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Silva vs Franklin, A Sign Of Things To Come?

Wanderlei Silva Training
Photo courtesy of CombatLifestyle.com

Two legends in MMA will meet at a catchweight for the UFC’s inaugural show in Germany this summer. How could this possibly be a bad thing?

Our fellow writer, Mark, eloquently described the positives of having Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva meet in the main event for UFC 99. I am more pessimistic about what this means for the UFC and MMA as a whole.

Both Franklin and Silva are in a fighter limbo. Franklin is able to defeat everyone in the middleweight division with the exception of the current champion, Anderson Silva. For Wanderlei, this moment may be the twilight of his career, after all in his last five fights at light heavyweight, he is 1-4 while suffering three KO’s. While there is still hope that Wanderlei will be able to undergo a Renaissance at middleweight, but this fight is at a catchweight of 195lbs, not middleweight.

Considering all the questions surrounding Franklin and Silva, the match up makes perfect sense for the UFC. After all it puts to use two of their more marketable stars in a debut bout in Germany.

So why am I so uncomfortable with the fight?

Because it reminds me of boxing.

The fight between Franklin and Silva is a perfect example of two fighters being placed on a card fight for their star power rather than the greater advancement of a division or the title picture. This is something we see in boxing not MMA. Remember, one of the chief successes of the UFC is that it tries to value the promotion over that of the individual (sometimes to the detriment of both the whole and the individual). Keeping the focus on the divisional picture and title contention helps the UFC to prevent the natural fracturing that occurred and crippled boxing.

I am not naive to think that stars are not important to selling pay-per view events and tickets. Or that having two champions from different division meet is extremely profitable. However, there is a difference when a champion moves up in weight to challenge the other champion, like Penn – St. Pierre, then two fighters meeting at a catchweight to fill a main event. I am fearful of the possible splintering that occurs when the marketability of a few stars is more important than the whole.

Of course one catchweight main event doesn’t mean that there will suddenly be a flood of fighters meeting at 180, 160, 200, 175 or any other weight. It also doesn’t mean that fighters will suddenly be leaving the UFC and putting together their own fights with their managers and individual promoters. Yet, the UFC’s willingness to make a catchweight main event does open Pandora’s box for future alterations in the name of money.

Now there is a need for catchweight fights, especially when there is a sudden last minute change required. However, the Franklin-Silva fight is not a last minute attempt at saving a fight card from a sudden injury. It is, instead, an attempt to maximize profits of an expansion event with two marketable stars. Once again, this is totally legitimate and fine, but I am fearful for what this means in the future.

Ryan Harkness of Fightlinker brought up a good point this past weekend when we were discussing this very issue. Ryan cited Dana White’s reaction to Travis Lutter not making weight for his title bout with Anderson Silva. White was in disbelief that a numbered UFC event was without a title fight. That, of course, is now a norm thanks to UFC 78 where Rashad Evans fought Michael Bisping. In 2009, three of the four UFC numbered events did not have title fights.

Could Franklin vs. Silva start is own trend, and reshape the way we look at the UFC and MMA. Well it has already started, Robbie Lawler and Jake Shields will fight for Strikeforce at a catchweight. If this trend continues I am afraid that it is a step towards the business model of boxing and that way madness lies.

Zak Woods is the founder of the mixed martial arts blog WatchKalibRun.com.

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