14 Mar - 
Opinion: Can we please move on from the superfight era?

Fans have long clamored for superfights. Now that we’ve been receiving them, are they worth the trouble?

Let’s take a step back in time. Back to the spring of 2011. Georges St-Pierre had just defeated Jake Shields via unanimous decision at UFC 129, giving the dominant welterweight champion his sixth straight successful title defense. Who was there left to face? Immediately, fans leapt to the possibility of a superfight with the reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Silva was three months removed from his own successful title defense against Vitor Belfort, his eighth consecutive defense. What else was there left for the two dominant champions to do? We never got that fight. In my humble opinion, we are better off never having received it.

I recognize many people will disagree with me, understandably so. I’m taking an unpopular stance. Why wouldn’t I want to see two of the all-time greats clash to prove who is supreme? This could take a while, so be patient with me.

There has always been caveats to creating contests featuring champions from different divisions. If the contest was contested at welterweight, would Silva have been so dehydrated that he would be a shell of himself? That possibility became more prescient when we saw Henry Cejudo destroy a depleted TJ Dillashaw in seconds. However, if the fight were to take place at middleweight, would GSP’s size disadvantage adversely affect him? The evidence is against this possibility as GSP would later take the middleweight title against Michael Bisping. Then again, many would also argue Bisping was the worst – and luckiest – champion we’ve had in the last decade. So even in a head-to-head matchup, it doesn’t always answer the question of who is better.

The recent spat of superfights that has emerged since the rise of Conor McGregor is the further proof as to why we were better off not seeing those contests. Every time a champion leaves their home to test themselves in a new division, their former home gets held up. McGregor leaves featherweight to make history as a two-division champion and an interim champion is created to fill in for and eventually replace. In the meantime, we miss out on potential contests such as McGregor vs. Max Holloway II, McGregor vs. Frankie Edgar, or even McGregor vs. Cub Swanson. The latter may have been far-fetched, but y’all can’t try and tell me it doesn’t sound fun. And you can’t possibly believe Jose Aldo didn’t deserve a rematch after reigning supreme at 145 for as long as he did. I would have preferred seeing that contest above anything else as I find it difficult to believe we would have seen two non-competitive contests in a row.

In the process, we were deprived of knowing who was truly the best featherweight on the planet at that time. Had Holloway progressed to the point he was superior to McGregor? We know Aldo had Edgar’s number. Would McGregor dominate Edgar in a similar fashion? I will grant that McGregor probably couldn’t make featherweight anymore. Fair enough. How about McGregor’s “superfight” with Floyd Mayweather? That left the lightweight division on hold as it would be almost two years before McGregor would take an MMA fight after defeating Eddie Alvarez. In the meantime, we’ve missed out on potential title bouts such as McGregor vs. Tony Ferguson or McGregor vs. Poirier II. Hell, there might even have been a chance for McGregor vs. Gaethje. I know that last one is a longshot, but that sounds brutally awesome.

At the present time, we have a lingering situation at bantamweight. Dillashaw already put the division on hold when he pursued the flyweight title to disastrous effect. Now, we have a reigning champion looking weak with several worthy contenders lining up, waiting for their shot. It should be a no-brainer: Dillashaw needs to defend the belt against one of those top contenders, preferably Marlon Moraes. Instead, we’re getting this pussyfooting of Dillashaw wanting a rematch at flyweight, further holding up the bantamweight division. Cejudo counters it would make more sense for Dillashaw to put up his gold against Cejudo. While Cejudo’s argument makes more sense than what Dillashaw wants, I’ve already seen Cejudo and Dillashaw do the damn thing. I’ve lost my interest in that. Why would I want to see Cejudo jump the line ahead of the likes of Moraes? In the process of all this crap, a worthy title challenger in Raphael Assuncao is cannibalized. Remember, this was a man who won 11 of 12 contests, including a win over the champion. Thanks to the division being in flux – and the UFC’s damned politics – he is unlikely to ever fight for a title. For those who say it doesn’t matter, look at the paycheck Anthony Smith made in contest with Jon Jones. It was $350,000. The last disclosed paycheck for Assuncao was $130,000. Yeah, getting a title shot matters beyond just the status of being a title challenger.

GSP and Silva didn’t take those superfights. Instead, they took the next man up, regardless of whether anyone truly believed their opponent was a threat to the belt. Dan Hardy isn’t a great name on GSP’s resume. Neither is Patrick Cote or Thales Leites for Anderson Silva. But they were the best the division had to offer once GSP and Silva eliminated those ahead of them. Besides, how else are we going to get the Matt Serra moments in the sport if we aren’t willing to give the chance to the massive underdogs who’ve done what was asked of them to get that title shot? In the process, it adds to the number of title defenses. Ask yourself which accomplishment seems more impressive: Demetrious Johnson securing 11 consecutive title defenses or McGregor securing two titles in two title shots. I’m not trying to say McGregor didn’t do anything impressive – he absolutely did – but the type of consistency and longevity required to accomplish Johnson’s record impresses me more.

The argument I’ve heard is that that it is fine when a champion has cleaned out a division. I used to subscribe to this theory to. However, I’ve realized there are always new contenders on the horizon. Yes, even in the sad-sack light heavyweight division. Like most people, I didn’t find much intrigue in Jon Jones toying with the aforementioned Smith. He’ll probably do the same thing to Thiago Santos. But how far away is Dominick Reyes? How far away is Johnny Walker? We may not have to wait much longer before we get a contest that intrigues us.

I’ll close by going back to the past, though I warn this close isn’t necessarily short. As I’ve stated, we didn’t get the GSP-Silva superfight. What did we get? Some of the best moments in their respective careers. Nick Diaz immigrated over from Strikeforce and immediately picked a fight with GSP. We didn’t get that until GSP rehabbed a knee injury and disposed of Carlos Condit… but we did get some of the best soundbites in the history of our sport. Anyone for wolf tickets? How about GSP’s dark place? Besides, who doesn’t love Carlos Condit? In the process, the storyline built that GSP was scared of Johny Hendricks as he asked for Diaz instead of the more deserving Hendricks. Hendricks may be a somewhat reviled figure today, but you’re crazy if you’re going to tell me he didn’t beat GSP that November night in 2013. Regardless, those three fights were my favorite grouping of bouts during GSP’s title run.

As for Silva, after avenging a controversial loss to Yushin Okami, he put to rest the most intense rival of his career in Chael Sonnen. Sonnen stoked fans interest heading into their first contest with his cheeky commentary. Sonnen proceeded to dominate Silva in a way no one had ever seen for four-and-a-half rounds before a Hail Mary triangle from Silva ensured his reign continued. Fans were desperate for the rematch. Sure, we had to wait for Sonnen to serve a PED suspension, but Sonnen picked up the promotional fodder where he left it off, igniting more interest in Silva’s reign than there had ever been. Silva scored a decisive win in the process, perhaps even the crowning moment of his reign.

Would those moments have happened had Silva and GSP done the damn thing? While I can’t say for sure they wouldn’t have, I also struggle to see things playing out in a way they would have. I’m happy with the way things played out for those two. However, I can’t say I’m satisfied with how things have played out with the superfights that have been made. For the sake of the divisions these fighters reside in, can we please do away with superfights?