Lately when I watch Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) cards on television, I can't help but be reminded of the old saying, "they just don't make 'em like they used to."
Sure, the level of mixed martial arts (MMA) skill displayed inside the Octagon these days is better than it has ever been, with almost preternaturally talented champs like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, and Renan Barao seemingly raising the bar each time they step in the cage.
However, what UFC, and MMA in general, is decidedly lacking these days are stars who are able to capture fans' imagination through an easily identifiable persona.
Michael Bisping has been one of those stars for years, but after watching his unanimous decision loss at the hands of Tim Kennedy at "The Ultimate Fighter Nations" (TUF Nations) finale on Wednesday night (April 16, 2014), I can't help but wonder how much longer his time in the spotlight can last.
Along with Rashad Evans,"The Count" is one of the last of the old gunslingers who rose to prominence in the early seasons of TUF. Back then things were different: there weren't a million hours of first run MMA on TV every month, and that scarcity made what MMA TV there was a must see commodity for fight fans.
This scarcity of televised fights in turn led to the fighters becoming big name stars much faster than those who have come up in the post-FOX "seven cards a week and twice on Sundays" schedule (at least it feels at times like that's UFC's schedule).
What's more, Bisping's personality made him a lightning rod of sorts. Fans either loved or hated his brash interviews and his at times heelish antics in the cage, but both were factors in making him a star fans wanted to see.
None of this can be said for Tim Kennedy. It's not like any of this is Kennedy's fault, but like so many fighters on UFC's current roster, there's nothing particularly dynamic or compelling about his personality. Even worse, his grappling-heaving fighting style isn't one that lends itself to exciting action. Chael Sonnen can get away with taking his opponents down and stifling them with ground and pound, but Kennedy on his best day doesn't have even a tenth of the personality contained in The American Gangster's toenail clippings.
But, you may say, all that really matters is that Kennedy keeps stacking up "W's" in the Octagon. That is true in a sense, but just look at UFC's decision to cut Jake Shields after one loss -- not to mention Yushin Okami and Jon Fitch -- to see what a disposable commodity a grappler with a milquetoast personality is in UFC President Dana White's eyes.
With the victory over Bisping, Kennedy now has won his past four in a row and with another big win could make a legit case at a title shot. But can you honestly see Kennedy as a challenger doing a respectable buyrate on pay per view? I certainly can't.
Bisping may not be a top draw, but he would make a far more compelling title contender than a yet another wrestler who displays all the personality of a tax form when he does interviews.
However, at 35 years of age -- and having come back from a detached retina that certainly looks less than 100% despite Bisping's assurances to the contrary -- it looks like the Count may have just seen his last best chance at a title shot slip through his fingers.
And while those kind of "could have been a contender" stories are all too common in combat sports, the real story here is that UFC doesn't have a robust roster full of young top contenders who can draw fan interest the way the old guard could.
For the health of the sport, and for our the sake of our own entertainment, let's hope this is a trend that reverses itself soon.