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The Changing Of The Guard
Posted by mmaplayground Wednesday, July 1, 2009 12:00 AM
Submitted by Danno "Turd" Ferguson
About a decade and a half ago the Gracie family decided to showcase the martial art ,that they had honed and fine tuned into a fighting style, that could lead to a much larger man falling prey to a smaller more skilled fighter. The UFC was born and practitioners of various martial arts tested their mettle as well as their respective arts against one another. After proving on multiple occasions that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was everything they made it out to be, the Gracies moved on and the age of the wrestler was about to begin in the world of mixed martial arts. Men like Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, and later Randy Couture and Matt Hughes remained at or near the top of their respective weight classes for many years until recently.
Since the inception of the Ultimate Fighter reality show things started to change. Wrestlers were bringing in Thai coaches, boxers were becoming proficient in jujitsu. Henceforth the well rounded fighter, what is in fact the true mixed martial artist ,was born and we all got to see the progression of the sport before our very eyes. There were glimpses of this super athlete before TUF premiered, but they were few and far between ,and never really seemed as comfortable in a bad spot as the fighters we are seeing today. Suddenly a jujitsu black belt became comfortable standing and trading blows with a kickboxer, and the stand up fighter realized that a double leg take down wasn't just for the all American wrestlers anymore.
The fighters that were heroes to the early fans of the sport are suddenly seeing the sport pass them by with fewer and fewer of the old guard being the exception to the rule. Matt Hughes has never won with a KO punch, 50 fights and 43 wins while dominating the welterweight division, but he never landed that big shot to end a fight in a heartbeat. Chuck Liddell hasn't even attempted a submission in over 5 years, Wanderlei Silva still doesn't throw straight punches. The game has passed them by. The Aforementioned Chuck & Wandy, the two most feared strikers of the generation, are suddenly being knocked out more often than Glass Joe. Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, the two men that sat alone atop the UFC's heavyweight division suddenly look like gatekeepers, or worse in Sylvia's case. What is happening to these men that were among the most feared fighters on the planet in their heydays? First off age is a factor. Any athlete will see his career coming to a close when Father Time finally gets the memo that it's time to slow them down. A more decisive factor is the fact that these fighters just weren't able to keep up with the evolution of the sport.
Once in a lifetime a certain athlete comes along and changes the way the game is played. Georges St. Pierre is a shining example of this type of athlete. GSP does everything well, he's athletic, can strike with the best in the world, out wrestles the best amateur wrestlers that move over to the MMA world, and has the slick submission skills of a man that's been practicing BJJ since he was a teenager. Others like Miguel Torres, Anderson Silva, Uriah Faber, and of course Fedor have the skill sets to dictate where the fight goes and win in wherever that place may be. However , these fighters are at or near the top of their weight classes now. What's truly interesting is that the long list of contenders in each weight class are getting to the point that no place in the fight is too dangerous for them to overcome. Hermes Franca, Nate Marquardt, Rampage Jackson, Carlos Condit, and Alistair Overeem are examples from each weight class of fighters that have been around the fight game and have adapted and improved their games to the point that they stay in or near the top ten at any given time. On top of that, fighters that have come out of TUF have shown incredible improvement. Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Mike Swick, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Michael Bisping have displayed the well rounded skills to all be world champions someday. Griffin and Evans already have held the gold , with Florian & Sanchez in line for title shots soon as well. Add to the TUF alums, and fighters that have been around but adapted their games, the next generation of fighters coming into this sport . Toss in an ever increasing popularity ,and the days of seeing a practitioner of strictly karate against a sumo wrestler seem like a tall tale similar to that of Paul Bunyan.
It's sad to see the fighters I've followed for many years get beaten to the point that the on-line world is screaming for their retirement, but this is life in a sport that is still very much in it's infancy here in America. The forward pass changed football. The power hitting slugger ,and pitcher that threw 100 mph changed baseball. The high flier that could slam dunk changed basketball, and now the well rounded fighter, AKA the mixed martial artist, is changing the sport right in front of our eyes. Looking back in 20 years hopefully we will realize the greatness of men like Chuck, Hughes, and Wandy. The old guard , that have been so good at what they do, that they kept the sport afloat until it was able to catch on, should deservedly reap the credit for being the trend-setters they were . But we will also see why they had to step aside for the new breed of fighter that will carry this sport to the next level ,and solidify it as a part of Americana . A standard water cooler talking point like other sports for many years to come. Thanks for the memories guys. Your talents have been as big of a part of this sport's rise as the Fertitas buying the UFC and that's saying a lot.
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