By Matt Saccaro
This is one of those articles where you actually have to read what I say before you bash me in the comments.
It has become fashionable to criticize the UFC because of the declining numbers and questionable business decisions. The main point of the decline of the UFC ™ argument is the lack of stars present on the UFC’s roster. Georges St-Pierre is gone, and there’s no Brock Lesnar (who’s definitely *not* coming back, BTW), Kimbo Slice or other massive promotional powerhouse to fill in the gap. Even worse, Anderson Silva‘s resplendently shining star was irrevocably dimmed by Chris Weidman via brutal (and somewhat hilarious) knockout.
If you subscribe to this narrative, UFC 168 represents a chance for the UFC to slow their decline. If Silva prevails, the UFC has a bankable champion again; the crisis of the UFC’s future isn’t averted per se but at least it’s delayed.
This is the wrong way to look at it.
First, Anderson Silva is 38 years old. Despite his ten-fight deal, he likely won’t be around much longer. Even if he does stay for a while, he won’t be the same fighter. UFC 162 taught us that. Silva was just a 1/2 second too slow against Weidman. How much slower will he be a year from now? Two years from now?
If Silva continues, we won’t be getting the real-life Neo we’re used to. We’ll be getting a watered-down, dilatory, depressing Anderson Silva—a 2009 Chuck Liddell-esque Silva that makes us want to give the Brazilian a cup of coffee and a hug rather than our pay-per-view dollars. “Remember how great Silva used to be?” will replace “Holy shit! Did you just see what Silva did?” throughout bars and dens across the world.
Excluding his two fights against Sonnen (UFC 117 and UFC 148), Silva didn’t bring in jaw-dropping numbers. Over the last three years, he’s garnered an average of just over 400,000 PPV buys each time he headlined a card. Silva needs the right opponent to draw. Silva-Weidman II will draw well because of the rematch angle, but the initial fight only drew 550,000 buys—respectable but not a “this guy is a superstar” level of success. It’s doubtful the UFC will find a new, profitable rival for Silva in the tired crop of “I respect him, he’s a great opponent” fighters.
The UFC wins if Silva loses. They gain a new, younger champion to promote in Chris Weidman. They’re also getting their middleweight division back. What was once a predictable slaughterhouse will now be the wild west—a lawless weight class in which a multitude of gunslingers have a chance at the title. It’ll be a division where nothing is a given; number one contender fights will actually matter and predicting who will hold the belt in a year will be challenging.
Conversely, the UFC loses if Silva wins. A triumphant Silva is a victory for a past-its-prime generation of competitors. A generation that, like a price sticker on a picture frame, refuses to be peeled away so that the beauty underneath can be seen. A Silva victory means the UFC can continue relying on its fading past, while Weidman winning forces the UFC to build its future.