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Like a Fine Red Wine, Marlon Sandro Gets Better With Age

Buried underneath the easily accessible and far more popular mixed martial arts action of the UFC and WEC this past weekend lied a hidden gem. Some would say hidden by the dominance of the West in the mixed martial arts market. Others might say hidden due to the failure by Japan's promotions to compete with the West. Any way you cut it, things do not look good in the Land of the Rising Sun in terms of popularity, television ratings, or revenue from a sport that once flourished.

Despite the gloomy weather in Japan's mixed martial arts forecast, brilliant shining stars managed to burn through the clouds from time to time, impressing and mesmerizing everyone watching. Japan has provided a few of these types of stars over the past couple of years in mixed martial arts, most notably Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, who is now the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion.

How fitting that in the Land of the Rising Sun, a star has risen through the ranks of the fighting elite to burn brightly in plain view for all to see. After battling his way through Shooto: Brazil, Pancrase, and now Sengoku with almost unblemished success, Marlon Sandro can now say he is a world champion. Thirty-eight seconds is all it took the Nova Uniao-product to knock out the Sengoku featherweight champion Masanori Kanehara, lending evidence to the claim that Marlon Sandro could arguably be the world's best featherweight.

It wasn't without detractors however. Sandro's rise to the top included a twelve-fight undefeated streak before finding his place in the Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix in March of 2009. Many critics felt that Sandro's inability to finish off his opponents, seven of those twelve victories came by way of decision, would ultimately slow him down, but Sandro answered those critics with an impressive display of knockout power. Some would say the chances of what he's done in four of his last five fights is damn near impossible at this level.

Sandro rattled off four knockouts in his last five bouts with his only career loss coming against Michihiro Omigawa at Sengoku IX, a highly-controversial decision that still echos a biased gift to Omigawa. Sandro spent a total of 3:38 seconds in the ring in those four victories, two of those victories taking less than twenty seconds to complete.

In today's sport, it's highly unlikely to see this type of power suddenly appear, and some would say that Sandro's strength of competition points at a legitimate reason as to why he's displaying it. The only problem with that logic is that Sandro never proved he had this sort of striking ability in his previous five years as a professional. The fact that he was able to knock out Masanori Kanehara, a man who had only been finished once in his twenty-seven fight, nine-year career until Sunday, is a testament to the work Sandro has done to attain the highest levels of skill in all areas of his skill-set.

The future is very uncertain for Sandro. Many fans are clamoring for his inclusion in the shark tank of the WEC's featherweight division, but with teammate Jose Aldo patrolling the waters -- it's likely Sandro will stay put in Japan until Aldo drowns. Hatsu Hioki remains an intriguing fight for Sandro as Hioki could also make the claim as the absolute best featherweight in Japan, and there is always the possibility of a rematch with Michihiro Omigawa if Yoshida Dojo can work out their differences with World Victory Road. But after that, Sengoku will likely need to line up a couple of sheep for the slaughterhouse to fulfill Sandro's contract.

Then there is the giddy side in all of us. That side of us that hopes that those highly unlikely scenarios actually do play out in our heads. Ya know the ones... Fedor coming to the UFC, Melvin Manhoef serving as your best friend during those freshman days in high school, or Brock Lesnar actually losing.

Sandro's frame isn't exactly small, and there is always the possibility that he could move up to the big show in the UFC as a lightweight. At 5'8", he mimics the size of B.J. Penn, and he just knocked out a man who is roughly the same size as Kenny Florian. It isn't such a far-fetched possibility, and as a fighter with both excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu chops and knockout power -- he certainly fits the mold of guys who have historically done well in the UFC's lightweight division.

Pipe dreams? Perhaps, and we've had these same conversations about other fighters from different organizations as well. But those fighters don't have the track record that Sandro has put together this year. Unfortunately for Sandro, age is going to be a factor. At 33 years of age, he's quickly approached the age in which most sports athletes begin to fade. Surprisingly, he's become far more dangerous with age as well. Can Sandro beat the bell curve? Only time will tell, but I'll certainly be watching.