April represents the first of three of the next four months where at least one UFC title will be defended. Starting with Anderson Silva defending his middleweight championship against Thales Leites at UFC 97, we the fan have a lot to look forward to. While that may placate a lot of us, I for one have a much stronger thirst to see the UFC’s titles defended more often. Since the inception of The Ultimate Fighter, and having the opposing coaches fight one another after the conclusion of the show, it seems to have slowed down the title defenses somewhat. Obviously not every installment of TUF has been that way but to me having a title held up for months at a time in order to film a reality show has driven me nuts. I will go over each title’s history, present and what we have to look forward to in the near future.
Lightweight- Champion B.J. Penn: This may be the most controversial title in the UFC today, in fact I don’t think there is even a close second. B.J. has treated this title as though it was worthless and beneath him. He first won the title when he defeated Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 in January of 2008. That was his second consecutive impressive win since returning to 155 pounds. He looked unstoppable and had an opponent willing and ready to go in Sean Sherk. Sherk claimed the title was still his since he never lost it. Many of you remember he was stripped of the title after defeating Hermes Franca at UFC 73 in July of 2007. He along with Franca both tested positive for steroids after the fight. Long story short, Sherk battled the California State Athletic Commission and had his one year suspension reduced to six months. Sherk said B.J. was not the champion until he defeated Sherk.
Fast Forward to May of 2008. B.J. defends his title successfully for the first time against Sherk. He toyed with Sherk for three rounds until finally putting the “Muscle Shark” out of his misery with a devastating running knee combined with brutal punches as the horn sounded. Now we have a legitimate champion in Penn and he defended his title in four months. While I would like to see the titles defended every three months Penn was setting a nice pace and the future of the lightweight division looked promising as there were a number of up and coming contenders for Penn to deal with. That was not to be as Penn had other ideas, he wanted revenge on GSP and wanted to hold two titles simultaneously so he challenged the welterweight champion and the bout was set for UFC 94 at the end of January of 2009. That would put the 155lb title in limbo for 8 months not including the time it would take for Penn to recuperate and be ready to defend the title after fighting GSP. That is not even considering if he had won and would have either defended two belts or relinquished one or the other. Thankfully, he lost, and without even getting into the whole “Greasegate” scandal, the division was at the mercy of Penn, and when he would be ready to defend the title again.
Throughout this whole ordeal Kenny Florian was named the number one contender after defeating Joe Stevenson at UFC 91 in November of 2008. Florian has without a doubt earned his shot with impressive victories over Stevenson, Roger Huerta, Joe Lauzon and Din Thomas over the past eighteen months. We will finally get to see Penn vs. Florian for the lightweight title in August!! That means the lightweight title will go fifteen months without being defended!! That also means that Florian will have been on the shelf over nine months since his last fight. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it crazy that Penn was allowed to hold this division up for so long. Enough about Penn, and let’s see what is in store after these two meet in August. I have read that if Diego Sanchez is successful against Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 9 in June he will be next in line for a title shot. Having just defeated Stevenson in February in his debut at lightweight, I don’t find it crazy as he is very popular and it seems that fighters are getting title shots based on a whole lot more than wins and losses. If he loses then I believe the winner of the Sean Sherk vs. Frankie Edgar bout at UFC 98 will get the next shot. Either way the division is loaded with contenders such as Tyson Griffin, Frankie Edgar, Joe Lauzon, Gray Maynard and Cole Miller to name a few.
Welterweight- Champion Georges St. Pierre: A lot of what is written here you can read above as GSP is coming off a successful title defense in January against Penn. It was a thoroughly dominating performance and marked the second straight defense in a row where he outclassed his opponent in every way shape and form. Ever since losing the title to Matt Serra back in April of 2007 at UFC 69, GSP has been like a man possessed. Serra was scheduled to defend the title against former champion, Matt Hughes, at UFC 79 in December of 2007 which would mark eight months between title defenses for the 170 pound division. This was done in order for Serra and Hughes to further their feud on the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter. As luck would have it, Serra was injured a few weeks before the fight and GSP stepped up and signed on to fight Hughes in a rubber match for the interim welterweight title on the same card.
What happened that night was nothing short of amazing as the Canadian made the man who many called the best welterweight in the history of the UFC verbally tap to an arm bar in the second round. This came after GSP had dominated one of the best wrestlers on the UFC roster in Josh Koshcheck at UFC 74 in August of 2007 now GSP was on a two fight winning streak and had a bout to unify the titles with Serra scheduled for April of 2008 in his hometown of Montreal. This would put a four month span between title defenses which is acceptable. This was one of the most anticipated rematches in history as Serra was looking to prove his win over GSP wasn’t a fluke and GSP was looking to impress his hometown fans and gain a measure of revenge. GSP dominated Serra for two rounds and won back his title and in the process showed he was the best 170 pounder in the world. His head was screwed on right and he was ready for his next challenge. Four months later at UFC 87 he defeated a very game Jon Fitch. He unleashed a savage beating and ended Fitch’s record tying eight consecutive wins upon entering the UFC. Fitch survived somehow but GSP controlled every moment of that fight. Afterwards Penn came in and challenged B.J. and that whole saga began.
So there was a five month lapse between title defenses for GSP but in all honesty it looked like it was going to be worth it as everyone was looking forward to seeing him fight B.J. again, obviously it didn’t turn out the way we had hoped but you live and you learn. Up next for GSP is Brazilian stalwart, Thiago Alves, who has been on a tear since a loss to Fitch back in June of 2006. Since then he has defeated John Alessio, Tony DeSouza, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, Chris Lytle, Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Josh Koshcheck. He presents a very tough test for GSP as he has awesome Muay Thai striking and excellent take down defense. He has certainly earned his title shot especially with three straight dominating performances against top contenders such Parisyan, Hughes and Koshcheck. Six months will go by until this fight occurs and the UFC has its reasons, they wanted it on its historic UFC 100 card and GSP needed a rest. Afterwards it is a crapshoot as to who gets the next shot. If Alves wins I can see the UFC giving him a rematch with Fitch as long as Fitch is successful against Paulo Thiago at UFC 100. If GSP wins who is left for him to fight? Mike Swick if he defeats Ben Saunders at UFC 99? No one wants to see him fight Fitch or Koshcheck again. Carlos Condit could have made a claim had he defeated Martin Kampmann at UFC Fight Night 18. We will have to tune in and see after July.
Middleweight- Champion Anderson Silva: This division has had the most dominating champion of all in Anderson Silva. He is set to defend his title for a record fifth time later this month against Thales Leites. Since defeating Rich Franklin at UFC 64 in October of 2006 Silva has fought seven times in about eighteen months including this upcoming fight. A sixth title defense was for naught as Travis Lutter failed to make weight and the title was not on the line. Silva also jumped up to light heavyweight in July of 2008 where he defeated James Irvin in 1:01. He has laid everyone in his path out except for Patrick Cote who suffered a freak knee injury in their fight at UFC 90 last October. He has mutilated Franklin twice, choked out Dan Henderson, knocked out Nate Marquardt, and of course defeated Lutter who may have given him one of his toughest tests.
Silva may be the most dominating fighter and has made the division look like chump change but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any viable contenders. Leites is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stud but more than likely will not be able to get Silva down and into a position to gain a submission. If Silva wins there are four fighters on the horizon who are in title contention. Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson are opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 9 which pits fighters from the UK against fighters from the United States. They will fight at UFC 100 and the winner of that fight will more than likely get a title shot by the end of the year. I have been dying to see Henderson get another crack at Silva as I believe out of all the middleweight fighters he has the most tools to defeat The Spider. I truly don’t believe Bisping will get by Henderson and if by some miracle he does he will get crushed by Silva. He just doesn’t have the skill set to defeat the pound for pound king.
The next two are undefeated Demian Maia, who like Silva, has made mincemeat out of every opponent put in his path. He has submitted everyone of his opponents since joining the UFC in October of 2007. At UFC 93 he defeated Chael Sonnen who is a extremely good wrestler via first round triangle choke, he made it look easy much like he has done with everyone else. Next up is another one of Silva’s victims in Nate Marquardt. He is coming off an impressive victory over Wilson Gouveia at UFC 93 which put him at 3-1 since his loss to Silva. The only blemish is a loss to Leites at UFC 85 which he lost via split decision after being deducted two very controversial points. I say put Marquardt up against Maia and the winner gets a title shot. I heard the 185 pound title may be defended at UFC 102 in August which gives the winner of Silva vs. Leites four months to prepare.
Light Heavyweight- Champion Rashad Evans: This is probably the most competitive division in the UFC. Since Quinton Jackson defeated Chuck Liddell at UFC 71 in May of 2007 the title has changed hand another two times. One problem is that the title has only been defended three times in just under two years since then. Jackson successfully defended the title at UFC 75 less than four months later in a title vs. title match against Pride champion Dan Henderson. The following month Forrest Griffin defeated Pride superstar Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and set a chain reaction that would keep the title from being defended for another ten months. Jackson and Griffin were named opposing coaches on the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter this was the first time that a title would be up for grabs between the two coaches. While this made for great television it kept what is a stacked division in limbo for nearly a year.
Griffin went on to capture the title at UFC 86 in July of 2008 in what was a five round war. People on both sides of the fence claim that their fighter won but at the end of the day Griffin was wearing the title. Dana White had the next title fight lined up as he wanted former champion Chuck Liddell who was Griffin’s coach on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter to face his pupil. All he had to do was get past season two winner Rashad Evans at UFC 88 in September of 2008. That was not to be as Evans knocked Liddell out cold in the second round and earned himself a shot at the title against Griffin at UFC 92 this past December. Now we are somewhat back on track as the title would be defended in a little over five months. The merry go round continued as Evans defeated Griffin via 3rd round TKO and was now the 205lb champion. Up next was a bout with Rampage who defeated Pride nemesis Wanderlei Silva on the same card and wanted his title back. There were rumors that Evans and Jackson would face off at UFC 96 in Ohio but Evans claimed he was not ready and Jackson instead fought and defeated Evans’ teammate Keith Jardine. Now he would be facing Evans or so we thought.
This time it was Jackson who was unable to fight as he suffered an injury against Jardine and would not be healed in time to face Evans at UFC 98 which is scheduled for May of this year. This bout was originally scheduled for UFC 100 in July but the Mir vs. Lesnar heavyweight unification bout was pushed back, we will get more into that in a minute. Evans needed an opponent and in steps undefeated Brazilian Lyoto Machida who many believe should have gotten a title shot by now. Machida is 14-0 overall and 6-0 in the UFC is coming off an impressive first round knockout of Thiago Silva at UFC 94. Who wins between Machida and Evans is anyone’s guess but there are plenty of fighters waiting for their shot starting with Rampage. Jackson will certainly get the winner of this fight after that you may see Forrest Griffin get a shot if he defeats Thiago Silva at UFC 101 especially if Rampage holds the title as he wants revenge on Forrest. If Shogun Rua defeats Chuck Liddell later this month he will be somewhere in that mix as well. There a lot of good 205 pound fighters in the UFC so this division will not be lacking any fireworks anytime soon.
Heavyweight- Champions Brock Lesnar & Frank Mir (Interim): This whole interim title started when Randy Couture wanted out of the UFC so he could fight Fedor Emelianenko, while he was fighting in court rather than the octagon the UFC decided to have Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira face former champion Tim Sylvia for the interim title at UFC 81 in February of 2008. Thankfully Big Nog was victorious, and on that same card, Brock Lesnar made his UFC debut against former champ Frank Mir. Lesnar dominated early and if not for an ill advised point deduction and stand up by ref Steve Mazzagatti things may have gone down differently but they didn’t. Mir survived the storm and submitted Lesnar via knee bar in round one. Mir was back and healthy after having to relinquish his title following a horrific motorcycle accident. This set-up another installment of The Ultimate Fighter as Big Nog and Mir were opposing coaches and would face off at UFC 92 in December of 2008. A full ten months between title defenses but something happened along the way.
Brock Lesnar rebounded nicely from his loss to Mir and dominated tough veteran, Heath Herring, at UFC 87 in front of his hometown fans in Minnesota. He started the fight off with a right hand that sent Herring tumbling backwards and took him down at will all the while landing elbows and hammer fists to Herring’s face and vicious knees to his body. Around this time Randy Couture decided to give up his fight and come back to the UFC. His first fight back would be against Lesnar for the heavyweight championship at UFC 91 in November of 2001. Mir vs. Nogueira was still on and the winners of those two fights would meet to determine a unified champion. Lesnar went into his fight against Couture with far less experience but used his 65 pound plus weight advantage and scored a TKO in round two earning him the UFC heavyweight title in just his third MMA bout and second UFC fight. Up next was Mir vs. Nogueira and what happened was something that no other fighter ever accomplished against Nogueira, Mir finished him. He knocked him out in the second round after dominating the first round and putting him on the canvas three times. Mir was on a roll and the rematch was set for May at UFC 98.
We will now have to wait until July to see Mir-Lesnar II which will be seven months in between title defenses but injuries do occur and this fight should be worth waiting for. After this fight there are some intriguing possibilities. If Lesnar wins I would like to see an immediate rubber match. I am a firm believer in the champion getting a rematch when they lose the title but we do not seem to get that in MMA. If Mir wins he could face Couture if Randy defeats Nogueira at UFC 102 in August. That would be an interesting fight to say the least. The grizzly veteran who can formulate great game plans against Mir who would be on a four fight winning streak and possesses along with Big Nog the best Jiu-Jitsu among heavyweights. Shane Carwin silenced some critics as he defeated a top ten opponent in Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 96. A less appealing option would be the winner of the Cheick Kongo vs. Antonio Hardonk match up which takes place at UFC 97 later this month. Another quality win for Junior dos Santos and we may see his name thrown into the list of contenders. If Nogueira defeats Couture I am sure he would want revenge on Mir or an opportunity to take on the young buck Lesnar. This division does rely on some of its old guard a bit much but they are some very good fighters to rely on.
Wow I didn’t think it would be this long but I hope I was able to show what there is to look forward to and hammer my point across that these titles need to be defended a bit more. Every three or four months is not a lot to ask going beyond that is not fair to some of the fighters waiting in the wings. There is no legitimate reason that a title should not be defended for 8 or 10 months. Not for a grudge match or for the sake of a reality show. The champion is hallmark of the division and needs to be out there as much as possible. I hope you liked this long article, if you didn’t I am all ears as usual.