Saturday Night's Mania Event: The winds of change are coming to MMA

Saturday Night's Mania Event is back. You miss me?

Don't answer that.

We finally have a break from the intense run of mixed martial arts action that's been bombarding us for the past few weeks and it's time to reflect.

Not just reflect but also look ahead. That's because it's becoming increasingly more clear that the winds of change are coming to MMA. The old guard is slowly but surely falling away, with just a few relics fighting tooth and nail to remain relevant.

It makes me think of my younger days as a kid, and just childhood in general.

When you're growing up, you usually fail to truly take in the world around you. It's easy to under-appreciate life during that period, always looking forward to the promising times ahead.

Only it's not so promising. Actually, adulthood sucks. It's a great paradox of life. When you're young, you spend most of your time looking forward, wanting only to grow up and be a part of the adult crowd you see around you. Once you actually do come of age, you immediately wish you could turn back the hands of time.

To hell with adulthood. It's overrated.

This microcosm of life can be applied to MMA. The sport is still relatively young, at least if we go off the accepted genesis marked by the debut of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. That means the sport isn't even 20 years old.

Yet, here we are, facing the end of an era (if you can call it that). A lot of the stars that helped make the sport into what it is are quickly dissolving into memories of days we'll fondly recall later on.

And the future, well ... it doesn't look too bright.

The list of once great fighters that have not only left MMA but stuck around long past the time they should have is growing increasingly disproportionate to the number of up-and-coming stars.

And I'm talking legitimate breakthrough pay-per-view (PPV) attractions. Don't tell me Rory MacDonald is a rising star when his prospects of headlining a card and selling out a venue are about as good as mine are to win a Pulitzer Prize (blogger gonna blog).

But he's one of the better looking young names that are currently coming up in the game and casual fans would never be able to pick him out of a line-up. That's not to take anything away from the kid, he's one hell of a fighter with plenty of success likely ahead, but is he the next Chuck Liddell?

Not even close.

Think of the stars that have left us and the equal amount that are on their way out within the next couple years. Chuck Liddell, one of the original mega-draws on PPV, retired after suffering multiple brutal knockouts. Randy Couture, the inspirational old man that taught us we could all do it if we tried, sent to his old folk's home courtesy of what will surely become one of the most notorious knockouts in Octagon history.

What about the plethora of still-active competitors that are getting close to the end?

Guys like Fedor Emelianenko, who hardly bears a resemblance to the finely crafted machine he once was. He's no longer the Ferrari you've always dreamed of; more like the standard Buick that gets you where you need to go but doesn't stand out from the rest of the humdrum crowd.

Wanderlei Silva, the once feared destroyer of souls, has quickly become an easy target for fighters looking to make a name for themselves thanks to his softened chin and diminished capabilities.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, fresh off multiple knee and hip surgeries (insert old man joke here), suffering knockout losses to men known for anything but their punching power.

Tito Ortiz, Sean Sherk, Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin, Quinton Jackson, B.J. Penn, Dan Henderson -- even Anderson Silva, the greatest fighter on the planet -- all inching closer and closer to oblivion.

Old guard champions on the way out and many of them struggling to find their place in their divisions.

Yes, Brock Lesnar and George St. Pierre are still around but both aren't exactly spry chickens anymore. The Brockster already had plenty of mileage when he showed up at Zuffa headquarters and "GSP" has been abusing his body in training for more years than anyone cares to think about.

Who is there to replace these stars? What is there to look forward to once these tried and true headliners start disappearing?

Jon Jones just began his reign as light heavyweight champion at the age of 23. He's a good start. A crafty, new school physical specimen that invokes strong feelings in nearly everyone he comes across.

There may be hope just yet.

Cain Velasquez is the heavyweight champion in the UFC, and at 28-years-old with strong ties to a largely untapped Latino market, there's hope for big things on his end. He's also got a potential rivalry brewing with Junior dos Santos, a 26-year-old easily promoted knockout artist who actually bothered to learn the English language. 

Let's just try to ignore that shoulder injury that some think will have a considerable effect on Velasquez's career and ability to perform consistently at a high level.

Jose Aldo is a young phenom, just 24-years-old and already considered one of the pound-for-pound best in the world, although there is heavy debate as to whether or not he actually deserves that distinction.

But he's not a proven draw and let's be honest, as good as he is, just being a total badass isn't a strong selling point anymore. Unless you're name is Manny Pacquiao, there aren't a lot of people that are going to pay a boatload of money to watch you fight simply because you're the best at what you do.

We need more than that.

The list continues with guys like Dominick Cruz, Demetrious Johnson, Stefan Struve, Chan Sung Jung, Jeremy Stephens, Gegard Mousasi. These are all the top fighters that are at or around 25-years-old.

Seriously -- that's the list. Do you see any Brock Lesnar or Georges St. Pierre type of draws in there?

I don't.

Let's be nice about it and say you don't need to be a megastar that transcends the sport like those two. Take a guy like Cruz, at the top of his game and dominating the division he resides in. He headlines a PPV against Urijah Faber, a relatively respectable draw for being a bantamweight, and what happens? The UFC had to comp over 5,000 tickets to the MGM Grand Garden Arena. 

Stories were published that fans were buying tickets to fly out to Las Vegas with no money because they knew how easy it would be to get a free pass into the show.

This is the next big thing? It's feels criminal that one of the best martial artists out there can barely draw flies to arenas that would be packed to the gills with bigger, more established names. Guys like Liddell and Couture, products of times past and quickly becoming distant memories of days gone by.

You often hear football teams talk about "getting younger," a team like my beloved Chicago Bears, for instance. I've been hearing that about them this offseason. "They've got to get younger. They're too old on defense. They need young stars to carry the team into the next few years."

It only makes me sad because they're right. And MMA is in the same position.

It's okay to headline a Strikeforce card in Hoffman Estates, Illinois with Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson. But you damn well better be pushing some young talent at me while you do so.

Unfortunately, that's not the case.

And that's partly because there really aren't that many people talented young up-and-comers to give the spotlight to so they can shine and bring us into the next stage of MMA.

Hopefully guys like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz will take us into the next few years and hardly miss a beat. And maybe Rory MacDonald will turn out to be a much bigger draw than I'm giving him credit for.

Hey, maybe I'll even win that Pulitzer Prize.

Yeah, I doubt it, too.

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