This post kind of got buried in the avalanche of Fedor coverage so I wanted to give it a little more exposure. Kid Nate.
At the end of 2009, the MMA championship scene looked a bit...dull. The sport had such dominant champions in each major weight class that it seemed like nobody could challenge them. Eight months later, every single allegedly untouchable champion has either disappointed in victory or lost.
Georges St. Pierre dominated Dan Hardy for 25 minutes, and came very close to submitting him twice. But he did not finish an underdog that everyone expected him to finish, and he admitted to being disappointed in his performance. Of all the champions, he had the best performance so far in 2010.
Anderson Silva came back from the most impressive win of his career by stinking up the joint against Demian Maia. He dominated the early rounds of the fight, but gassed out as a result of his ludicrous antics and looked poor in the final 2 rounds of his fight. He won easily, but enraged the entire MMA community. Anyone disappointed with St. Pierre's performance forgot about it quickly after UFC 112.
On the same night Anderson Silva embarrassed the organization in front of its new investors, BJ Penn looked like he wanted to be anywhere besides the octagon. I actually scored the fight for Penn, but even the most ardent critic of the judges wouldn't argue that Penn looked good in this fight. When things weren't working he showed no ability to change his gameplan on the fly, he let Edgar get off first all night, and reacted with no urgency at all when it appeared his title was in jeopardy.
Lyoto Machida was once heralded as unbeatable. After demolishing Rashad Evans, some fans even put him above Georges St. Pierre in pound for pound rankings. In May, Shogun Rua stormed through him in a matter of minutes. Takedowns provided Machida with slight reprieves from Shogun's onslaught, but it was clear about 45 seconds in that Machida was in a lot of trouble. The "Machida Era" is right up there with "Dow 36,000" in terms of bold predictions gone awry.
And finally, we get to Fedor. Fedor has been a source of stability in the sport for a very long time. In a sport where a guy like Chuck Liddell goes from being the king of the mountain to a "shot fighter" in a matter of 16 months, there was always Fedor. Fedor's loss to Werdum was no fluke--he almost got caught on the way down in an armbar, and then got caught in a triangle seconds later. If not the triangle, he was bound to get submitted if this fight hit the ground.
Fedor is the greatest heavyweight the sport has ever seen, but with this loss, he probably relinquishes his spot as the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen to Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva. Fedor's streak resulted from a combination of spectacular wins with fights against "contenders" like Hong Man Choi, Mark Coleman, and Gary Goodridge. In a sport with so many ways to lose, it's virtually impossible for anyone to fight a steady diet of top 5 contenders every couple months for a period of years without eventually losing.
If there's a lesson to be taken from all this, it's that fans should be more skeptical before they put fighters up on a pedestal. It's easy to get caught up in the belief that some guys are a level above the pack, but often times the pack is nipping at the heels of the champion.
MMA is a fickle, unpredictable sport. 2007 was a year of incredible instability--Pride collapsed, Randy Couture beat Tim Sylvia, Georges St. Pierre lost to Matt Serra, Chuck Liddell was dethroned, and Mirko CroCop fell apart before our eyes. 2008 and 2009 were years of relative stability, with the exception of Brock Lesnar's meteoric rise to the top. Some people thought they might finally have a handle on MMA, but 2010 is looking like the year the sport's unpredictability struck back.