A couple of months from now, the UFC will go high concept.
Or at least, heavy concept.
Last week’s confirmation that a bout between Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt will open the main card of UFC 146 on May 26 means that the show will be an all-heavyweight affair. For the first time in the company’s modern history, it will put nothing but 265-pound fights on the pay-per-view portion of a broadcast.
It’s the kind of thing that’ll look great on a poster -- Five Exciting Heavyweight Fights! -- and the cherry on top will be Junior dos Santos defending his UFC title for the first time against the mountainous Alistair Overeem.
The public’s fascination with heavyweights is well-documented, so this particular promotional gambit can’t possibly hurt in the lead-up to UFC 146. Whether or not it significantly moves the needle while a slew of equally promotable, but lighter fighters are left on the undercard, though, remains to be seen.
Either way, it could be fairly instructive for the future.
Here’s the problem, though: Our preoccupation with heavyweights, aside from the sheer spectacle of it all, is rooted in boxing, where conventional wisdom dictates that the bigger the dude, the better the chance of fireworks. In MMA however, this doesn’t always translate. Sure, heavyweights can produce crowd-pleasing knockouts, but with four-ounce gloves, so too can flyweights. For the practical application of this, see: Benavidez, Joseph.
Though certainly in the running for most popular, MMA’s heavyweight division is also arguably the one most likely to let you down. Heavyweights get tired. Heavyweights are often inexperienced. Heavyweight bouts can be over before you know it, or they can slog to 15-minute decisions that seem to take an hour. In other words, in this sport, 265-pound fights are typically either great or terrible, with very little gray area in between.
That makes UFC 146 a fairly significant risk for those who shell out the dough to watch it.
The heavyweight division has produced some marvelous entertainment in recent months -- stunning comeback wins from Cheick Kongo and Frank Mir both come to mind -- but those stellar outcomes feel more like the exception than the rule.
More often than not, heavyweight MMA fights go one of two ways: They become a boat race to see who can be first to stick one in the other guy’s ear, ala dos Santos’ 64 second title victory over Cain Velasquez last November, or then they run the risk of becoming tepid and exasperating letdowns like Overeem’s decision win over Fabricio Werdum in the opening round of the Strikeforce grand prix last June.
When they're great, they're great. Worst case scenario? Well, when a heavyweight fight goes bad, there's nothing worse in all of MMA.
They can be so dreadful that fights like Gabriel Gonzaga’s epic staring contest with Kevin Jordan still haunt our dreams, even though it happened at UFC 56, a little more than six years ago. That bout was so painful that not even Gonzaga’s third round knockout victory via Superman punch could save it ... and that’s bad.
Perhaps the best testament to the reliably unreliable nature of the heavyweight division is the overall history of the UFC 265-pound title, where inconsistency, short championship reigns and freak accidents have always been the natural order of things. Stays at the top are fleeting, and they are just as likely to end with a whimper as a bang.
It’s likely there will be some great heavyweight fights at UFC 146. There is also a good chance some of the fights end up limping to the finish line. Those are the breaks when it comes to the heavies.
Personally, give me a card full of welterweights (and lighter) any day. They might not look quite as good on the poster, but they typically bring more action from bell to bell.