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Dissecting the Movement of Former Middleweights to Light Heavyweight

Chris Weidman is the latest staple at 185 pounds to make the trek up from the middleweight division- where he was once the lauded champ who defeated the great Anderson Silva- to the light heavyweight division, one that itself has a seemingly unstoppable champion and a stable of contenders waiting for their respective chances to pull off the upset of a lifetime. But as mentioned above, Weidman is now one of many making a move up, and with the middleweight division now having a new champ but very little new blood at the top, it raises the question- why?

A post shared by Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) on Jul 6, 2019 at 10:32am PDT

When the Octagon door closes behind Chris Weidman and his opponent Dominick Reyes, Weidman will join an ever-growing group of former middleweights that believe success is quicker to access at light heavyweight. That list includes the last two opponents of champion Jon Jones, Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, as well as fellow former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, and soon to also include former Strikeforce middleweight champion and longtime divisional staple Jacare Souza after his matchup with Jan Blachowicz in November. But the question at hand is, why is this mass exodus from middleweight to light heavyweight occurring? What are these middleweight legends and former titleholders seeing at 205 that draws appeal?

The simple and seemingly obvious answer to this question, at least for guys like Weidman and Rockhold, is the weight cutting aspect. Both men have always been large middleweights, each having to cut from upwards of 200lbs to make the limit. Those cuts have notoriously drained both men and caused them to have significant dehydration issues on occasion. For Souza, he’s in the final stretch of his illustrious career and has no real title potential at middleweight. After losing his last fight, it makes sense for Souza to end his career without having to drain himself completely. So, that is undoubtedly an aspect we can’t deny that. Cutting weight sucks, and the less a fighter has to cut, the better their performance tends to be. But I have another theory as to why this divisional movement is occurring…

A post shared by Ronaldo “Jacaré” 🐊 Souza (@ronaldojacare) on Oct 8, 2019 at 5:38pm PDT

The other answer to this question is the more jaded and cynical way of looking at the situation. Weidman and Souza see the recent success that guys like Smith and Santos have had each getting a title shot within a year of moving up in weight. Those men were career mid-card fighters during their 185 runs. So former champions see the success of guys who couldn’t hold a candle to them at middleweight, and then, all of a sudden, that one deadly sin of pride kicks in. “Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos could do it, and they were mediocre at 185. I’m a former champ! If they can go the distance with Jon Jones, I can beat him,” apparently forgetting Luke Rockhold’s demise at the hands of Blachowicz at UFC 239. Weidman has already said he believes he’ll be the one to end the reign of Jon Jones-like he stopped Anderson Silva’s reign. Whether or not that’s true (which it very likely isn’t), it remains to be seen. Keep an eye on Weidman’s callout with a win on Friday night at TD Garden. I would fully expect for Chris Weidman to call for a light heavyweight title fight with a win, and while it’s understandable to want a title fight at any opportunity it’s available to you, it brings me to my next point.

A post shared by Jan Blachowicz (@janblachowicz) on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:52pm PDT

What I’m getting at with all of this ranting and rambling is that light heavyweight, as I’ve said in articles past and clearly still remains as the case, is one of the UFC’s shallowest divisions. Light heavyweight has been improving and while it is becoming more and more exciting with the emerging talent (Alonzo Menifield and Dalcha Lungiambula are two of my favorite prospects in all of MMA), the top of the division is still very shallow with very little life apart from Jon Jones himself. Daniel Cormier, who has openly stated he never plans on fighting at light heavyweight again, sits as the number one contender. Alexander Gustafsson, who retired in June after his loss to Anthony Smith, currently sits at number six.

To give any sort of idea into the wasteland that is the contender’s circle at 205, the winner of Friday’s fight, whether it be Reyes or Weidman, will be on the immediate short list for the next opportunity to be Jon Jones’ next victim. They’ll join a list that includes the winner of November’s UFC 244 PRELIMINARY FIGHT (yes, preliminary…) between number seven ranked Corey Anderson and number 10 ranked Johnny Walker, Blachowicz, currently at number four, Souza, and perhaps also number 11 ranked Aleksandar Rakic, who fights the number seven ranked Volkan Oezdemir in South Korea in December.

So, let’s look at these potential contenders then. Reyes is number five, and a win against an unranked middleweight moving up won’t do a ton for his stock. Anderson and Walker should be an entertaining fight, but a title fight seems too soon for both. Blachowicz makes sense right now, but a loss to Souza would throw a wrench in that plan. And it’s too early for Rakic. That’s the state of 205 right now. Blame Jon Jones dominance or the strange matchmaking of the UFC, but that’s the real answer why these middleweights are moving up. Light heavyweight is enough of a munitions dump of competitive imbalance that even a pair of middleweights off of losses like Weidman and Souza can win one against one of the division’s top contenders and get a fight with one of, if not the, greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history.

A post shared by Jon Bones Jones (@jonnybones) on Mar 3, 2019 at 12:15am PST

And that’s your answer. Light heavyweight is so shallow at the top that former champs and legendary names like Weidman, Rockhold, and Souza believe that one win puts them in the driver’s seat for a title matchup immediately thereafter. And, the crazy thing is their right. It didn’t work out so hot for Rockhold, and it remains to be seen if Weidman and Souza have any luck in their matchups. Because if they’re feeling lucky, and a win is due for them on either night, a title shot is likely in their immediate future.

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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