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Conor McGregor's UFC 196 defeat and the elusive search for UFC superheroes

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I feel as though I discovered mixed martial arts (MMA) twice. The first time was in the mid-1990s when a friend had collected a number of the very first UFC pay-per-views on VHS tape.

Like so many kids of that era, I marvelled at the brutality, the blood, the apparent lack of rules, the toughness. It was wonderful. And then Royce Gracie disappeared and I lost interest.

I rediscovered MMA years later with the rise of Georges St-Pierre, who brought interest to Canadians striving to find something to watch other than ice hockey. But that's not who I wanted to talk about.

Around the same time "Rush" was making a splash in UFC, Chuck Liddell was beginning his legendary run. Forgotten by some of the newer MMA fans, "The Iceman" had one of the most terrifying reigns in the history of combat sports and was once considered as unbeatable as any man or woman who has stepped inside a cage.

Liddell rattled off seven consecutive knockouts over all the top light heavyweights of his era in UFC (sandwiched between knockouts by "Rampage" Jackson). For a time it seemed impossible anybody would be able to solve Liddell's combination of brutal knockout power on the feet with impenetrable takedown defense.

When Chucky finally ended his winning streak, finishing his career on a horrendous 1-5 record which required doctors to help him up off the canvas four of those times, it was like some of the magic the UFC held over me had dissipated.

It was the same with Anderson Silva, who for years seemed as though he toyed with fighters before finishing them violently, before running into a wrestler named Chael Sonnen, and finally the man who ended the streak in Chris Weidman.

Despite the fact Liddell and Silva had lost before going on their tremendous runs, we all got caught up in the magic of their feats. After a time we believed, however improbable it may seem in hindsight, that these men had closed the holes in their games and would never lose again.

And so it was the collective consciousness of UFC fans last weekend at UFC 196, watching the "Notorious" walk into the cage on a streak of five knockouts, all before the second round had ended. The script called for McGregor to run over Nate Diaz en route to a dramatic showdown with either the UFC lightweight or welterweight champion.

Many of us had watched the rise of McGregor with a mixture of amazement and frustration, repelled by his brash confidence and arrogance, allured by his fluid movements and poetically violent finishes.

When McGregor tapped out last weekend it was a similar mixture of relief and disappointment. At once happy that the man had finally met his match, but saddened that another mythical figure had been brought crashing down to Earth.

Undefeated champions almost always eventually fall, and it's happened too many times for me to say I should be surprised. From Mike Tyson getting knocked out by Buster Douglas to end the reign of terror for "Iron Mike" to Holly Holm's head kick knockout that ended Ronda Rousey's invincible aura, the fans know it's coming.

And yet, somehow, we're always shocked when it finally happens.

On this list of the UFC's top 10 undefeated fighters from 2014, only one remains unbeaten. And that's because he's been injured the entire time.

It seems we're always searching for new superheroes, always looking for the next perfect fighter. If it isn't Sage Northcutt maybe it'll be Aljamain Sterling. And when Sterling loses we'll find somebody else.

For a decade we played this game with Fedor Emelianenko, revering him as something akin to an MMA deity. Unlike McGregor, however, the Russian eschewed attention, which made the reign of "The Last Emperor" tolerable.

Yet ever since McGregor lost I can't help feeling a little hollowed out by the loss. I wanted him to lose and yet I already miss the dislike of his invincible aura.

It's like when Darth Vader was finally defeated by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. It was at once thrilling and terribly saddening to see the villain vanquished.

Each time a great new talent comes along it seems as though we're already looking for the man (or woman) who can defeat them. We both crave the superheroes and seek to destroy them.

During the days and months and years that one fighter remains at the top of the ladder it might seem like the desire to have him shaken off is so overwhelming that we lose sight of the great pleasure that desire gives us. The very idea that UFC light heavyweight fighter Jon Jones has never been actually defeated makes us all want to see him finally brought to his knees, and yet that happiness would be shortlived.

The truly magical moment are the seconds when we watch this seemingly invincible person tapping out, going unconscious, or having their opponent's hand raised. For those brief moments we are consumed by a wonderful confliction of emotions and irrational feelings.

And then the search begins once more for another hero who will become the villain.

And that, fellow fans, is the true "fight game."

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