Periods of unmatched awesomeness are usually followed by a forgettable stretch of seasons. Transcendent athletes reign supreme, and then depart, leading to several years where everyone is counting down the days until “The Next One” finally arrives.
With eight divisions stocked with talent, the UFC appears built to potentially ward off the tides. The likelihood of each weight class playing host to an iconic champion at the same time or the collection of divisions each being devoid of a dominant force all at once are slim. Chances are there will always be at least one superstar fighter with championship gold around their waist at all times; maybe more.
Because we’ve always had at least one dominant force doing incredible things inside the Octagon since the first season of The Ultimate Fighter carried the UFC to a far greater audience, we haven’t had to suffer the kind of down periods other sporting leagues have been forced to endure.
We haven’t had to go through the “Neutral Zone Trap Era” like the NHL before Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin made hockey exciting again.
There hasn’t been a “post-Michael, pre-Kobe, pre-LeBron funk” like the NBA had to deal with for a couple years.
As much as there were some great teams and players during that period, they were mostly built around big men, and there aren’t a lot of people craving 48 minutes of low post fundamentals; that’s why Tim Duncan remains the most criminally underrated basketball player of all-time.
The UFC has always had someone capturing and carrying the interest of the fans, and that continued stretch without a complete drop off has made us, well, spoiled.
Rather than reveling in the awesomeness that is often on display in the Octagon, we find ways to detract from each event, each fight, and innumerable fighters.
There has never been a time when there was this much depth of talent across every division, and yet we still find ways to be dissatisfied. I’m not saying there aren’t underwhelming cards, fights that disappoint, or situations that merit criticism – all three very absolutely exist – but on the whole, things are pretty damn good.
Right now, three of the greatest fighters in the relatively brief history of this sport are wearing championship gold. They have been for 775 days and counting. Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre have sat atop their respective weight classes for nearly 2,000 consecutive days, and by the time Silva’s showdown with Chris Weidman at UFC 162 arrives, “The Spider” will have been UFC middleweight champion for 2,452 days.
Where other sports christen teams as “dynasties” when they win two or three championships in a five-to-seven year period, Silva and St-Pierre have lorded over their respective divisions for more than half a decade with the longest either one has been out of action being St-Pierre’s injury hiatus between defeating Jake Shields at UFC 129 and Carlos Condit at UFC 154.
It seems crazy, but Jones has already been light-heavyweight champion for more than two years. He’s earned five more victories over four more former champions since defeating Shogun Rua at UFC 128, and seems destined to either challenge Silva’s records or move up to heavyweight, where he could very well keep his run of dominance going against the big boys.
Yes, I think Jones can be heavyweight champion; he’s that good.
On top of those three all-time greats, we’ve also got standouts like Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, and Cain Velasquez wearing championship gold, Ronda Rousey on the verge of becoming the biggest star in the sport, Benson Henderson reigning in a deep lightweight division, Demetrious Johnson heading the talented and entertaining flyweight ranks, and numerous former champions and current contenders lined up to take them on in exciting fight after exciting fight.
And yet it feels like we’re at a point where great isn’t good enough. I can’t help but feel like we’re on the verge of a Joni Mitchell moment in the UFC – “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Both Silva and St-Pierre are probably going to hang up their four-ounce gloves pretty soon, and the future isn’t guaranteed to anyone.
Knock on wood, but a catastrophic injury could turn a promising career into a tale of unfulfilled potential or create the next “imagine what could have been?” athlete a la Frank Mir. As solid as the two-time former heavyweight champion’s career has been, it’s hard not to think about his horrific motorcycle accident in 2004 and ponder how different his resume would look if he wasn’t robbed of two years in the prime of his career.
There will come a time when the dominant forces that do remain atop the various divisions run into their “Patrick Cote/Thales Leites/Demian Maia” stretch as Silva did. Maybe Rousey runs out of challengers and opts to move on to other projects, following Gina Carano to Hollywood.
Perhaps parity sweeps over each division, and the championship belts move from fighter to fighter for an extended period of time like the light-heavyweight title did for several years pre-Jones.
A decade from now, we’ll look back on this time with fond memories of championship fights and fish tales about the exploits of our favourite fighters and great battles, dubbing it “The Golden Era of the UFC” or something to that effect.
It’s just too bad that right now, a lot of people think “The Golden Era” is more copper or bronze; silver at best.