Let The Debate Begin: The Land of 205

Machida deserves his shot.

I decided to hold back starting my new MMA column until a fight or event came around that could provide the basis beginning it. This past weekend such a match occurred. Forrest Griffin dethroned Quinton Jackson as UFC Light Heavyweight champion in a rare example where a unanimous decision causes controversy. However, due to the fact that rounds three through five have been labeled “swing rounds” or rounds that could’ve went either way on the scorecards, it seems that every round from every judge went to Griffin.

Why this fight? Because it was for the title at the top of the most stacked weight division in Mixed-Martial Arts by far. Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Keith Jardine, Mauricio Rua, Anderson Silva (as of July 19), Dan Henderson, Sokoudjou, Machida, Rampage, and Griffin all reside in the 205-lb. weight class. There is no division (let alone a division in one promotion) with that much star power on the planet at this moment. However, despite all the big names, the landscape is relatively open as far as the title is concerned; Henderson was just choked out by Anderson Silva, Liddell still has to wash away the stain of the Jardine loss, Sokoudjou just bounced back from a bad loss, Ortiz is gone, Wanderlei still has those three losses haunting him, and Rampage just lost.

Don’t get me wrong; I do believe that Rampage deserves a rematch, especially considering the circumstances. However, Machida has earned it and more importantly deserves it. I know a lot of people have their problems with Machida—he’s too inconsistent, he’s boring at times—and all of those negatives can be corroborated by the fact that it seems as though a different Lyoto Machida has appeared in each of his last four fights. Despite that, his résumé does speak for itself: one of the only legit (at least 10 wins) unbeatens left—along with Evans and Filho, and nine of his thirteen wins have come against fighters who have been in or still are in UFC (Vernon White, Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn, Sam Hoger, David Heath, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz). Rampage/Griffin II should happen, but I do believe that Machida should get his crack at it first unless anything resembling a fix is to be found in the remains of Saturday’s title fight.

The fact that the air is open in the Land of 205 is the main reason that this weight division is THE division to watch in MMA: everybody wants their shot and everybody has to earn it. Liddell has Evans in September and, win pending, the possibility of Shogun next year if Rua is able. Wandi has a highlight reel knockout in the form of the Jardine fight to roll with into his next fight (my guess is Sokoudjou) and with a win there he would be in the hunt. Henderson needs to win his next fight just so he can decide if he wants to stay in the Light Heavyweight ranks or not, something he likely will as he did so some resentment at having to go back down to 185 for the Silva fight. If he can get a win, then there are limitless possibilities for Henderson including Nakamura, Jardine, Griffin (if he doesn’t have the belt at that time), Machida (if he doesn’t have the belt at that time), or even the Henderson/Liddell dream match might be something UFC may try in ’09. Sokoudjou was impressive against Nakamura, but unless he can improve his ground game or become a knockout machine—as in quick knockouts—he’s always going to be “on the bubble” as far as him becoming a force at 205 or not. The Silva loss was tough for Jardine, but the wins against Griffin and Liddell still sustain him and if he wins his next fight, he’s back in the thick of things. All I’ve just written can be summed up this way: there are limitless possibilities in 205 where the belt isn’t concerned.

What happens with the belt right now is circled around three men: Rampage, Griffin, and Machida. Everyone associated with UFC and all those that follow it know that Machida has earned his shot as his prestige has grown with each win despite the shakiness that each win brought with it. However, some obviously feel that Rampage didn’t lose his belt (and they could be right). And there are those who only want to know who and when is Griffin’s first challenge going to be. I brought this point up earlier and what it comes down to is the following: does the possibility that Rampage was robbed outweigh Machida’s résumé and the fact that he’s unbeaten? In looking at whether Rampage was robbed, two things come to mind: the decision was unanimous and if rounds 3-5 were swing rounds, it would come down to the judges anyway. This is not to say that Rampage doesn’t deserve his rematch. Rampage was the champ, hadn’t lost since 2005 coming into Saturday’s fight and since he was the champion and the belt changed hands under controversial circumstances, it would seem right to give the champion his rightful rematch. Plus, UFC may smell more money in a rematch than Machida’s challenge as Rampage is clearly the bigger draw and bigger star at the moment, and controversy does sell and this fight did have controversy.

With so much going on in the Land of 205 right now, what Dana and Joe Silva and the Fertittas decide is right as far as the title is concerned seems almost like a coin toss in that it could go either way and they won’t pay too high a price if it’s the wrong one.

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