Joe Silva has been a busy man lately. That’s almost always a good thing for the fans, and this recent flurry is no exception. Bader vs Jones, Griffin vs Franklin and Carwin vs Nelson were all recently announced. A bunch of big names there. Some have questioned the wisdom of pitting the light heavyweight division’s two top prospects against each other, but its still a fight everyone will want to see when the time comes.
All of the aforementioned fights are big-time matchups, but Joe Silva’s most intriguing work has been done in the lightweight division. I’m starting to see a plan come together there, and I think I can get behind it.
We’ll start with the recently announced Jim Miller vs Charles Oliveira, set to take place at UFC 124 in December. All aboard the Oliveira hype train! Cynical internet commenters are crying foul, claiming Miller is too much, too soon for the young Brazilian. For whatever reason, hype always draws this kind of response in MMA. It’s gotten to the point where people are actually going to be rooting against Oliveira strictly because of the hype surrounding his fantastic start. I think that is totally wack.
I also happen to think Oliveira will eventually live up to his hype. Maybe not right away, but the kid obviously has mad skills. I don’t see what possible problem anyone could have with getting excited about that. Yet, undeniably, many do have a problem with it, and with Oliveira as a result. Check out the snarky comments at Bloody Elbow if you don’t believe me. Sports fans can be so lame sometimes.
Whether or not Oliveira has ”earned” the right to face a guy who’s never beaten anyone in the top 10 is not for me to say. Miller is definitely a good fighter. He’s also definitely a step up in competition for Do Bronx. Obviously Joe Silva thinks he’s ready. I’m inclined to agree. Miller will be an excellent test. He’s got great jiu-jitsu and decent, but not especially powerful hands. He probably won’t finish Oliveira, but neither will he succumb to an easy submission. He’ll make the kid earn it. That’s what he does. And maybe he’ll prove too much for him. If so, Miller gets yet another win, and is ready for a title qualifier. And Oliveira? Learning how to rebound from a loss is a huge part of becoming a great fighter. He’ll have to learn that eventually, too. I don’t see how learning it early would ruin him as a prospect. This is an excellent fight.
The other recent announcement that caught my attention was Kenny Florian vs Evan Dunham, which is likely to take place at UFC 127. This is a big one, gang. Both fighters may be coming off “losses”, but don’t let that fool you. Florian got outwrestled and Dunham kicked Sean Sherk’s ass. These are two excellent fighters, and this is bound to be an excellent fight.
Given Dana White’s scathing criticism of Florian, who he apparently perceives as a choke artist, its easy to see who he wants to win this fight. Florian looks suspiciously like a gatekeeper here. Thats not how I want to think of him, but the fact is he’s a guy in his thirties who lost his three biggest fights. He’s fighting a legitimate up-and-comer. If it looks like a gatekeeper, and it smells like a gatekeeper….
White wanted Florian to take care of Gray “Gary” Maynard and spare them from having to give him a title shot. That would explain why he was so pissed at Kenny afterwards. Even if Florian beats Dunham, its hard to imagine the UFC investing any more resources in another title run for him. It’s going to be hard for Kenny to climb that mountain again. Dunham, on the other hand, is being groomed. A win over Florian would have him squarely in the title picture.
Neither of these fights will produce the next challenger, but they should both produce eventual challengers. The next challenger is George Sotiropoulos, that much is clear now. Many were confused as to why he is being forced to slum it against Joe Lauzon at UFC 123. Admittedly, I don’t for a second think Lauzon is ready for Sotiropoulos. He isn’t supposed to be. G-Sot is supposed to win that match so he can be ready to take on the winner of Maynard/Edgar. That’s why the fight was booked.
The picture of the new UFC lightweight division is becoming clearer.