James Irvin and Patrick Cote: two capable, professional mixed martial artists worthy of competing in the UFC. However, when you talk about the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world, neither Irvin or Cote have the sex appeal needed to cause mass excitement.
In order for a fighter to achieve true greatness, he needs to be involved in memorable fights. And memorable fights are hard to come by if the public is only intrigued by just one of the participants. Case and point: people will tune in to watch the Boston Celtics play the Memphis Grizzlies, but even more will tune in if the Celtics play the Lakers. “Sugar” Ray Leonard was a great fighter with quite a following, but it was his fights vs. Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler that allowed him to become an icon.
The concept of having two strong competitors challenge each other’s dominance is what really captivates an audience’s imagination and this basic principle applies not just to sports, but even in movies. What do you think is going to do better at the box office: Batman going head-to-head with The Joker, or Batman against some generic no-name villain? And when George Lucas writes a Star Wars screenplay, you don’t see the movies climaxing with Darth Vader taking on middle-of-the-road Jedis, he’s always matched up against the Rebellion’s number one gun, whether it be Obi-Wan Kenobi or his own son, Luke Skywalker.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that people just don’t want to see stars competing, they want to see stars competing against other stars. When it comes to Anderson Silva, the idea of continuing to feature him in fights against competitors that cannot rival his star is one that makes little sense. Regardless of the weight class, it’s time to allow Silva to go to the next level by matching him up with some of the biggest names in the business.
Silva vs. Irvin did a good rating during UFC Fight Night 14 on Spike this past July because it was marketed so well. Silva or Liddell vs. a broomstick could probably do well on free television because their names mean something and people want to see stars fight. But there’s a difference between drawing a good rating on free television and drawing a great buyrate on pay-per-view.
In order to make major money, Silva is going to need to fight competition equal or greater to his stature. And in order for him to create a legacy that is truly timeless, he’s going to need to start fighting big names. I don’t think anyone of sound mind is going to dispute that Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson are top fighters, but in order for Silva to reach a new level of stardom, he’s going to have to take a step up in class.
Based on my feelings highlighted above, there’s one fight out there that makes perfect sense for Silva’s next bout and that is a matchup against Chuck Liddell. To me, Liddell vs. Silva is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a Liddell vs. Silva mega-fight doesn’t hold the same appeal with the only man whose opinion counts, UFC President Dana White.
“I would hope a Liddell fight is made soon,” Kevin Iole wrote in response to a reader in a recent mailbag column for Yahoo! Sports. “But when my colleague, Dan Wetzel, and I asked White that question almost simultaneously, White seemed to laugh it off and said he didn’t know. He didn’t seem all that interested. I had talked with him about it in a private phone conversation about 10 days earlier and he was no more interested in it then. I’m not saying it won’t happen, just that Dana doesn’t seem enthused by the idea.”
Wow, if White isn’t enthused by Liddell vs. Silva then he might be one of the few mixed martial arts fans in the world that feels that way. Then again, White has a vastly different perspective than a typical fan. He has both a business and personal attachment to Liddell. The company has spent tens of millions of dollars turning Liddell into MMA’s equivilient to Hulk Hogan; a larger than life figure who serves as a face for the sport. White is also close friends with Liddell so he’s likely going to handle his career with great care.
White probably isn’t enthused about the prospect of Liddell vs. Silva due to the fact that Liddell has lost three of his last four fights. If he fights Silva, the streak grows to losses in four out of his last five fights. We’ve been told by pundits time and again that Liddell’s marketing appeal is similar to that of a fighter in Japan in that people want to pay to see him fight win or lose. However, four losses in five fights would put that theory to the test.
While people would still pay to see Liddell fight even in spite of a loss to Silva, his fanbase would decrease. Whenever you hear about a fighting icon that begins to look less than dominant then the name Mike Tyson is introduced and he’s cited as an example of a fighter that can remain a box office draw in spite of losses. That might be the case but Tyson’s drawing power weakened with every poor effort until he was reduced to a complete mockery.
Nobody knows for sure but my guess is that White doesn’t want to see Liddell vs. Silva because he knows it could mean the end of “The Iceman.” But as a businessman, White can’t let personal feelings influence major decisions. Both Liddell and Silva need to fight again soon and there’s no legitimate reason for the two not to fight each other.
If Silva is to be believed, he only has five fights left. And regardless of what Liddell or White might like to acknowledge, Liddell has probably even fewer fights left. With the biological clocks of both Silva and Liddell ticking, there’s no time for foreplay in regards to what remains in their careers. It’s time to get down to business for both fighters and it makes little sense for them to compete in bouts against fighters that do not rival their star-power.
Unless your last name is Cote, chances are you have no desire to see Silva vs. Cote II. And don’t waste your breath bringing up Yushin Okami. He’s booked to fight Dec. 27 vs. Dean Lister. There’s no guarantee he wins that fight and if he does the chances are he won’t be ready to fight again until March at the earliest. And if Okami wins then he can wait. If built up properly, a fight between Silva vs. Michael Bisping could be big, but Bisping isn’t ready yet. Thales Leites? He’s still 1-2 wins away. There’s no one at 185 pounds currently on the UFC roster for Silva to fight within the next two-to-three months.
Choosing Silva’s next opponent is a complicated affair but the process is probably just as difficult in regards to Liddell. Who does Liddell fight next? Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine were middle tier in the UFC’s stacked 205 pound division before their wins over Liddell. If you try and match Liddell up with another mid-grade 205’er and he loses, that could drive him into retirement.
UFC officials could always elect to go below mid-grade for Liddell’s next opponent and match him up with someone such as James Irvin or Houston Alexander, but both have heavy hands and could once again test Liddell’s suspect chin. Not to mention, White would look like a major hypocrite in light of everything he said about Kimbo Slice if he transparently goes out and starts trying to schedule layup wins for Liddell.
If the UFC has the best interest of its fans in mind, they’ll make a match between Liddell and Silva before they match either fighter with anyone else.