Take yourself back to the summer of 2006. Mixed martial arts was exploding. Chuck Liddell was the face of the sport. He had just knocked out Randy Couture and ruined Babalu Sobral’s title aspirations in a mere 95 seconds. A rematch with bitter rival Tito Ortiz was on the horizon and there was no doubt that the Iceman would come out victorious. In short, Liddell was scary good and there was no man that could stop him.
Fast forward three years to the present day. Liddell has lost four of his last five fights. UFC President Dana White has said publicly on numerous occasions that Liddell is basically retiring no matter what — and it’s hard to argue with the guy. As of late, Liddell has looked more like he should be riding a Jazzy through Wal-Mart than stepping into the Octagon. Sure, the fighters he has lost to are all ranked in the top 10, with all but Jardine being ranked in the top 5, but there’s no doubt that the former light heavyweight kingpin simply doesn’t have “it” anymore.
Liddell isn’t the only one. This Saturday night, Wanderlei Silva is literally fighting for his career. Mirko Cro Cop is returning to the UFC for one last shot at glory, but if Mustapha Al-Turk magically walks out with the W, the 2006 Pride OWGP winner will have no choice but to call it quits. Even with a victory, when Cro Cop eventually does succumb to defeat in the shark-infested waters of the UFC’s heavyweight division, that will likely be the end of his head-kicking fighting career. Antonio Minotouro Nogueira has already stated that he will be hanging up his four ounce gloves in the next year or so, and a loss to Randy “Benjamin Button” Couture will likely speed that process up. Despite Matt Hughes’ recent close decision victory over former champ Matt Serra, his days are numbered as well.
Just think about the names I just mentioned. Liddell. Wanderlei. Cro Cop. Nogueira. Hughes. A few short years ago these were some of the most feared fighters on the planet. Now they have all either lost relevancy or are fighting to keep any last semblance of it that they still have. I realize I’m not breaking any new ground here, but these examples speak volumes about our sport. Right now men light Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, BJ Penn, Mike Brown, Miguel Torres, and Lyoto Machida each rule their weight divisions with utter dominance. Each man has a seemingly unstoppable aura around him to the point where it’s hard to see any of them losing in the near future. But just by looking at some of their older counterparts who I already mentioned, the champions of today will soon become the aging legends of tomorrow.
This is seemingly the reason middleweight champion Anderson Silva has been a bit more cautious as of late — a fighter’s time at the top is limited so Silva wants to insure victories. But at the same time, that should be reason for the Brazilian to be more aggressive in order to not only cement his legacy as a champion who had a ridiculous win streak, but as a champion whose contemporaries simply couldn’t make it to the final bell with him no matter how hard they tried.
In any case, the point is that the window of opportunity for our current champions is limited. The question is, who will have the longest tenure on top?