The history of sports - indeed, entertainment, period - is replete with instances of greats exchanging monumental performances and raising the bar on one another. Bird and Magic battling for rings in the 80s. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's thrilling 2-man home run derby in the late 90s. In music, the Beatles released Rubber Soul, inspiring Brian Wilson to respond with Pet Sounds, which in turn prompted the Beatles to step up their game with Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The list could go on.
All of these "step ladder" progressions - in sports, in movies, in music - have one thing in common: the fans win. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron. So, likewise, does escalating competition - friendly or otherwise - produce escalating excitement for those lucky enough to watch it all go down.
Anderson Silva produced a definitive statement last night at UFC 126 with his first-round face-kick KO of Vitor "the Phenom" Belfort. Joe Rogan sputtered breathlessly after the fight, "He's the best. He's the best that's ever been". Our own Jonathan Snowden opines that Anderson secured his status as the sport's all time best fighter. Similar accolades rained down without unanimity across the online MMA landscape, as a thousand sometimes very heated debates were launched on MMA message boards across the internet regarding "the Spider's" rightful place in the pantheon of all-time greatness.
Meanwhile, another of the longtime consensus best pound-for-pound fighters on earth has been quietly preparing in Stary Oskol, Russia for his return performance in the coming weekend's Strikeforce card. Fedor Emelianenko suffered his first legitimate career defeat at the hands of Fabricio Werdum in June. The February 12th Strikeforce event which marks the opening round to Strikeforce's 8-man 2011 Heavyweight Grand Prix also represents Fedor's first response to the world following that shocking upset. He will be responding not with his words but in the same medium in which he has always sought to carry the dialog - inside the ring/cage.
Fedor is too humble to publicly couch his return in terms of a response to Silva's riveting victory, but that has no impact on fans' expectations. The facts are these: there has been a leapfrog succession of events in recent years which have generated among MMA fans much debate as to which among Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, and of late Jose Aldo are to be considered the best fighter alive; the stakes of unofficial title of "greatest ever" in the young history of the sport are also on the table. Anderson Silva took a huge step forward last night in his demolition of "the Phenom", which compares favorably with GSP's recent decision win (albeit one-sided domination) over Josh Koscheck and Emelianenko's stumble against Werdum. The 3-armed scales of legacy were tipped toward Silva; and while Fedor would decline to characterize his upcoming fight against Antonio Silva as a stage to produce a response, it will be viewed in precisely this manner by fans.
We are all waiting with rising excitement to crown the ultimate winner of this battle for legacy; and regardless the outcome, we the fans are the winners for it.