When Anderson Silva stepped inside the Octagon against Patrick Cote at UFC 90, fans began brandishing their pitchforks and lighting their torches. The French-Canadian is a solid fighter with heavy hands and a rock-hard jaw but a viable title contender, he was not, no matter how many consecutive fights he had won.
The same was thought six months later when Thales Leites was pegged by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to challenge "The Spider." Both fights were dreadful affairs as it seemed even Silva himself believed the challengers weren't worthy enough to vie for his crown.
The seven rounds of action -- or inaction, as it were -- was enough for UFC President Dana White to book Silva in the weight class above the one which he was thoroughly dominating.
Two years ago, at UFC 111, the same complaints were being thrown around when welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre took on Dan Hardy, a Briton who held the reputation of being a knockout artist despite having only one stoppage in the UFC to his name.
He, like Cote and Leites before him, wasn't viewed as anything resembling a viable title contender and those feelings were justified when "Rush" absolutely trounced him over the course of 25 minutes. In fact, GSP's failure to finish "The Outlaw" shifted an avalanche of criticism onto him.
This level of domination has caused a talent gap between the titleholders and those who wish to dethrone them in the 185 and 170-pound divisions, often making title bouts -- and non-title bouts alike -- seem trite or meaningless. The same trend seems to be blossoming as well in the newly christened feather- and bantamweight divisions.
Has it already happened, without us realizing it, in the 205-pound weight class?
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans would often joke when two middleweights were taking part in a number one contender's fight, they were actually fighting to determine who Silva would get to knock out next.
It's starting to feel the same when discussing Jon Jones' next opponent.
After Dan Henderson, the only top 10 opponents left for "Bones" are Forrest Griffin -- who has yet another date with Tito Ortiz this summer -- and greenhorns Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson. Perhaps the latter two, one day, will be ready to challenge for the title but it won't be any time soon. And Griffin seems more content with collecting a paycheck than adding to his legacy these days.
This seeming lack of competition removes drama and intrigue from not only Jones' title fights but also fights between top contenders in the division. If Gustafsson and Davis end up tangling in the future to decide the next challenger, what would it matter in the eyes of the fans' if they believe Jones would wreck either one anyway?
The UFC tried to solve this problem a couple different ways with Silva and St. Pierre. In the former's case, they had "The Spider" move up in weight and take on James Irvin and Griffin in showcase bouts. Irvin's knockout was expected but Silva's decimation of a former champion in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner helped rally most fans around the idea of a full-time move to light heavyweight for the Brazilian.
In St. Pierre's case, the promotion brought in champions from Strikeforce in Jake Shields and Nick Diaz to challenge their 170-pound kingpin. Shields was felled, as "Rush's" previous opponents had been, and Diaz... well, that's an entirely different, convoluted story. Needless to say, the Stockton bad boy has been removed from contention -- and perhaps from the sport altogether -- while Carlos Condit is set to take on St. Pierre sometime in late 2012. Even so, the feeling GSP should move up to 185-pounds is stronger than ever.
Those moves became necessary when Silva and "Rush" both cleaned out their divisions and needed a fresh challenge. They became necessary when fighters like Cote, Leites and Hardy found themselves in five-round fights, one errant punch away from becoming champion.
The same is happening with Jones and the light heavyweight division.
Fans are already clamoring for "Bones" to bulk up and move to heavyweight lest we see title fights with the likes of Thiago Silva or rematches against fighters Jones has already wrecked. A shift beyond 205 pounds seems to be the only thing which would keep Jones' career fresh and exciting. Staying at light heavyweight and picking off challengers one by one would definitely cement his already almost assured legacy of being the best fighter ever in the division but Jones has repeatedly stated he wants to go down in MMA history as one of the greatest of all time.
To do so, he needs to leave the light heavyweight division because until he does, the weight class will be him, a huge chasm and then everybody else.
And that's just boring.