SHARE


Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of
Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company,
Evolve Media.

* * *


Who can deny the allure of cross-division fights?

Not only do we get to see fighters test their mettle against larger
opponents — or, in some cases, against fighters who are closer to
being their own size — but we also get to see another dimension of
matchmaking possibilities. It’s great imaginative fodder, no doubt,
but in practice it also tends to be pretty damn exciting. The list
of greats who made names for themselves jumping around weight
classes is exclusive and prestigious: Randy
Couture
, B.J. Penn,
Anderson
Silva
, Dan
Henderson
and, more recently, Conor
McGregor
, Daniel
Cormier
and Georges St.
Pierre
. These are some of the biggest names and most beloved
characters in MMA history.

Not all cross-division fights are the same, though. The term
“superfight,” which is increasingly becoming a played-out buzzword,
tends to be reserved for champion-versus-champion showdowns. In the
most legalistic definition of the term, there have only been three
superfights in
Ultimate Fighting Championship
history: Penn vs. St. Pierre at
UFC 94, McGregor vs. Eddie
Alvarez
at UFC 205 and Cormier vs. Stipe
Miocic
at UFC 226.

For the most part, each of those three fights was justifiable.
Before UFC 94, Penn hadn’t exactly cleaned out the lightweight
division, but he had won the welterweight title before, was on a
three-fight winning streak and had utterly dominated Sean Sherk for
the 155-pound crown. Meanwhile, St. Pierre had regained his
welterweight strap by demolishing former champ Matt Hughes
for the interim belt, avenged his surprise loss to Matt Serra to
regain his undisputed status and threw in a solid title defense
against Jon
Fitch
for good measure. There was a history to consider, too.
Penn and St. Pierre had fought to a contentious split decision
three years prior, as “Rush” walked away with the win, but as an
unscathed Penn famously said: “After the fight, he went to the
hospital. I went to a bar.”

McGregor-Alvarez was built on a flimsier meritocratic foundation,
but it was still overall sensible. Neither champion had defended
his belt, but McGregor had cleaned out the majority of the top
featherweights en route to winning the title; and Alvarez had by
then built one of the finest lightweight careers the sport had seen
in terms of total accomplishment. McGregor was already the sport’s
biggest star, and it was a fitting headliner for the first UFC card
in New York.

The Cormier-Miocic fight was also justifiable. Cormier had defeated
every notable light heavyweight not named Jon Jones and
had significant success against top-tier heavyweights in
Strikeforce. Miocic was on a six-fight streak that included a
record-setting three UFC heavyweight title defenses. In lieu of
both men embarking on rematch campaigns, the matchup made plenty of
sense.

Now, however, we are getting closer and closer to an entirely
unnecessary superfight between freshly minted flyweight champ
Henry
Cejudo
and freshly fortified bantamweight champion T.J.
Dillashaw
. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with this
fight in a vacuum. Cejudo is a tremendous fighter coming off the
most significant win of his career, and Dillashaw is quickly
proving himself as one of the pound-for-pound elites of the sport.
It has the potential to be an exciting fight. It’s just not the
right time.

With a new champion, the flyweight division is finally getting a
breath of fresh air. The UFC should breathe deep. That’s no
disrespect to former champ Demetrious
Johnson
, who is phenomenal and will almost certainly hold the
UFC title defense record for the foreseeable future. With that
said, turnover is good. The flyweight division has only been around
for six years, and the type of dominance that “Mighty Mouse”
displayed had the unfortunate side effect of making the division
look stale.

Now, matchmaking is wide open. Surely nobody would complain if the
Johnson-Cejudo rubber match gets booked; if defending a belt 11
times and then losing it via razor-thin split decision isn’t cause
for an immediate rematch, I don’t know what is. If there is fear
that “Mighty Mouse” will regain the belt and continue his reign of
terror, then let Cejudo fight the winner of the Sergio
Pettis
-Jussier Formiga while Johnson rests up or takes a fight
against someone in the middle of the top 10. It may not be fair,
but if Dillashaw — who lost his title to Dominick
Cruz
via split decision — had to notch a few wins to get
another crack at the title, then at least the precedent is
there.

Speaking of Dillashaw, he has plenty of unfinished business at
bantamweight. The rematch with Cruz looms, as does a rubber match
with Raphael
Assuncao
or a fight against the surging Marlon
Moraes
. This is the most exciting the 135-pound weight class
has ever been, so we might as well ride it out for a little bit
before attempting divisional cross-pollination.

Then there is the business side of things. Penn-St. Pierre 2 and
McGregor-Alvarez were both big-money cards that attracted a lot of
casual eyeballs. Miocic-Cormier reportedly sold right under 400,000
pay-per-views, which looks bad given the historicity of the event,
but in reality, it is slightly above average for both men
individually. Does anyone think Cejudo-Dillashaw will be a bigger
draw than Miocic-Cormier?

It’s fair to contend that the PPV buy rate means little from a fan
perspective, and I generally agree with that. However, those
numbers show how many people who don’t buy every UFC card will tune
in. I find it hard to believe that anyone who wouldn’t otherwise
watch Cejudo or Dillashaw defend their titles will open their
wallets to watch them fight each other. Again, this means little to
those of us who just want to watch good fights, but if there are
other good fights we can get to before a champ-versus-champ
superfight that’s unlikely to do big numbers, then what exactly are
we doing here? This is to say nothing about how either division
could be upended if someone misses weight, gets injured or, perhaps
worse yet, a new simultaneous champ is crowned.

Ultimately, the most anticipated fights this year have mainly been
between top contenders within the same divisions: Dustin Poirer vs.
Justin
Gaethje
, Max
Holloway
vs. Brian
Ortega
, Khabib
Nurmagomedov
vs. Tony
Ferguson
, Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor and Yoel Romero
vs. Robert
Whittaker
. Fans don’t need gimmicks to get excited; they just
need great fights. When the conditions are right, nothing beats a
superfight, but when it’s rushed, it just looks desperate.

Eric Stinton is a writer and a teacher from Kailua, Hawaii. He
has been writing for Sherdog since 2014 and has published fiction,
nonfiction and journalism in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Eastlit,
Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat and Vice, among others.
He currently lives with his fiancée and dachshund in Seoul. You can
find his work at ericstinton.com.


LEAVE A REPLY