If you read the comments sections at any major MMA site—do so at your own risk—you will see passionate partisans arguing that Junior dos Santos is the first unbeatable heavyweight. That Jose Aldo's takedown defense, leg kicks and wicked facial scar will keep him on top for a decade. That Anderson Silva's unique ability to control the Matrix guarantees his continued UFC clean sheet.
There is no such thing as an unbeatable fighter. Of course, intellectually, all fight fans know this. And yet emotion trumps experience time and time again, leading fans to feel their own favorites are invincible.
History has not been kind, however, to these kinds of delusions of grandeur. Fighters lose—often when you least expect it. Ask your dad about Ken Norton breaking Muhammad Ali's jaw in 1973. Your older brother might remember Mike Tyson falling in a heap to the mat against Buster Douglas in Tokyo. And no one in MMA will soon forget Georges St-Pierre's stumble against Matt Serra in 2007.
No man is unbeatable. If you have a chin, if your body is wrapped in breakable skin, if you have four appendages and a neck, you can be beaten.
Fedor Emelianenko was choked silly by Fabricio Werdum. Frank Shamrock, the UFC's untouchable former light heavyweight champion, was forced to desperate measures against Renzo Gracie in Elite XC. Anderson Silva still cringes at the thought of Ryo Chonan latching onto his foot and the agony that followed.
Every UFC champion can be beaten. Here's how it might happen.
Junior dos Santos
At 9-0 in the UFC, Santos has made it pretty difficult to imagine his demise. He's beaten top wrestlers, submission specialists and some of the top strikers in the weight class.
On his back, the champion's skills are still a mystery. Since no one has put him there for an extended period, it's hard to say how adept he is at defending from his back or how formidable his submission game might be. His extended tutelage under the Nogueira brothers, however, suggests it may be formidable indeed.
Surprisingly, it's against fellow strikers that Dos Santos has looked the most beatable. The template for success may have been designed at UFC 103 in Dallas, where Mirko Cro Cop, past his prime, pushed Dos Santos to his limits by mixing striking techniques and standing firm against the Brazilian boxer. That's the fight potential opponents like Alistair Overeem should be studying closely for clues.
A chink appeared in Jones' armor in his last bout, one that saw Vitor Belfort nearly pull off the upset of a lifetime with a first-round armbar. Opponents are now clued in: Jones has some significant improvements to make to his ground defense.
The problem, of course, is capitalizing on this weakness. Thus far in his UFC career, Jones has been able to dictate where the fight takes place. It will take a very strong wrestler to put him on his back and then test his submission defense. Otherwise, he can take it to the mat only when he wants to be there.
It all comes back to the first fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 117. Sonnen pushed the pace, kept Silva on the defensive and put him on his back for five full rounds. Only a last-gasp submission saved the day for Silva.
The rematch showed how difficult it is to pull off that strategy, despite sounding easy as pie. One failed takedown and subsequent deadly Silva strike is enough to end your night. To beat the perfect fighter, you need to be at your best for 25 minutes. Nothing less will do.
Matt Serra swarmed St-Pierre with power punches in their first fight, catching the seemingly unbeatable champion with a strong punch and finishing him off on the mat. It was a victory predicated on pure aggression, taking advantage of MMA's tiny four-ounce gloves that give anyone a puncher's chance.
I think this remains the best approach to beating St-Pierre. Push the pace and make him uncomfortable from the beginning. It's the only way to get things done. If you rely on scientific striking, you leave an opening for his powerful takedown game.
To beat the world's most cerebral fighter requires a street mentality and a willingness to risk it all for the chance to land the knockout blow.
The new lightweight champion presents a tough puzzle for potential foes. He's the prototypical modern fighter, combining strong grappling with smart and powerful striking.
On the ground is where I see a potential upset brewing. Henderson is an instinctual fighter, one who makes technical mistakes but survives them with a combination of physical prowess and moxie. A fighter who can make him pay when he leaves them that opening is the man up to the task of succeeding him as champion.
A strong wrestler like Gray Maynard may be the man for the job.
Mark Hominick, despite having his eye socket brutalized, provided the clues on how Aldo might fall. Known as a top-notch striker, Hominick was able to put Aldo on the mat and work some strong ground and pound.
Make no mistake, Aldo is tough to get down. But once he's there, he's vulnerable. Look for Frankie Edgar to shoot early and often off of Aldo's hard kicks when the two meet for the title later this year.
The bantamweight champion has frustrated foes throughout his reign with his clever footwork and diverse standup game. A former wrestler, he's also savvy and strong enough to avoid most takedown attempts and pretty good at getting back to his feet if you do manage to briefly ground him.
Cruz's weakness is power, or a lack thereof. He can land blows, but he rarely finishes fights with them. That gives opponents 25 minutes to set up a perfect counter and take the belt.
The UFC's flyweight champion is seemingly the most beatable of the bunch. Ian McCall nearly did it in the first bout between the two in the flyweight tournament, controlling him on the ground for much of the third round, nearly finishing the fight.
Of course, getting the quick Johnson down is the problem. McCall failed 10 times in their rematch, and Joseph Benavidez struggled as well in their battle for flyweight gold. Benavidez did show another potential route to victory in their close fight, however, pressuring Johnson constantly and landing some strong punches while Johnson was in retreat mode.
Will any of these scenarios develop before our eyes and not just in my fertile imagination? Carlos Condit will get the first chance, taking on welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre Saturday at UFC 154.
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