Fighting is a tough way to make a living. Most of us who aren’t pro fighters probably already suspected as much. Aside from the physical requirements, I’ve always thought that the hardest part must be the unsympathetic nature of the fight game. There’s only room for one champion in each weight class, one top guy. Everybody else is looking up at him, at his paycheck, at his higher standard of living.
This fact of the fight business is how we get to the gatekeeper phenomenon. For those unfamiliar with the term, a gatekeeper is someone lacking the ability to be a champion or top contender, but is good enough to beat just about anyone who is not a champion or top contender. He’s a kind of walking truth serum for fighters. If you’re the real deal, then you should be able to beat him. If you’re not, then you won’t.
When you think about it, the gatekeeper has to be a very good fighter. He has to be able to beat about 90% of the guys in his class consistently, which is impressive. But nobody wants to be a gatekeeper. Not even the guys who can’t beat the gatekeeper want to be a gatekeeper. Everyone wants to be champ because that’s who gets paid, and that’s who gets remembered years down the road. Being a champion is like etching your name into the rock, or at least it seems that way.
The reason I bring up the gatekeeper phenomenon now is because I’m thinking about Rich Franklin, who will rematch Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title on Saturday night (yeah, that’s what you get when you type Franklin’s name into Google Image Search. I’m asking you, what’s that blond in the middle doing? She just had to find a way to stand out in a photo full of Hooters girls, didn’t she?).
It’s hard to call Franklin a gatekeeper, at least right now. He was the champ — albeit of a weaker division than that which currently exists in the UFC — before Silva took the belt from him with a brutal first-round TKO. But what becomes of him if Silva beats him for a second time?
At the moment, Franklin is a considerable underdog in this rematch. If he loses, no one will be too surprised. But at the same time, Franklin has beat most of the top talent in the division, including Yushin Okami, Jason MacDonald, and David Loiseau. What can the UFC do with him if he can beat these guys, but not the champion? Isn’t that the very definition of a gatekeeper?
That’s tough luck for Franklin, who is a very talented fighter with a great work ethic. While it’s somewhat insulting to call a fighter a gatekeeper, it’s starting to look like that’s what Franklin is facing if he can’t find a way to beat Silva.
And that’s why fighting is such a tough business. At least, that’s one of the reasons. It’s a world where being really good isn’t quite good enough. You have to be the best, and no one can be the best forever. Not even Silva, although he probably doesn’t know it yet.