This past Saturday, the true and undisputed number 1 and number 2 heavyweights in MMA went to war, with the Brazilian pugilist coming out victorious in just over a minute into the much anticipated heavyweight tilt that was broadcasted live on network TV.
With as much hype and anticipation that was given to this fight about being the "Fedor vs. Cro Cop" of our generation, it ultimately failed to lived to the hype, because for all the talent Cain has, he lacked one of the most valuable assets in any athletes arsenal: experience. Something he and his opponent both lacked. Cain didn't know how to react to getting rocked, and Junior despite all his wins and talents has yet to be truly tested in all areas of the game. So are Cain and Junior, truly better than the last heavyweight greats?
No. AT least not from what they have shown yet as they are still very early in their careers. Fedor, Nogueira and "CroCop" would best either their modern day counterparts if they had their prime skillsets available. But let's think in terms of context: Is Nogueira, after such a punishing career, even 50% of the fighter he was from 2002-2006? Is CroCop, after an even more punishing fighting life consisting of over 100 matches in K-1, amateur boxing and MMA, even 70% of what he was in 2003? Mirko is a striker; his reflexes, as with anyone else’s, dull over time. Fedor no longer has the timing or speed to land his casting punch from a mile away as he so freely used to back in his golden days. I can safely say; these men in their primes were a hell of a lot more impressive – and well rounded – than guys like Brock Lesnar, a man who deliberately runs away from punches, and Shane Carwin,who only has the gas tank to fight for one round.
First lets take a look at the former great's careers. Pride Fighting Championships was considered by many to be the very pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts. Emelianenko entered the Japanese promotion after a successful introduction to MMA with Rings, as an undersized heavyweight but with a lethal combination of outstanding throws and clinch, dangerous hands and a tremendous overall submission game. He duly triumphed over the future GOAT of K-1, Semmy "High Tower" Schilt; the most lethal lanky striker to live. If only Pride knew at the time they were essentially promoting a fight between the #1 All Time Greats of two different combat sports.
Soon into his Pride career, he earned a Heavyweight title shot against the consensus Second Greatest Of All Time: Rodrigo Nogueira. Big Nog is a Brazilian man who not only boasts a wealth of BJJ and submission grappling wizardry, he is a man who survived having a truck run over his chest as a kid, to become a Vale Tudo world heavyweight champion. That makes Nogueira tougher than Dan Quinn believes HIMSELF to be! A man who not long ago brutally KOed one of the up and coming heavyweight starts Brendan Schaub. Fedor spent most of the fight either throwing Nog like a rag doll, pounding his face into the mat, or even Ground’n’Pounding him from within Nogueira’s guard. At the time, it was hands down THE most dangerous guard in the sport. That is what Fedor achieved, to become the Pride HW champion. No one would ever claim that title again. Fedor defeated Nogueira again. It was a battle of wits and attrition, much more thinking was required in their trilogy alone than you would see in a hundred chess matches. Something he repeated in a classic war against the most feared striker in MMA thus far, however this time outstriking the legendary Croat on the feet. Something that has yet to be seen in the octagon even today.
The former greats took on and defeated on a plethora of martial artists with an extensive background in fighting, for example Fedor, who single handily fought from K1 World Grand Prix champions, ADCC submission grappling masters, to Olympic Gold Medallist judoka’s and MMA champions of Pride and the UFC. He beat the other feared heavyweight Pride had to offer, the former K-1 terminator who ran the gauntlet of fire just to earn his Superfight with Fedor; Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic, the deadliest striker as yet seen in the sport. Fedor beat him in his own domain; out-striking him, forcing him onto the backfoot, and controlling the pace of the fight. Fedor, quite simply, could not be touched. I could be pedantic, and run through the rest of Fedor’s Pride career, but we all know it by heart; thanks to the dribbling, users on Sherdog forums, who posted their "expert analysis" of that career across the forums, explaining to each and every one of us exactly why each and every single win of Fedor’s was "overrated".
The post-2008 UFC "New Breed of Heavyweight!!". Brock Lesnar, a man who I repeat, and with all due respect, literally runs from his opponents strikes,(not in my lifetime have I ever seen that in a high level combat sport) Shane Carwin a man who relies on one hand and has the cardio of a 50 year old woman scooter-riding woman, Frank Mir, a man with all the tools but not the guts or determination to live up to himself, Brandan Schaub a cocky young kid who was making his name on fading legends-well up until Big Nog showed him why he is the second best HW to step into the octagon, Junior Dos Santos has yet to be tested in all the aspects of fighting and even struggled agasint the skelatal remains of Cro Cop (imagine what that fight would have looked like if both men had been in their prime....yikes!!),and Cain Velasquez, a boy in MMA years, did not know how to react at the first sign of trouble, his biggest wins consisting of a shot Nog and the much overrated Lesnar, was pegged to be the second coming of a Fedor-esque figure.
We have yet to see a grueling fight in todays heavyweight division, like the ones we saw when Herring and Nogueira went to war, or the Fedor/Minotauro trilogy that instantly became a classic, or when Mirko and Fedor squared up in perhaps the greatest fight of all time. Instead we get a lot of hype and not a whole lot of substance, partly in fault because of the ridiculous expectations us as fans burden these fighters with, but mostly due to what the media machine fueled by the UFC hype machine does to its fighters. Brock Lesnar being promoted as "the baddest man on the planet" after an embarrassing performance was laughable. Cain also was given that title despite not having a single defense of the tiltle only to have him lose his next fight in 64 seconds. It demeaned what that phrase actually meant. A proven champion who consistently shows why not even in a million years would you ever get in the ring with him. Something a young Mike Tyson and a prime Fedor embodied.
I’ll take a BJJ wizard with great boxing (Nogueira) and a K-1 killing machine with exceptional takedown defense, reflexes and sprawls (Mirko) any day of the week, over this fantastic, mythical new breed of heavyweight that the Zuffa UFC hype machine blathers on about… absolutely pathetic, transparent garbage, and it’s a tragedy that so many fans fall for it. I’d take prime Nogueira with his insane skillset, and prime Filipovic, Pride’s Croatian Sensation, any day of the week. I'll take Fedor's all around greatness and aggressive, yet calculating style over "ME GET TAKEDOWN QUICK AND SMASH FACE IN BEFORE I GET PUNCHED".