Since MMA first become popular around a decade or so ago, there has been a boom of athletes from around the world that have come into the sport in search of fame and success. Many have been met with one-hit-wonder careers, whereas others have found a home in the promotions that have come and gone. With mergers, purchasing, falling outs and more, fighters have had their taste of different rules, different opponents, different venues, cages and attention.
The underlying foundation of training hard for a fight has remained constant, but the fighters themselves have evolved.
Many fans of MMA who began watching promotions such as Pride or the UFC back in their infantile stages recall great fighters like Chuck Liddell, Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz and many more. However, as in any sport, athletes only have a certain amount of time before their battles truly catch up to them.
What we have seen happen this past year or so is the changing of the guard. We have seen the departure of greats like Cro Cop, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, BJ Penn and Matt Hughes.
We have also seen (and continue to see) the downfall of many great, well-known fighters who have now passed their prime in the fight business. Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson all still compete, but they've lost their previous luster and consistency.
We have also come to a point where we are witnessing the end of the Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar duo.
Chuck Liddell, an iconic figure in UFC and MMA history, is now retired, but only after taking three KOs in a row at the end of his career and losing five of his last six bouts. His ability to take a punch to the head had diminished over time, and it became clear it was time to hang up the gloves.
What the issue has been for fighters like Chuck Liddell is that the game has evolved so quickly, some of the veteran fighters have not been able to keep up and adapt. Chuck Liddell found great success in his career from guys who tried to have a stand-up war with him, which played right into the Iceman’s fortes.
However, fighters tend to not be so careless in their approach now and use strategy much more often than coming out and swinging for the fences. Some still do, and it is still very exciting, but is now met with a more critiquing and technical eye.
As James Toney very eloquently demonstrated against Randy Couture, pure boxing is not going to get you very far in an MMA fight. It always gives them a puncher's chance, but if you are not “mixed,” then mixed martial arts is going to tap you out.
What has happened is that MMA is now not only being perceived as a legitimate sport on a wider scale, but it's also a great means of working out and a respected discipline. As even the UFC brass has put it, MMA is the new karate or taekwondo. With many kids starting early in MMA, and being trained and conditioned in a very well-rounded style, it has evolved the caliber of fighter we now see inside a cage.
Alongside veteran fighters not always adding anything extra to their arsenal, they have been shown the door by these young fighters such as Jon Jones because of their natural energy and freshness. Such athletes have a speed and energy that has escaped some of these older fighters, and thus has given us the exodus of the big names we have come to know and love.
While new talent has provided a great refresh to the sport, it also comes at a cost.
With these young(er) fighters now training in all different aspects of the sport, and trying to keep up with the sheer number of fighters out there, training has evolved as well. It has evolved, though, to a point where fighters are pushing themselves far beyond their limits. We have seen this with the countless injuries that have occurred prior to these fighters stepping into the cage.
In training, as is the case with any sport, there will inevitably be injuries. These are normal and expected, especially when one is trying to constantly improve themselves. However, it is wise to look at just how hard some of these athletes train and to see if there are preventable measures that don’t come at the cost of efficiency.
But beyond injury, some fighters have had to turn to less natural ways to keep up with the game, including TRT, steroids or any other substance that acts as a performance enhancer. Given that TRT and some others are legitimate and legal, there have been many cases now that have brought the issue of PEDs to the forefront. Fighters are pushing themselves and trying to get the edge or advantage, but sometimes it backfires.
With the new generation of fighters, we are sure to see some great fights and performances. We get to witness fighters like Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo, who both bring a unique style to MMA, and have the privilege of watching a guy like Jon Jones continue to build his career.
We get to see anomalies like Anderson Silva put the finishing touches on his legacy, and anxiously wait to see who could possibly hold the belt next.
We get to watch history in the making with new weight classes, women’s MMA and an ever-expanding fanbase of the sport.
MMA is no longer confined to the pay-per-view; it is now a mainstream product on many channels and has much more consistent programming. The sport has evolved, and a new generation of fighters have pioneered it.