Don’t Bet On It

In MMA on August 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Wild upsets are part and parcel of the sport we love, but still don’t fully understand

Just a few short months ago, the MMA landscape seemed set in stone. Still proudly poised upon the mountaintop was the king of the sport, the robotic Russian Fedor Emelianenko, unbeaten in over a decade of professional fighting. Pushing hard for the crown was the most talented crop of UFC champions we had ever seen, and ever would see, in the eyes of many.

In Fedor’s own weight class lurked the seemingly indestructible man-mountain Brock Lesnar. Opinion was, and still is divided over who would prevail if they ever collided, but no-one saw either losing anytime soon. The light-heavyweight division had finally been conquered by Lyoto Machida, whose cerebral karate stylings married an impregnable defence with some of the slickest counter-punching we had yet seen.

The ‘untouchable’ Anderson Silva

Delve deeper, and the dominance only became more pronounced. Anderson Silva had cut a swath through the middleweight division, humiliating any and all challengers and resisting desperate calls to move up or down in weight. The fans only wanted him to move down because they saw a true challenger in Georges St Pierre, who had spent the last few years establishing himself as the greatest welterweight to ever walk the earth. Apart from a freak loss (since comprehensively avenged) to Matt Serra, St Pierre’s only real challenge in the last five years came in the form of BJ Penn, who had finally taken his rightful place at the top of the lightweight standings.

Fans were genuinely worried that we had entered a period where the true greats had opened a large gap in each division. Would we have to content ourselves with the petty squabbles of the underlings, punctuated by the odd one-sided beatdown? The enthusiasm for setting up cross-divisional super-fights was the result of this fretting.

We shouldn’t have worried.

Machida was the first to fall, to a devastating first round knockout at the fists of Mauricio Rua. Next, Penn’s kingdom came crashing down around his ears as he was reduced to ineffectually swatting flies against the quicksilver Frankie Edgar.

Still, no-one saw Emelianenko’s fall. More than any other fighter on the list of the unbeatable, he was the architect of his own

Werdum ends Fedor Emelianenko’s decade-long dominance

downfall. A sloppy and arrogant game-plan cost him a submission loss against Fabricio Werdum, and the MMA world was turned upside down.

Brock Lesnar was the new king, and he would cement his status against knockout machine Shane Carwin. That one almost ended in disaster too. The knockout machine cranked into gear early and often, and many people’s pick as the undisputed ruler of mixed martial arts was dropped, dazed and panicked by a man with just a handful of legitimate wins.

Lesnar survived, but only just. A different referee, or one more flush punch, and another pillar of the new age of MMA would have come crashing down.

Amazingly, Anderson Silva’s next opponent was also written off by all and sundry, as the Muay Thai master was expected to make short work of Chael Sonnen. Again, our expectations were scattered to the winds and Sonnen handed out 23 minutes of a merciless pounding. Silva escaped with a slick triangle, but just like Lesnar, he was exposed as a human, with all the weaknesses that come with that unfortunate condition.

St Pierre is the only one left standing, but what odds an upset loss to Josh Koscheck? If this still nascent sport has taught us anything in the last year or two, it’s that betting on it is truly a shortcut to bankruptcy.

Each one of the champs has had the holes in his game laid bare for all to see, and while they are still incredibly talented fighters, none will be seen as invincible by seasoned fans.

One of the greatest things about this still growing sport is its unpredictability. More than any other that I have witnessed, the potential for upsets is almost limitless. The cold fact is that once fighters reach a certain level, anyone can lose to anyone else if the conditions are right. This will take some getting used to, but the sooner fans realise it, the better.

Jose Aldo has burst onto the scene with some devastating wins

Already we are seeing a new generation emerge, with unbeaten records hyped to the sky and expectations spiralling out of control. Jose Aldo and Jon Jones are just two of a new wave that have already been anointed the great hopes for the rubberneckers.

It is the nature of things, I suppose. We all watch in the hope of witnessing supernatural feats, and finally coming across the ‘perfect fighter’. It’s the reason why we make excuses for our favourites while exaggerating the faults in others.

What we need to do is mature along with the sport. The old adage that an unbeaten record means nothing more than the wrong opponents is one that needs to be accepted, not side-stepped. Fedor’s loss, for example, should not cast a pall over his previous achievements, just as Randy Couture and BJ Penn’s imperfect loss columns shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the fact that we are witnessing greatness in MMA pioneers.

Losses are part of the territory, it’s the performances that should be savoured. Forget the unattainable ‘perfection’ and simply appreciate all these greats while they’re around. Things become far more enjoyable.


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