two may have no title implications but it makes sense for the UFC because it rewards two of their older and more loyal fighters with not having to drop as much weight, and yet it still offers the UFC an exciting and marketable main event featuring two proven pay-per-view stars.
Rich Franklin’s reservations about weight cutting are not just the unfounded grumblings of an aging fighter who only wants to eat more fried food and ice cream. Temporary grumpiness aside, weight cutting can also have serious consequences to the health of fighters. That being said, most people who cut weight under professional supervision rarely suffer any major negative effects. Of course, this doesn’t mean there haven’t been any tragic examples of weight cutting gone bad. For instance, in 1997, three NCAA wrestlers died cutting weight, which led to increased guidelines into the practice. More recently, in 1994, a high school wrestler collapsed with a stroke after cutting 25-30 pounds in a week. In terms of what consistent weight cutting will do to the health of fighters, long-term effects of the practice have yet to be studied.
In July 2008, the Association of Boxing Commissions set out new unified rules for mixed martial arts, which introduced more weight classes, including ones at 165, 195 and 225 pounds. At that time, the UFC decided that they would no longer follow the unified rules because they didn’t want to adopt the new weight classes. Whatever the UFC decides to do about weight classes is important, because as the premier mixed martial arts organization, whatever the UFC decides to do will be the standard. Sure, Gary Shaw could create a new weight class for Nick Diaz, but EliteXC never had the clout that the UFC does to force all of the regional organizations into adopting a new weight class.
Even if the UFC was interested in adding more weight classes, it’s just not practical for them right now. Zuffa puts on about 50 shows a year, which sounds like a lot, but considering the amount of fighters they have under contract, there are just not the number of shows planned or the number of top draw fighters to justify trying to introduce another weight division. That being said, the UFC probably realizes it could continue to expand to the point where they will be able to put on more shows, at which point serious consideration about adopting a new weight class would not be out of the question. Holding a few high profile catchweight bouts between their elder statesmen is a good way of easing into the idea of adopting another weight class, ensuring mixed martial arts won’t turn into boxing with a ridiculous 17 weight classes.
In the past, the UFC has avoided booking catchweight bouts. There has been the odd exception, such as the super fight between Royce Gracie and Matt Hughes at UFC 60, but generally catchweight fights have been extremely rare. However, the UFC is not ignorant that the odd catchweight bout can offer them promotional advantages by giving fans what Dana White calls the “dream fights fans never thought they would get to see.” If Franklin vs Wanderlei is a success and this trend continues, the opportunity for dream fights is enough to make any hardcore fan salivate. Imagine seeing Chuck Liddell vs Cro Cop at 215 pounds, or Hendo vs Shogun at 195 pounds. Maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky enough we’ll one day get to see GSP vs Anderson Silva in a catchweight bout.
Going into UFC 99, Franklin is experienced at cutting extreme amounts of weight; for Wanderlei, since he isn’t used to cutting that much weight, it will be interesting to see how much getting down to 195 pounds hinders his performance. One thing is for sure, as the focus on weight cutting within mixed martial arts continues to increase, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the UFC’s first planned high profile catchweight bout in a long time.