When describing the events of this past year’s mma calendar one is inclined to consider using a term like “tectonic shift”. In the brief history of my 5 or so years as an mma fan I don’t believe I have yet observed such a dramatic change in landscape as has taken place atop the mma food chain in this past year. To mark the occasion I thought I would share a few of my thoughts on these rapid changes in an attempt to make better sense of them and to aid my own adjustment to the sport’s very new status quo. Sadly, the most significant changes that we have observed seem to be characterized by top fighters falling short- as opposed to new talent coming to fruition- and while there are exceptions, what follows will be more in the vein of mourning than celebration. To ease the pain I will try to highlight the positive and insert as much humor as possible, but should you continue reading brace yourself for a melancholy summary of all that Mixed Martial Arts has lost in 2010.
Let us begin with what is by far the saddest tale from this treasure trove of misery, the bewildering and anti-climactic end of BJ Penn’s career. A year ago BJ seemed resurrected. Finally having conquered his cardio and conditioning demons he was dishing out solid beatings to the likes of top contenders like Kenny Florian and it seemed as though the complete BJ Penn that we had always hoped for had arrived to lay claim to a properly prolonged reign atop the Lightweight division. The first loss to Frankie Edgar, though disappointing, was less than shocking. Edgar, one of the very best lightweights in the world (though in my opinion being a more natural Featherweight), posed a tough stylistic match-up for BJ due to his boxing skill. BJ’s take down defense has allowed him to turn his fights, essentially, into boxing matches- a game plan that he has nary veered from for years. And with his high-level boxing this plan had worked just fine until meeting Edgar. Edgar’s equally technical stand up plus a willingness to mix up strikes and actually execute a specific game plan seems to have solved the BJ Penn riddle at 155. What was most disappointing (though not surprising) was BJ’s inability to adapt in the second fight, to either utilize other aspects of his mma repertoire (remember Jiu-Jitsu BJ?) or pressure Edgar into a more confrontational stand-up war in which his superior power could take precedent. Now we have been “treated” to BJ Penn-Matt Hughes 3, though not an entirely unexciting spectacle, a clear step in the wrong direction for a man who was supposed to be busy cementing his lightweight legacy. This fight wreaks of the UFC attempting to get a marketable match or 2 out of BJ before calling it quits on the prodigy. After his destruction of Hughes and a now looming bout with Fitch, it appears the prodigy may indeed have some fine fights left in him, but can these potential match-ups ever emerge from the shadow cast by Penn’s anti-climactic exodus from 155? BJ Penn is possibly the most talented fighter in the history of the sport, but unfortunately will be equally memorable for his inability or unwillingness to make the most of these gifts.
Jumping up to Middleweight we have the bizarre spectacle that was Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen. Silva may have walked away with a victory and displayed his perseverance in securing the late fight, come-from-behind submission, but he lost the rest of the fight so thoroughly that it is difficult to consider the bout a win. Not only did Silva get completely overwhelmed by Sonnen’s wrestling- he got rocked by Sonnen’s punches! Sonnen, though a capable wrestler, has never been considered to have dangerous stand-up and he becomes the first fighter to ever hurt Silva with strikes? This is just not right. What’s next? Is Pat Buchannan going to beat Michael Jordan in a game of one on one? As an Anderson Silva fan I found this entire fight to be disappointing on every level. By the time Silva secured the armbar that saved him from his first UFC defeat I was so nauseous that I barely noticed. Sonnen’s subsequent positive piss test has done little to reassure me, and I’m afraid I just won’t be able to look at the long-time Middleweight champ the same way again.
As if all this was not enough, Fedor Emelianenko suffered his first legitimate MMA loss, getting subbed by Fabricio Werdum in the early stages of the first round. Of the three, this loss was the least distressing to me. Fedor has always employed an explosive and effective, yet risky style. He bobs and weaves instead of keeping is hands posted near his chin and he dives into the guards of talented submission artists. This entertaining concoction of steely psychological control and unpredictable explosiveness is part of what has made the Russian so dangerous, but it does create opportunities for opponents and this was bound to happen eventually. I have long considered Werdum the most underrated Heavyweight in the world and he may have been just the guy to catch Fedor in this type of situation. In a rematch I see Emelianenko employing more caution, maintaining the stand-up and KO’ing the Brazilian. Part 2 appears to be a very real possibility, so the long-reigning number one heavyweight will probably get his chance to redeem himself.
Brock Lesnar is human...all too human. After narrowly escaping a stoppage at the freakishly oversized hands of Shane Carwin, Brock succumbed early to a mostly one-sided destruction courtesy of long-touted Heavyweight contender, and now champ, Cain Velasquez. Though Brock’s equally oversized personality has begun to grow on me (and even more so given his gracious post-fight humility), my heart can’t help but be warmed by the perseverance of technical skill over size and brute strength. This fight was a victory for the integrity of the sport, but perhaps a loss for the UFC’s marketing machine. Either way its another big shift at the top of a weight class.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel of skepticism that is this article? Yes. And its name is Jose Aldo. 2010, along with the aforementioned agony, gave us something amazing-the full arrival of Jose Aldo as a bonafide pound for pound superstar. It had been a long time since anyone has thought of Aldo as anything but full of potential, but 2010 became the year that Aldo went from one of the hottest prospects on the planet to possibly the best pound for pound fighter alive. He appears simply unstoppable. Speed, power, precision technique, a complete and well-rounded skill set, patience, discipline and the ability and willingness to execute a game plan...and all of 24 years old. Aldo’s career is going to be one for the books and it all started roughly in the past 12 months...so thanks 2010...you bastard.