If GSP fights Hendricks before the year is out, then the two longest reigning Champions in UFC history will put their belts on the line in one year. The main question the UFC needs it ask itself is “What happens to the divisions if they lose?” Let’s put the immediate rematch option aside and pretend that was simply an Edgar anomaly, and take a look at what happens when a king is dethroned.
The simple fact is that both men are going to lose sooner rather than later. Both men have talked about not feeling challenged, not having that same “fire” for fighting and both have openly discussed retirement and time limits in the sport, yet neither appears to be willing to permanently move up in weight to gain that fire back. At some point it’s going to be less about the opponent beating them, than them beating themselves.
Let’s say Johny Hendricks is right, and GSP has never fought anyone like him before. Let’s say this is his time and he actually dethrones the undisputed greatest WW of all time. Does the UFC now build the Welterweight division around Big Rig? Potentially, but the problem is that for all his top 10 wins and 15-1 record, Johny Hendricks is a beatable fighter (as evidenced by his splits to an aging Kos and tough but middling Pierce). How much promotional push should an organization make when the belt may change hands with the next match? WW is undeniably one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC. With the “old” guard moving out and the new guard moving in, it’s only getting tougher with each passing year. The UFC has, unfortunately, had a situation similar to this.
BJ Penn was the undisputed king of, what most considered, the most stacked division in the UFC, when a nearly undefeated Frankie Edgar took his belt. Like Hendricks, Edgar seems like a genuinely nice person but no amount of promotional push could make him the superstar BJ was. Now the belt to the most stacked division is given away on free TV as the LW divisions top talent fails to attract big PPV numbers since the demise of it’s ruler. GSP may be called “robotic” by some, but the fact is he is still one of the biggest draws in MMA with GQ good looks, a samurai spirit and one of the largest MMA markets (Canada) fully backing him, it’s going to be next to impossible for the UFC to find any single fighter that can fill his shoes.
While Hendricks/GSP is only conjecture at this point, Anderson Silva vs Chris Weidman is happening in a little less than a month at UFC 162. While Weidman doesn’t possess the resume of some other title challengers, he does appear to possess large quantities of The Spiders kryptonite. Like GSP, Silva has reigned for so long and looked so invincible that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a Middleweight division without him. Yet that’s exactly what the UFC needs to plan for if the undefeated underdog pulls off the victory. Again, the UFC has dealt with a similar situation before.
In May of 2007 Chuck Liddell sat atop the Light Heavyweight and P4P ladders. Having already avenged his only other two losses, he was looking to avenge his last in typical highlight reel fashion against Rampage Jackson. We all know how that went. What happened next was that the LHW title, once the most prestigious in MMA, was sent into turmoil when title after title was exchanged with barley a defense in between. Not until a young upstart, who had never even fought an MMA match when the Iceman fell, was able to capture and hold the belt. Is it so inconceivable that we see a scenario where Vitor beats Weidman, Yushin beats Vitor, Bisping beats Yushin and so on and so on for several years until a relative unknown at this point is able to capture the hold the belt, restoring its prestige in MMA?
The UFC is no longer the fringe sport with a die hard fan base that kept it relevant like it was when Liddell lost his title. It is now an international powerhouse in the sports world. How it handles the loss of it’s two most prominent, international ambassadors will show how far it’s come as a legitimate enterprise and how much farther it still has to go.