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Why Weight? – 10 Fighters that could possibly benefit from a change in division

As the sport of MMA continues to grow, as does the skill level of those who participate in it professionally, athletes are finding more and more need for the use of legal strategic advantages whether related to unorthodox training techniques, breaking down every second of available video from an opponent’s previous bouts, or hiring outside specialists like dieticians or strength-and-conditioning coaches. However, one of the most basic means of entering the ring in a favorable position before even touching gloves relates to each individual’s proportions in terms of height, weight, and reach. While DNA is wholly responsible for two of the three attributes, the weight-cutting process is an aspect of their physicality fighters have far more control over.

Most Mixed Martial Artists who compete at an extremely high level drop anywhere from 15-30 pounds prior to stepping on the scale and then replenish themselves over the 24-hour period leading up to the occurrence of their actual fight. Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, long standing champions considered to be among the sport’s elite, both enter the Octagon at a weight a division above where they’re actually fighting at. Behemoth Brock Lesnar’s wrestling background and dedication in the gym allow him to make the 265 pound heavyweight limit but only after shedding twenty pounds during the days leading up to the official weigh-in. It’s a fairly common occurrence in MMA and, if done in a relatively healthy manner, provides a crucial advantage against fighters who elect to not do so for various reasons.

Therein the above equation this column’s “rubber” meets the “road”. Below are ten notable UFC competitors from lightest to heaviest who should consider a change of scenery in terms of the weight-class they’re currently fighting in regardless of how few losses they’ve acquired in the division. Some are too small, some are too big, but none – to put it in Goldilocks’ terms – are “just right”…

Frank Edgar: With a record of 10-1, wins over respectable lightweights, and a five-year career avoiding knockouts and submissions there are probably quite a few people who question why Edgar should consider going down to featherweight. My response is to point out he’s won 60% of his total fights by decision and only finished one of the five men he’s beaten in the UFC. There’s no doubting Edgar is supremely talented, especially in terms of his grappling, but he’s unable to put his peers away with anything resembling consistency. Dropping to 145 pounds would help solve that problem and at 5’6”, with his frame, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be an unobtainable goal. And, if there is any truth to the rumors of a talent merger between the UFC/WEC in 2010, it wouldn’t necessarily cause him to lose any money. I wouldn’t mind seeing Edgar against Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo, or Mike Brown. Would you?

Matt Serra: At 5’6”, Serra is extremely small given his current surroundings in the welterweight division, and his upcoming bout against Frank Trigg will do little for him as far as advancing up the ladder towards title contendership even if he wins. Knocking St. Pierre out is a moment in MMA history that will never be erased, but his performances in the rematch against GSP and later rival Matt Hughes were evidence that he has no place alongside large welters like Thiago Alves or Jon Fitch. Serra has shown he can certainly scrap with larger opponents, but at 35 years old it’s time for him to do more than just compete respectably en route to a loss. He has fought as a lightweight in the past and there is nothing about his physique telling me he can’t do the same again if he dedicated himself to the change. Serra would instantly become a player at 155-pounds due to his past accomplishments, solid
striking, and cream-of-the-crop jiujitsu. Look to Diego Sanchez for a perfect example of how a fighter stuck in the muck of an extremely deep 170-pound division can be competing for a championship in less than a year by shedding some weight.

Anthony Johnson: “Rumble” Johnson is in a unique situation in that, rather than going down a division and likely cause immediate kidney failure along the way, I feel he should actually start competing in a heavier class. If it’s true that he cut nearly forty pounds before facing Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 104 and fainted at the weigh-ins before his loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 106 then the welterweight experiment needs to end for Johnson. He’s 6’2” – the same height as “The Spider” – and shredded from head to toe. I’ve heard rumors that even his pinkie finger has a bicep. His size is clearly not working to benefit him at 170 in the way it typically would for a larger competitor and I suspect it’s because his body isn’t meant to function to its best capability after such abuse outside of the cage. For his long term health, and because he’s more than capable of competing at 185-pounds while still being a big middleweight, why wait any longer to make the jump?

Demian Maia: Maia is the first of three individuals currently fighting at 185-pounds who I consider to be undersized for a legitimate run at the title. The slick Brazilian’s ability to conduct a master-class in jiujitsu every time he enters the Octagon has allowed him to compile an impressive 5-1 record inside the eight-sided cage and makes him a threat to even the toughest opponent. Honestly, I have no doubt Maia would emerge victorious more often than not if he fought at light heavyweight too because his BJJ is that other-worldly. However, creating a legacy in MMA and procuring a UFC championship takes more than simply a winning record, and, assuming the submission whiz wants to ultimately do both, the welterweight division is better suited to him than his current surroundings. Since his primary methodology in the ring doesn’t involve “power”, the cut to 170-pounds would have a minimal affect if any at all on Maia’s ability to win, and at six-feet even he’s certainly not too tall to or bulky to have problems making the weight. I also think he’d be particularly dangerous working opposite his peers at the top of the division who rely on takedowns to finish opponents off or grind out decision victories (Koscheck, Fitch, and St. Pierre for example).

Yoshihiro Akiyama: Anyone watching Akiyama’s UFC debut against Alan Belcher last July will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say the judoka is too small to make a significant run at middleweight. He’s only 5’10” and probably doesn’t measure in at more than 188-190 pounds come fight night. I don’t know if there’s an unspoken tradition in the East frowning upon the idea of shedding some mass prior to stepping on a scale before a professional bout, but logic like that will have you standing across the cage from men outweighing you by 15-20 pounds every night in the UFC. Bushido or “bullsh*t-o”, you decide. Akiyama would add some fresh blood to a fairly stale 170 pound class needing a new potential contender. My only fear would be the possible explosion of estrogen a match-up between “Sexiyama” and current champ GSP would cause were the two to clash inside a space as confined as a giant arena.

Denis Kang: Let’s face it – Denis Kang is on the cusp of looking for a new promotion to call home. He has recently made a name for himself by starting out solid and then stumbling into defeat a round later, in some cases making almost amateur mistakes along the way. He’s 1-2 in the UFC and showed a concerning lack of conditioning in his last bout against Michael Bisping. At 32 years old, something needs to immediately change for Kang if he hopes to ever come close to a “Top 10” ranking. Perhaps it means a departure from long-time training home American Top Team though, as I would propose instead, I think a drop down to 170 pounds could do wonders for him. He’s 5’11” so certainly his height is suited for the division and he doesn’t appear to be physically unable to make the cut based on musculature. I also think the change would boost Kang’s confidence in the cage, as it would any Mixed Martial Artist shedding a previous disadvantage like size, and the importance of one’s mental state before a high-level competition is something almost every professional athlete will testify to.

Rashad Evans: The former UFC champion is more than a competitive fighter at 205-pounds given his accomplishments at the weight, but in my eyes he’s always been a bit small at 5’11”, and I’m surprised there haven’t been more calls in the past for Evans to make a move down. I’ve also always noticed “Sugar” ‘Shad has somewhat of a “soft” physique which adds to my belief he could not only make middleweight but would be an even tougher draw at 185-pounds than he current is at 205 (and that’s saying a lot). While it’s possible he may show the same lack of interest towards fighting top contender Nate Marquardt as he has in regards to their mutual training partner Keith Jardine, situations like that have thus far proven to work themselves out due to the relatively unpredictable nature of MMA. Also, Marquardt isn’t Evans’ best friend a la Jardine, so there may be a little more room for a potential bout against “Nate the Great” to develop than there is against “The Dean of Mean”. Beyond that, I’d love to see Rashad matched up against Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, and even a catch-weight affair with Rich Franklin.

Kimbo Slice: To be truthful, I originally had Karo Parisyan in this slot, as I’ve always felt he would be an incredible lightweight if he dedicated himself to training properly, but as we all know the outspoken Armenian is no longer employed with the UFC and has other health issues to concern himself with beyond physical conditioning. I settled on Slice because he isn’t particularly tall or heavy for someone who is expected to compete against opponents outweighing him by 30-40 pounds. He’s rumored to be fighting Houston Alexander at a catch-weight of 215 pounds in a few weeks come the Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale so clearly the drop is something he’s considering. The result of that bout will be indicative of his ability to compete as a light heavyweight in the future. At 36-years old, without a background in amateur wrestling, and carrying around as much muscle as he does, it’s very possible the drop in weight will completely sap him of his power and already suspect conditioning.

Pat Barry: Barry is the only athlete on this list who I’m unsure about in the sense I don’t know if he would actually be able to slim down to light heavyweight. Standing 5’11” on a good day suggests it would be possible but then again he’s also built like a bulldog, and my sense is that that much muscle would more difficult to shed than flab would be to condition into shape. Truly, the affable New Orleanian is an excellent case when it comes to the occasional calls for a “cruiserweight” division better suited to his proportions (220-230 pound limit), as is Mirko Filipovic. However, until that takes place, his height/weight still concern me when it comes to top shelf opponents like Shane Carwin, Frank Mir, and Lesnar who are so much larger than him. If he is able to take the time to slowly work down to 205 pounds I think there is no better time than the present to do so.

Cain Velasquez: Velasquez is another example of a Mixed Martial Artist who is content with his performances at a certain weight while his physique hints at the possibility of complete dominance in a lower division. At 6’2” he’s no taller than Anthony Johnson yet fights somewhere between 35-70 pounds heavier at any given event. He also shares Rashad Evans’ lack of washboard abs. His power and grappling ability would be near invincible at light heavyweight while neither are adequate to easily counter the similar skills of Carwin or Lesnar. With proper dieting and commitment in the gym I’m confident Cain could not only make 205 pounds but solidify himself as a genuine legend at the weight.

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