There are plenty of reasons why the (potentially) biggest fight in all of combat sports should be made. Money. Exposure. Mainstream media coverage. The potential for an all-time classic. But forget all the dry business talk for a moment. The biggest reason Anderson Silva vs. GSP needs to get made is because it’s exactly the sort of fight MMA is (supposed to be) all about.
I want you to think back to the earliest days of this fine sport – before the sponsorship money, before the advent of reality TV, before the network TV deals, before the million-selling PPV’s and the dancing Fox robot and the championship-level Bentley accidents.
What was the driving force that made MMA what it was? What was the central idea that drove folks to step into a strange, octagonal shaped cage, where low blows, headbutts, and bear-knuckle strikes were fair game? What drove Art Jimmerson to don his infamous single boxing glove, or Keith Hackney to tell folks that “if they’re coming on…COME ON!”? What drove a skinny little dude named Royce Gracie to enter that cage and turn the martial arts world on it’s head?
Ok, part of it was money. After all, they were competing for a whopping grand prize of $50,000. Compared to modern day MMA salaries that’s…well, it’s still not bad for a night’s work. Ryan Bader made about that to “run right into a telephone pole” against Lyoto Machida on the last UFC on Fox. But back then, it was a king’s ransom compared to what most dudes had made doing “No Holds Barred” fighting.
But no one in that tournament had any illusions about doing MMA as a full-time profession. For the fighters, the motivation was simple: find out which martial art was superior – and by extension, which martial artist. When Royce Gracie won the inaugural UFC tournament, I’m betting he wasn’t thinking about the PPV buyrate, or the demos being solid, or winning an “…of the Night” bonus.
He was, one likes to imagine, reveling in his conquest, the knowledge that his art was superior – a validation not just for him, but for his entire storied family.
Now obviously times have changed, and the sport has changed even more. It’s still about style vs. style, only now the fight will be “good boxer with solid takedown defense against muay thai striker with a dangerous submission game” rather than, say, “boxing vs. BJJ”. But as evolved as the sport has become, it still maintains that purity of spirit it had in it’s earliest days.
This is a sport about finding out who the better man is. Period. It’s why we hate close or controversial decisions. It’s why we hate draws. It’s why we like clean finishes. It’s why we have championships. And at the ultimate level, it’s why we all have our list of the top fighters “pound-for-pound” – who would win, if weight wasn’t a factor.
And for the longest time, two names sat atop everyone’s pound-for-pound list: GSP and Anderson Silva. And unlike other pound-for-pound superfights like say, Jose Aldo vs. Junior Dos Santos, where the weight differential was impossibly vast, GSP and Silva reign only one weight class apart. 15 measly pounds separate the number one guy in our sport from the number two. What’s more, Anderson started his career as a welterweight, while GSP is reputed to be one of the larger competitors at 170 lbs.
There are plenty of reasons this fight hasn’t happened yet, despite being the most talked about mega-fight in MMA for years now. Whenever their schedules would match up right to make the fight, something would fall through. There was talk that the fight would get made post-UFC 100, until GSP tore his groin against Thiago Alves. There was talk that it would get made post UFC 112, until the Silva vs. Maia dance-off/staring contest happened, and the MMA world turned on Anderson like he was Lebron James putting on a Heat jersey.
Then there was the fued with Sonnen, and the fued with Koscheck. There was headlining fights in Brazil and record breaking main events at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. There was injuries and setbacks and plenty of speculation. For awhile, it looked like this fight was dead: with GSP facing a new line of contenders at welterweight and Anderson nearing the end of his career, people began to discount the notion that this fight would ever happen.
Until recently, when Anderson mentioned St. Pierre as an opponent he would like to face in the near future, and kicked open the whole can of worms again. GSP, for his part, has always seemed reluctant to move up a weight class to face “the Spider”, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in his public hesitance. GSP maintains a polished public front, and the same way no one believes that Dan Hardy really was “his ‘ost dangerous op-poh-nent”, I think his reluctance to accept the Silva fight in the press is simply him not trying to get ahead of the UFC’s plans.
And the UFC has also seemed reluctant to make this fight, for obvious reasons: it means one golden goose has to eat the other, no matter what happens. There’s way more money to be made having GSP and Silva face challengers in their respective divisions, even lesser-known fighters in less lucrative fights, than risk one losing their luster in a fight with the other. That’s the logic that’s kept this fight from getting made thus far, and kept either Silva or St. Pierre from jumping all over it.
But the situation has changed, and the perfect time to make this fight is now. Or rather, soon.
The only remaining question mark is GSP’s knee, and how it’ll be coming off surgery and a long layoff. Assuming he’s 100%, he should return and face Carlos Condit in a welterweight title unification bout. If he were to defeat Condit, it would cement him as the undisputed greatest welterweight in MMA history. At this point, I think he could safely leave the welterweight division having “done all he needed to do” there, so to speak. His knee-surgery (and bouncing back from it) might make it more difficult to make that 170-pound weight limit, as well.
And Silva? He’s fast run out of marketable fights at middleweight, and with all due respect to Chris Weidman, he isn’t one of them. Not yet, anyways. The only remaining “big” fight for Silva at 185 currently is the Micheal Bisping/Brian Stann winner, and preferably Bisping in that scenario. A fight with Bisping – especially in England – would be big money but beyond that, there’s not much else out there for Anderson assuming he stays to his word about not wanting to move up to 205.
So make the fight then – once GSP is done with Carlos Condit (assuming he beats him) and Silva is done with Bisping (assuming he…sorry Brits, I can’t do it). Have GSP officially move up to middleweight and forget all this catchweight nonsense. After all, does GSP beating a sucked out, dehydrated Anderson really prove anything? If we’re going to do the fight, let’s at least see both guys at their best. Give GSP an immediate title shot, haters be damned – the UFC did the same for BJ Penn and Randy Couture when the fight was right.
And sure, one great champion will have to conquer the other – but so what? It’s starting to become clear that fans don’t want to watch either man “coast” through the remainder of their careers, fighting lesser-known competition. And with Silva’s nearing 40 years old and GSP coming off a bad injury, it’s not like either guy has all the time in the world to let another opportunity like this come again.
Make this fight now. Do it because it will blow the doors off the UFC’s all-time PPV figures. Do it because it will draw mainstream media attention like no other. Do it because it will be, hands down, the biggest fight of all time.
But mostly, do it because MMA is about finding out who the undisputed best is – and I’m dying to know.