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Catchweight Confusion: The Kimbo and Rich divisions

rich-franklinThere are currently five weight classes in the UFC. Rich Franklin is not one of them. Neither is Kimbo Slice. Although you’d never know it from the recent trend toward catchweight bouts to accommodate these fighters.

Franklin, who has yo-yoed between middleweight and light heavyweight, fought back-to-back bouts at 195 pounds, going 1-1 against Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, respectively. The justification for the catchweight was that it would help both Silva and Belfort make smooth transitions from light heavyweight down to middleweight, although neither has yet to make an appearance at their intended destination. It’s also had the unfortunate side effect of leaving Franklin in limbo, neither middleweight nor light heavy.

Now Kimbo Slice, around whom the entire heavyweight-centric tenth season of TUF was constructed and in whom the UFC has heavily invested, is being given similar special treatment. The backyard brawler-turned-MMA fighter is expected to make his Octagon debut at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale on December 5 not as a heavyweight or even as a light heavyweight, but as a 215-pound catchweight fighter.

The reason being given is that Slice isn’t able to make the cut to 205 pounds, the weight at which his opponent, Houston Alexander, usually fights. Slice weighed in at 230 pounds when he fought Roy Nelson on TUF, and I’m not sure he’ll even be able to cut 15 pounds. Let me rephrase that: I don’t know if Slice has the discipline needed to cut 15 pounds, that he has the mental fortitude required to curb his diet, to push away from the dinner table, to starve and dehydrate and sweat in those final days and hours before the weigh-in. For most fighters 15 pounds is a cakewalk, a few hours in a sauna wearing a sweatsuit. But Slice isn’t most fighters. He’s never had to cut weight before, so who can say how he will handle it?

Of course, this raises a far more significant question: Why isn’t Slice fighting a heavyweight bout?

Obviously there are criterion Slice’s first opponent must meet. He can’t be too skilled, which rules out almost the entire division, and he must be willing to stand and bang, because nobody wants to see Slice on his back ever again. They probably wouldn’t even consider tossing him Tim Hague, who was on the receiving end of Todd Duffee’s record-setting knockout at UFC 102, simply because of the 35-plus-pound size difference.

But the UFC needs Slice to fight again. He’s a personality, draw, a ratings grabber, no matter his skill level. And if last week’s relatively Sliceless TUF episode is any indication – it was the first in several weeks that didn’t show Slice talking excitedly about getting another chance to fight – he won’t fight again in the TUF house.

So instead, the UFC is rolling out the red carpet by allowing a catchweight bout that is meaningless except as a way to get Slice on the card and possibly in the win column (Slice vs. Alexander is a puncher’s chance kind of showdown that isn’t likely to last more than a round or two). While the UFC and Spike TV may say otherwise, Slice has certainly been getting special treatment, whether it’s by stipulating that his beard is off limits to TUF’s usual frathouse antics or by allowing members of his entourage to be present when he fought Nelson. And I have a hard time believing that any other fighter from TUF: Heavyweights would be afforded a similar opportunity to ease themselves into the Octagon with a fight at the weight of their choosing.

Of course, just as Franklin’s two catchweight bouts have fuelled an argument for the creation of a 195-pound division, this latest catchweight bout lends strength to the position that the UFC needs to implement a new weight class to break up the heavyweight division, which currently spans a whopping 59 pounds. It can be like pitting a lightweight against a light heavyweight. While the case against a new division usually hinges on the fact that there aren’t enough heavyweights in the UFC to warrant it, the current season of TUF is specifically intended to bolster the roster of 265ers. (I’m not saying the flabalanche of newcomers will strengthen the heavyweight division, only deepen it.)

UFC president Dana White has repeatedly said that he’s not interested in altering the current weight classes. If anything, he’d consider adding a division or two to the bottom end of the scale by bringing in featherweight (145 pounds) and  bantamweight (135 pounds).

So for now, we’re stuck with the unofficial Rich Franklin class and Kimbo Slice class.

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