They say an NFL running back's career ends when they are 30. Its why Barry Sanders retired when he did, its why the Chargers let LeDanian Tomlinson go, its why Larry Johnson is a backup in Washington instead of a Pro Bowler in Kansas City. On and on, we have seen star running backs plateau at 30 and disappear - Shaun Alexander, Deuce McAllister, Willie Parker,
The thought occured to me watching BJ Penn lose convincingly last night to champ Frankie Edgar. Now I think MMA is also, like football, about match-ups. And it turns out that Frankie Edgar is the absolute worst match-up for Penn of any of the lightweights. Sean Sherk wanted to box and didn't have BJ's power, Kenny Florian tried to tire him out on the cage ala GSP but didn't have the size or strength to do it, and Diego Sanchez just went in to back. That all plays into Penn's hands. But Edgar fights like a lightning bolt, moves in and out and all around and is never in the same place at once. It turns out to beat BJ Penn you have to make him chase you around, frustrate him, and get in his head. That has always been BJ's weakness. When he is in your head - like he was with Sherk and Florian - he's unbeatable. But when you ignore the trash-talk and force him to make adjustments on the fly, he can't do it. BJ wins when he fights his fight. He is, thus far, incapable of changing mid-fight. He showed it here and showed it against Georges St-Pierre as well.
But it got me thinking also to a bigger point - its amazing how many of these UFC champions just hit a wall. Matt Hughes couldn't beat GSP (though he is doing well fighting lesser talent), Chuck Liddell has fallen apart, Tim Sylvia fights C-level fighters on small shows, Andrie Arlovski seems to get knocked out by a stiff breeze, Minotauro Noguiera has been TKO'd twice in his last three fights. Its like after a certain level of success the accumulation of damage from these fights just takes its toll. Its not like boxing where even when your the champion you can still fight cans.
As for the undisputed 155 lbs king Frankie Edgar? Bravo . . . you beat BJ Penn twice, and only one other person can claim that - Georges St-Pierre. Despite today's second guessing, Penn is a once-in-a-lifetime fight talent who dominated his division and never ducked a hard fight at either lightweight or welterweight and Edgar made him look old and slow tonight. He's the king.
But again, its all about match-ups isn't it? Machida was unbeatable but Shogun presented a match-up problem with his Muay Thai kicking and aggressiveness he hadn't seen before. I believe that Gray Maynard will do what Penn did not have the skillset to do, take the smaller man Edgar and just "Chael Sonnen" him on the ground. Edgar could stick and move on Penn because BJ isn't a wrestler and only gets takedowns using trips off the clinch. Maynard shows in all his fights how serious he is about doing nothing but taking you down and pounding you out. Its a bad match-up for Edgar, but we'll see.