UFC 134 Shows Joe Silva’s Matchmaking At Its Best

UFC 134 was a real show of strength from the organization with the pay per view fights all providing plenty of thrills for the paying fan. The undercard contained plenty of excitement with a hellacious and at times hilarious back and forth battle between Rousimar Palhares and Dan Miller, a impactful slugfest between the technical striking of Luiz Cane and the heavy hands of Stanislav Nedkov and a superior technical striking contest between Edson Barboza and Ross Pearson all containing plenty of action. However it was the triple main event that really showed the UFC firing on all cylinders.

The genius of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is that he usually finds a way to book win-win fights, where regardless of who wins, Zuffa benefits. The two featured bouts on this event are classic examples of that booking philosophy. On the surface the ideal result would have been for both Brendan Schaub and Forrest Griffin to emerge victorious over their Brazilian opponents given that both were on the brink of providing much needed marketable title contenders in their respective divisions.

Schaub’s ascent through the division had been expertly booked in an act of prospect protection that is rare inside the Octagon, with both Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko Cro Cop being fed to him. If he had made it three for three against aging veterans then Schaub would have given the UFC a young, fresh American to place into the a final eliminator for the heavyweight title. Meanwhile Griffin as one of the most popular light heavyweights in company history would surely have been in the driving seat for a crack at a second world title if he had secured a victory that would have sent him three for three against former division world champions. The original Ultimate Fighter against current champion Jon Jones or former adversaries Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson would have surely given the light heavyweight division its biggest money match since UFC 114.

Of course neither scenario happened, with their opponents Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Shogun Rua quickly knocking them out in surprisingly dominant displays. Cue in some quarters much wailing of the teeth given Nogueira’s consistent lack of drawing power and Rua having only just been brutalized by Jones. But the reality is that these results contain the same commercial upside for the organization as if their American adversaries won.

Nogueira may have never set the world on fire on pay per view but he is a legitimately respected and beloved veteran and as the UFC seeks to monetize the twilight of an expanding roster of veterans it never hurts for viewers to be reminded that there’s always fight left in an old dog. But more than that Nogueira’s victory potentially sets up a marketable but safely winnable fight for a Frank Mir earmarked for Brock Lesnar’s return. Alternatively the victory renews Nogueira’s luster in time for the former Pride FC Heavyweight Champion to feature prominently in the organization’s return to Japan in 2012. The latter is of course true of Rua, with the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix winner still a popular fighter who could easily be slotted in against fellow top contender Lyoto Machida in what would be a rubber match in their controversial rivalry. Alternatively as Scott has already suggested, a rematch with Dan Henderson would be a great welcome back fight for the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion. And if he was to perform as he did on Saturday night, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince fans that his terrible performance at UFC 128 was due to poor preparation and that he can pose a genuine threat to Jon Jones.

And it has to be said with UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Ferttita talking of running several shows in Brazil next year it doesn’t hurt to have Brazilian legends secure impressive victories in front of a domestic television audience believed to be over thirty million strong.

Of course in the main event there was no win-win situation, a Yushin Okami upset would have been a disaster for a UFC on the brink of a real breakthrough in Brazil. But Silva’s ninth successful defense of his world middleweight title did show his namesake Joe’s matchmaking at its best.

Often MMA fans make the glib point that if boxing was run like the UFC that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao would have been made to fight by now. But that simply isn’t true, after all for almost five years Dana White has been quite content to make money off Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre as the champions of their respective weight classes rather than book MMA’s own P4P King fight. What would instead have happened is that Manny Pacquiao would have been able to carve out a successful career at lightweight instead of rushing up the divisions to take money matches against the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley.

If the UFC was like boxing then the pressure for Anderson Silva to move up would have been unbearable, with the received wisdom being that the only way Silva could turn his dominance into commercial success would be to join the glamour division of light heavyweight. Throughout boxing we see this time after time with the concentration of talent at welterweight being the most glaring example. Instead the UFC had the confidence to let Silva grow into his role as middleweight champion and has a champion of a previously unheralded division that can be relied upon to do more than half a million pay per view buys for every title defense and lead the organization’s charge into a fresh market.

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