It’s official. Brock Lesnar will make his first defense of the unified Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title against Shane Carwin at UFC 106 on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas, Nev.
There are two obvious storylines leading up to the match: the good versus evil subtext of a fight between the conscientious Carwin and the loud-mouth Lesnar, the intrigue of watching the super-sized champ square off with an opponent who is just as large and athletic as Lesnar. But regardless of how people feel about the champ and challenger and no matter who goes home with the belt, the real impact of Lesnar vs. Carwin will be measured by how athletic commissions and promoters address the growing size disparity among heavyweight fighters.
Open weight tournaments can be entertaining but they rarely demonstrate the supremacy of technique, as the Gracies claimed in the early days of the UFC. As a rule, the larger, stronger fighter will prevail in a bout between equally skilled combatants. That’s why weight classes were established for boxing, wrestling, and other combat sports. That’s why BJ Penn looks so good at 155 pounds and so bad at 170. That’s why Anderson Silva is so damn scary.
From flyweight to light heavyweight, no more than 20 pounds separates the classes and it can be safely assumed that fighter’s weight is within 10 pounds of his opponents come fight time. But 60 pounds separates light heavyweights from heavyweights and the size and composition of fighters in that division varies dramatically. Roy Nelson is a 225-pound guy in a 250-pound body. Randy Couture is fit at 225, while Frank Mir fights well at 240. But guys like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin cut weight to make the 265-pound limit. They might outweigh an opponent by 40 pounds or more on fight night and that’s simply not fair when every other division features fights between equally matched competitors.
I’m not arguing for the creation of a super heavyweight division. I know the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts allow for one but there is no way that major promotions will stray from the powerful cultural connotations of the title, “heavyweight champion of the world.” Why not then set a limit of 235 pounds for light heavyweights and reclassify 205 pounds as the cruiserweight division?
The UFC has tweaked its divisions with some regularity since the early days and I am convinced that at some point we will see flyweights, bantamweights, and featherweights fighting under the UFC banner. Can’t we make a concession so that heavier guys can take more competitive fights? Mir, Couture, Antonio Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic, and Heath Herring would all benefit from a 235-pound limit, leaving the heavyweight division to a new kind of athlete – the agile and athletic 280-pounder.
Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin aren’t genetic freaks. They are the logical conclusion of a century of advances in nutrition and athletic training. There are more of them out there – college wrestlers who missed the Olympic cut, football players hanging on to practice squad paychecks in the NFL, power forwards who don’t have the game for the NBA – and they are finding their way to MMA.
God help 240-pound heavyweights when they get here.