In this age of interim titles and overhyped fights, it’s easy to forget about the very real title fight down the road. I speak now, of course, of Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson. It may also be known as the fight Henderson should have taken immediately upon coming to the UFC, but better late than never.
I don’t know what Dana White said to Henderson to convince him to finally move back down to middleweight and take this fight. I’m guessing that the conversation involved a check with a lot of zeros on it, for one thing, and maybe a reminder of how he couldn’t control the bigger “Rampage” Jackson on the mat when the two fought for the light heavyweight title.
Whatever it took, White got his wish. Henderson-Silva is the match that makes sense for both fighters. The only questions is, if Silva wins, what happens next?
I ask that for two reasons. One, Henderson is 37. He’s had a great career as an MMA fighter and before that as a prolific amateur wrestler. The guy has won so many titles and tournaments that when I asked him once to list for me some of his accomplishments in advance of an IFL announcement, he told me he was a “three or four-time National Greco-Roman champion.” Three or four? He just smiled and shrugged. I guess at some point you stop counting and they all blend together.
My point here is that if Henderson can’t beat the 205-pound champ and can’t beat the 185-pound champ, what’s left? He doesn’t want to hang around and be a gatekeeper, or at least I don’t want him to do that. And at his age he might be better off hanging up the gloves and concentrating on running his gym.
Then again, if he makes the move down in weight and wins the title, it could be a reverse Randy Couture scenario.
My second question, though, is what happens with Anderson Silva if he wins? He’ll have defeated just about everybody worth punching in the UFC’s anemic middleweight division, with no obvious challenger waiting in the wings. What will the UFC do with him then? Will Anderson Silva weep when he sees there are no more people to beat up?
Knowing the UFC, they’ll probably start pressuring other fighters to move to middleweight (paging, “Count” Bisping), but that does not necessarily mean they’ll have any credible contenders at the end of the day. Henderson has by the far the best shot, not only because of his skill and experience level, but because his style matches up well against Silva’s.
If Silva has trouble with anyone, it’s wrestlers. His takedown defense is the only weak part of his game, and Henderson doesn’t mind taking a punch on the way in to get it.
As of right now, the Silva-Henderson fight stands in the distance as a fork in the road for the UFC’s middleweight division. The future of the weight class — as well as the future of several fighters as of yet unnamed — will depend on what happens in that bout. Either way, when it’s all over we’ll finally have some (M)answers.