Uncharted Waters: Several Former UFC Champions in Unfamiliar Territory

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Uncharted Waters: Several Former UFC Champions in Unfamiliar Territory

Being able to call oneself a UFC champion is an opportunity few are able to realize. 

In most cases, it takes years competing against the world's best fighters in one weight class before one is granted the chance to scrap it out for a title under the UFC banner. If said fighter has what it takes to ultimately become a UFC champion, there isn't much time to revel in the glory of achievement, as the next great fighter is ready to step up in short order to take the strap. 

While most divisions in the UFC have reached a point where they are more competitive than they have ever been, the reality is that we are in an era of dominant champions. Over the past two years, with the exception of interim titles being instated in two weight classes and both the women's bantamweight crown and flyweight title being recently added, only two of the organization's divisions have experienced the title changing hands.

In the case of the heavyweight crown, Cain Velasquez lost his title to Junior dos Santos in November 2011 before pummeling the Brazilian in December 2012 to regain the throne. 

This situation helps bring light to a unique situation several of the UFC's former champions currently find themselves in. While Rashad Evans, Frankie Edgar and Carlos Condit are still considered to be among the best fighters in their respective weight classes, or in Edgar's case, multiple weight classes, each is experiencing a backslide in recent showings. 

Evans and Condit have both come up short in back-to-back outings, and Edgar has dropped three consecutive contests. This is unfamiliar territory for a collection of the world's best, as all three of these fighters have been staples in the title pictures of their respective weight classes.

 

Carlos Condit Down But Not Out 

The picture becomes more complex when you look at the level of competition these fighters have been facing. Condit lost his bid to become the undisputed welterweight champion when he was defeated by Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154, then suffered a similar fate against surging contender Johny Hendricks in his next outing at UFC 158.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Dropping back-to-back unanimous decisions against two of the best 170-pound fighters in the world will likely do little damage to Condit's standing in the divisional picture—especially when considering the manner in which he fought in those contests.

"The Natural Born Killer" proved during both showings in Montreal that he is undoubtedly one of the best welterweights in the promotion, and his next bout should come against another highly ranked fighter in his division.

Where the majority of fighters would fear the pink slip after losing two consecutive outings, Condit could realistically be two top-10 victories away from another title opportunity.

It is truly a unique departure from the UFC's typical model of title contention, but then again, there is very little about Condit's fighting style that falls into the standard categories.

 

Rashad Evans Needs a Big Turnaround

It has been over three years since Rashad Evans held a UFC title. Nevertheless, over this stretch, "Suga" has firmly held on to his ranking as one of the top light heavyweight fighters in the world. The former standout wrestler from Michigan State University knocked off a collection of top-ranked fighters on his way back to title contention, tallying wins over Thiago Silva, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis over this run. 

Everything the 33-year-old accomplished after losing his title to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98 was a build-up to his long-awaited showdown with former teammate-turned-nemesis Jon Jones. The organization's two best light heavyweights squared off at UFC 145, with Jones earning a unanimous decision victory and handing Evans only the second loss of his professional career.

Following his defeat at the hands of the light heavyweight "phenom," Evans took an extended time off before stepping back inside the Octagon. The former TUF winner returned to action at UFC 156 against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, in a bout many figured would mark the former champion's return to the divisional title hunt. 

In the weeks leading up to the fight against "Lil Nog," UFC President Dana White upped the ante by announcing a potential middleweight clash between Evans and 185-pound king Anderson Silva should the Blackzilians fighter defeat Nogueira in Las Vegas. 

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for Evans, all the potential for immediate high-profile bouts in his next outing unraveled when he suffered a unanimous decision loss to Nogueira at UFC 156. For the entirety of the three-round tilt, the typically explosive aspects of Evans's style were nonexistent, and his lackluster performance resulted in his second consecutive defeat.

Whether the fire inside of Evans is gone remains to be seen, but it will be once again put to the test this summer when he faces Dan Henderson at UFC 161. While a victory over "Hendo" will undoubtedly launch Evans back into the light heavyweight title picture, a loss to the former two-division Pride champion would serve to threaten his relevance as a title contender for the foreseeable future. 

To make matters worse, losing a third straight bout would also take away any momentum Evans could muster by dropping down into middleweight waters. While it is common practice for fighters to look for a career resurgence in a lighter weight class, losing three straight fights at 205 pounds then dropping down to middleweight would make it seem like Evans was submitting to the notion he could no longer compete at light heavyweight. 

 

Several Questions Surrounding "The Answer"

Frankie Edgar held court as the lightweight champion for two years and displayed the heart and grit that legends are made of, carving out his place as the perpetual underdog with the UFC fanbase. 

That being said, the past year-and-a-half hasn't been kind to Edgar. The former champion lost back-to-back razor-thin decisions against Benson Henderson before dropping down to 145 pounds to challenge pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo for his featherweight title at UFC 156. Unfortunately for Edgar, his attempt at Aldo's crown did not yield positive results, as the Toms River native found himself on the business end of a unanimous decision loss in Las Vegas.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the situation surrounding Condit, it is difficult to strip Edgar of his label as one of the top fighters in his weight class due to the manner in which he has competed in his recent string of losses.

Both of his setbacks against Henderson were debatable, with portions of the MMA community believing Edgar should have gotten the nod in at least one of the fights. And while Edgar's fight against Aldo wasn't as close as his two bouts with "Smooth," the former 155-pound champion fared much better than most, claiming two rounds against the featherweight phenom.

Despite those positives, the fact still remains that Edgar has lost three consecutive bouts, all coming in fights with a title on the line. This scenario makes it difficult to see Edgar as a potential title threat in any division he competes in, despite the fact that—like Condit—he could be two top-10 fights away from another shot at the strap. 

Where three straight losses normally means a fighter is looking for employment in another organization, Edgar is one of the few who are exceptions to the rule. Granted, should Edgar drop a fourth straight in his next outing, then there is a good chance the conversation could take an ominous turn.

However, if Edgar is successful in his next outing, no matter if the bout takes place at lightweight or featherweight, a victory would put him right back into the title picture.

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