As the boom of mixed martial arts promotions and shows continues, one fact has become more and more apparent: Zuffa and the UFC are the gold standard, both in show production and fighter talent. As a result it can be sometimes painful to watch fighters of superior talent fight in promotions lacking the roster depth to fully test their abilities.
In the wake of the EliteXC show the newly crowned welterweight champion is a staunch reminder of the challenges that face a top ten fighter when fighting outside of the UFC. The talent discrepancy between the top 10 fighters in a weight class and the rest of the division can be daunting when trying to match-make. The 63 second drubbing Jake Shields laid on Nick Thompson is a repercussion of being an elite level fighter outside of the UFC.
Fighters who show elite-level ability can outgrow the competition around them very quickly in some promotions. If they want to take the next step forward as a fighter, both competitively and financially, then they need to make the move to the UFC. It’s a harsh reality of the mixed martial arts landscape for those not in the good graces of Zuffa. The step up in competition that Zuffa can provide brings legitimacy and respectability. Combined with the increased marketing and exposure the UFC can bring to the table, it results in sponsorship money that can far exceed a fighter’s purse.
After watching Shields win on Saturday evening, it got me thinking about who else in mixed martial arts would benefit from a move to the UFC or the WEC. Below is a short list of fighters, one from each major weight class, who are in dire need of a move to Zuffa:
Wagnney Fabiano 145lbs (WEC) - Fabiano is the current IFL featherweight champion and is on a six fight win streak, none of which have gotten out of the second round. With the IFL apparently selling to Zuffa and Uriah Faber almost cleaning out the featherweight division, they need Fabiano almost as much as Wagnney needs them. With the proper showcase fight and the Zuffa promotional train behind him, a Faber-Fabiano super fight could eclipse the numbers that Faber-Pulver put up earlier this year. At 33 years old Fabiano needs to make this move now while he is still at his peak physically.
Gesias Cavalcante 155lbs (UFC) – “JZ” has developed into one of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division. After two successful tournament runs in the K-1/HERO’S promotion, he finally stumbled against Shinya Aoki in the first round of the DREAM lightweight tournament. There were rumors of pre-existing injuries that may have influenced his lackluster performance against Aoki, but the loss does not change the fact that he is one of the elite at 155lbs. He has fought most of the major competition in Japan and faces career stagnation if he continues on his current path. He already has a strong connection to Zuffa and the UFC considering the majority of his American Top Team members are already signed to the promotion. If he signed with Zuffa there would be no end to the blockbuster matchups.
Jake Shields 170lbs (UFC) – Jake Shields is in the unenviable position of being the best fighter in the world at 170lbs NOT in the UFC. Zuffa has a monopoly of talent in two weight classes and welterweight is one of them (light heavyweight being the other). Jake has cleaned house over the last four years in the 170lb division, going 11-1 in that span. The few remaining respectable competitors left for him to fight pose no real danger to him. He faces a competitive crossroads soon, with a stalled career on one side and a chance to prove he is the worlds’ best on the other.
Paulo Filho 185lbs (UFC) - A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu prodigy who built his reputation demolishing opponents in PRIDE, Filho has a gaudy 16-0 record but has had his ups and downs. He has had multiple issues in his career, from problems with his weight cutting to depression and chemical dependency. Filho sometimes looks bored and disinterested in the ring, but when he is focused is one of the best fighters in the world and possesses the tools to give Anderson Silva all he can handle. While he has stated several times he has no interest in fighting his friend and training partner for the UFC title, he needs the move up in competition. Zuffa cannot keep the 185lb division in the WEC stocked with suitable talent for a fighter of his ability. If he wishes to stay ranked in the top three in the world, Filho will have to push for a move.
Rafael Feijao 205lbs (UFC) - The 205lbs division is the showcase division in the sport, where the most talent resides. And the UFC has a monopoly on it with the current consensus top ten being under contract to Zuffa. Feijao has the skill and belongs with that group. His physical gifts are evident every time he steps in a ring or cage. He has dominated everyone put in front of him, his one loss being a DQ due to illegal kick. He is young in the sport, but is in the best situation possible having two world champions as coaches in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Anderson Silva. His ground game is exceptional and his stand up gets more and more dynamic under the tutelage of Silva. He is strong enough to fight and win at both 205lbs and Heavyweight. I can’t help to feel that given EliteXC’s lack of depth in the light heavyweight division and his dominance of the current roster there, he is being wasted. His upside is unquestionable and he would only make the best division in the sport even better.
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva 265lbs (UFC) - Having a tumor removed from his pituitary gland in 2007 has enabled “Bigfoot” to come down in size just far enough to take the heavyweight title in EliteXC. His surprising size, agility, and athleticism are currently causing havoc with opponents in EliteXC. In a time when the best heavyweights in the world are migrating to the deep pockets of Affliction, Silva should be a coveted commodity by the UFC. He has legitimate top-ten talent but is lacking the competition to showcase himself. In the UFC’s most anemic division he would be a star and an instant threat to Nogueira’s reign as champ.