MMA: 20 Bouts Pitting Yesteryear vs. Yesterday vs. Today

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MMA: 20 Bouts Pitting Yesteryear vs. Yesterday vs. Today
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

There has always been something about the combative sports that seems to transcend the notion that today is better than yesterday, or today will be better than tomorrow; let’s face it, none of the fans of today can readily predict the fall of their heroes because none of us have a crystal ball.

But fall they will. On a long enough time-line, everyone loses, including Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Jose Aldo—one and all, they will fall.

When it comes to the fight game, it is nearly impossible to deny that the past is the father to the present and when you look into the past, nearly all of the greats, and the greatest of the greats, finally succumbed to the erosion of time.

Fans declare that age will never catch up with Anderson Silva, just as they declare that no one at light heavyweight will defeat Jon Jones, etc. It’s a method of thinking based on the easiest assumption at hand, and given how dominant these fighters have been, what could be easier to imagine than victory after victory?

Much like when Roberto Duran waved his hands in Round 8 of his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard, crying “No mas… no mas,” fans could not believe it was happening because they had never seen it before; to have asked them to imagine it beforehand would have been like asking Attila the Hun to imagine world peace.

The simple truth is that just as a ship is unsinkable until it sinks, so too will Anderson Silva be unbeatable until he is beaten; probably before his new 10-fight contract reaches the age of retirement.

But for those of us who have seen previous generations of supposedly unbeatable fighters taste defeat, growing older as they go along, we know what will happen, because it has always happened, and always will.

The great thing about the fight game is that on one night, the lessons learned and the skills drawn from yesterday can defeat the greatest of today, should they be marshaled by a man who has the courage of his convictions and a clarity of intent that will not see him dwarfed by the moment.

An example of this could be when Vitor Belfort almost submitted Jon Jones with a basic armbar, or perhaps an even greater example was when Anderson Silva defeated Chael Sonnen via submission very late in the fight at UFC 117, much like Royce Gracie defeated Dan Severn at UFC 4.

But such lessons and skills need a vehicle, and it is those fighters who have proven capable of coupling the precedents of the past with their own unique attributes and species of greatness that stand out in our mind as giants of yesterday, or the unconquerable of today.

For instance; Georges St-Pierre has been so dominant in his career—especially now that he is close to becoming the first tenured welterweight champion in UFC history—that he has turned a string of six straight decision wins into an epic testimony to his greatness among the great, just as Metallica proved that the long song was still art with the release of “And Justice For All…”.

So to even consider for a moment that GSP could lose in a hypothetical bout against one of the greatest of yesteryear—Frank Shamrock—is laughable and unthinkable, because it is outside the realm of experience for fans who were not fans when Shamrock was to yesterday what fighters like GSP and Anderson Silva are today; giants among men.

So, why ask the questions in the first place?

Because that’s what fight fans do; we look into the past (which gives us great appreciation for the present) and we try to evaluate the greatness we see before us with the greatness we have seen before.

After all, like attracts like, and if we didn’t like what we were seeing, we’d be looking someplace else. 

So, with both feet planted firmly in the present, we can recall the past and ponder just how great the fights would have been between the standouts of yesteryear vs. yesterday vs. today.

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