It's rare when three of the five pay-per-view (PPV) main card bouts on an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight card are in the same weight class. And UFC 155 last night (Dec. 29, 2012) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, was a bold move to give the thin cupboard of the 185-pound division a boost.
With four legit contenders on tap in the Tim Boetsch vs. Constantinos Philippou and Alan Belcher vs. Yushin Okami bouts, someone figured to emerge with an augmented case for moving up the ranks, thereby getting a step closer to a shot at division champion Anderson Silva. Throw in the card's opener in Chris Leben vs. Derek Brunson, and it was clear that the middleweights were getting some good play here.
But, it was not to be.
Silva, whose record 10 title defenses have come in a phenomenal undefeated (15-0) run in the Octagon, is in dire need of marketable challengers. This is the flip side of being otherwordly and cleaning out a division -- there simply isn't anyone left. Granted, talented Chris Weidman is waiting in the wings, and next month's Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 7 could produce some fireworks and the next challenger if "The Count" can emerge victorious.
However, it seems only a matter of circumstance because there really isn't anyone with equivalent name value.
Bisping will be at least a 10-1 underdog, and Belfort -- while gifted with the best set of skills to challenge Silva -- will still be perceived as a retread who can't win big fights. And, of course, "The Phenom" has already been stopped in a highlight-reel disaster by "The Spider" not too long ago.
Last night was supposed to shore up that selection pool of challengers. Instead, it only reinforced the gap between Silva and the guys trying to build a case for fighting him.
Boetsch, although badly impaired by an apparent eye poke, still didn't look that good before Philippou's inadvertent finger sent him into defensive mode en route to a third-round stoppage loss. He's a tough wrestler who essentially sticks his head into the pocket and flails away with little technique and a ton of pluck.
That's not going to beat Silva.
Philippou was tentative and not nearly as potent as he'd need to be to compete with the Brazilian, almost taking the win by default after Boetsch pulled a series of guard flops, unable to see enough to function on the feet, prior to being pounded out.
The rematch between Belcherand Okami was equally inconclusive. Okami was Okami, wrestle-smashing Belcher, whose renewed offense and maturity of late were in little evidence in what was a terribly executed game plan, assuming one was conceived to begin with. Given that Okami's already been smashed by Silva, there's no way the promotion is giving him another title shot anytime soon if ever again.
Therefore, that fight was pretty much a wash for creating some buzz around a potential Silva challenger.
When the champ makes noise about taking a year off, it sounds a tad arrogant until you take a long look at the people the UFC is trying to line up for him. If I were Silva, I wouldn't think the three months' worth of training was really worth the effort given the limited boost any of these guys would give his legacy. At this point, Silva needs a superfight -- Jon Jones would be ideal -- or enough money and incentives thrown at the reluctant Georges St. Pierre for a catchweight bout.
Hanging around at 185 pounds simply doesn't hold much excitement. Unless, of course, you're a hardcore Bisping hater who relishes the prospect of the Englishman being thrown in against Silva and tortured to death for the $50 viewing price. The sad thing is, Bisping may well get it. Belfort has never won a single UFC fight that's gone past five minutes.
He's either going to get Bisping or get got, probably via decision.
The most talented of the middleweight bunch is probably Weidman, who was supposed to tangle with Boetsch last night, but pulled out because of injury. These four "contenders" weren't remotely impressive enough to suggest Weidman isn't head and shoulders above them, and he'd still be a 5-1 underdog as it stands against the champ.
Time and circumstances change all things in the fight game, but as it stands, UFC 155 did little to suggest that Silva has many interesting prospects if he stays at middleweight and takes on what could only charitably be described as challengers.
If any, actually.