MMA is such a simple sport.
Within any given division, you find fighters. These fighters strive for one goal: the title shot.
The fighter who already has the title strives for a similar, but slightly different goal: He/she fights to keep the title.
Really, this is as simply as one can break down why fighters fight. They fight to win, and they win with hopes of gaining the privilege to challenge the division's top dog and to hopefully become the top dog.
This is obvious.
What is not so obvious, however, is that not all wins are equal, and fighters are judged on an insanely strict scale which favors recent performances over anything else.
Yes, MMA is the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport.
There is a saying in the mixed martial arts world that says, "A fighter is only as good as his last fight," and by-golly-gee-willickers is that an accurate statement.
Let us look to history for proof.
The year is 2010. Fedor Emelianenko, one of the sport's best heavyweights, is on a tear of epic proportions.
The Russian juggernaut has not lost since the year 2000, and he is matched up with Fabricio Werdum, a UFC outcast, for what will certainly become his 28th straight victory.
Are fighters unfairly judged on the strength of their last fight?
The match begins.
Emelianenko drops Werdum with one of his patented power punches. Oh, we all knew this is how it would go. War Fedor!
Oh no! What is this?
Werdum has his legs wrapped around Fedor in a strange, three-sided polygon! How can it be?!
Terrible commentary aside, we all know what happened here.
Fedor got caught in Werdum's triangle, and the greatest heavyweight of all time was forced to tap out.
Hey, it happens. In MMA, people are bound to get tapped out or knocked out once in a while, right?
For naysayers of Fedor, no, this is not the case.
Fedor immediately went from being the consensus best heavyweight of all time to a borderline top-10 fighter with the loss.
Remember that? Remember the "Machida Era?"
Remember when Todd Duffee was the greatest thing ever until an overweight cop knocked him out?
The fact is that a fighter truly is only as good as his last fight. If he looked spectacular, he is the greatest ever and a title challenger.
If he lost, he is a shell of his former self or simply not "ready for the big time."
In other sports, teams have seasons of varying capacities.
For football teams, there is a 16-game slate to prove their dominance. In basketball, a team has 82 games to prove the same.
In MMA, a fighter is on a one-game season. The "next" fight is always the most important fight in a fighter's life, and that is because critics and fans really only care about how good a fighter is right now.
That said, the system works. Sure, it is unfair to rule out a fighter simply because of one loss or one mental lapse, but if he or she is truly the best, the opportunity is there to get back on top.
This is a double-edged blade; just as one bad loss can make a fighter irrelevant, one huge win can propel a fighter to title contention.
In MMA, fighters live and die by this sword. It is those who wield it properly that find success.
MMA may be the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport, but this only adds to the drama and heart-pounding anticipation of each bout.
Every fight is important, every fight is the most important fight of a fighter's life and every fight matters.
I would not want it any other way.