UFC: Legends to pass the torch
In the world of mixed martial arts nothing stands still. As in other sports new contenders to championship gold scrap tooth and nail for career progression and the inevitable limelight which comes along with it. These hard charging up and comers are pretenders to the crowns of men who will inevitably walk away from the spotlight and adulation of millions of fans worldwide.
As the fan favourites of yesteryear are gradually replaced by a new calibre of athlete, the inescapable question is how will this changing of the guard affect a fighting “product” which has propelled the UFC brand into the mainstream consciousness worldwide?
In theory it shouldn’t. As more and more uber athletes such as twenty-two year old phenom Rory MacDonald enter the UFC the standard of fighting will inevitably rise. Increased competition however means the window of opportunity for a fighter contracted to the UFC can become even more condensed. This can bring with it, a win at all costs mentality, where putting on fan friendly fights comes second to getting that golden “W”.
Increased revenues also bring with them added pressures and the consequence of losing both the fight itself and potentially a place on the UFC roster becomes even greater. Higher exposure on network television similarly comes with added expectation to perform when millions of mainstream eyes are upon you. As the UFC and indeed sport of mixed martial arts continues to expand it’s important that these pressures are not allowed to inhibit the fighters’ innate tendencies to put on action laced bouts. Entertaining blood and thunder fights such as Griffin v Bonnar, Jackson v Wanderlei and the Hughes v Penn trilogy are the foundation upon which modern MMA has been built. I illustrate these issues because the last few days in the industry have given me reason to. Rampage Jackson, BJ Penn and Matt Hughes have all given further intimations that they are indeed in the twilight of their glittering careers.
Quinton Jackson has this week been reminiscing about the glory era of pride. He harked back to the days when physical mismatches were commonplace and he was at the height of his powers in the mammoth Japanese promotion. With contemporaries Wanderlei, Cro-Cop et al, “Rampage” ruled the Pride FC roost. Matches in the now defunct organisation weren’t always competitive but were high in terms of entertainment quotient. Ever the showman the Memphis native has promised to put on the fight of his life in Tokyo next weekend. It is very possible that his appearance in the Saitama Super Arena could be his last inside the octagon. With acting commitments and a bulging bank balance “The A Team” star may take the opportunity to bow out in front of his adoring Japanese fans.
Matt Hughes was unambiguous this week, stating that he definitely wants one more bout inside the octagon in the hope that he goes out with that elusive victory. Many believe that he has earned that right and who can argue. Hughes’ speed and punch durability have simply fallen victim to the enemy of all top tier athletes, father time.
BJ Penn has spoken in the last few days of how he is actively enjoying life as a “normal person” outside of the fighting arena. The Hawaiian icon frankly indicated that he has no plans to fight anytime soon.
The potential retirement of the aforementioned legends in addition to Tito Ortiz and possibly Forrest Griffin in the near future will pave the way for new stars to emerge. The new pretenders to their throne have a lot to live up to. From what we’ve seen from the young Canadian and his peers thus far I’d say the future looks more than promising.
I delayed penning this week’s article in order that I could watch the Ellenberger versus Sanchez welterweight bout first. I was not disappointed. Sanchez came out on the wrong end of a unanimous decision verdict but given the barnburner that he was party to, there really is no loser in a fight like that. Whilst Ellenberger was able to clearly win the first two rounds Sanchez showed in the third why he is always in contention in whatever weight class he campaigns. The alum of the inaugural Ultimate Fighter reality series had Ellenberger in deep trouble in the third stanza. One wonders whether the “zombie-like” Sanchez could have turned it around had the fight veered past the fifteen minute mark. Many fans on social media immediately vented their frustration that the bout was not longer as it did seem to be reaching a rousing crescendo. This was a rare misjudgement by UFC brass and company president has since pledged that future headliners which have not yet been contracted will now have the potential to run the full twenty five minutes.
Log onto www.independent.co.uk next week for a full preview of UFC144’s highly anticipated title fight between 155lb champ Frankie “The Answer” Edgar and the surging Ben Henderson.
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