The world of professional athletics is often ruthless and unforgiving—any given sport is riddled with has-beens and also-rans. One poor performance in the heat of the moment can be as devastating as an embarrassing faux paus during a press conference. Star athletes are forced to walk on eggshells as they tread the fine line separating mediocrity from superstardom.
Mixed martial arts is no different.
Cage fighters must juggle sponsorships, media appearances and their own, public perceptions—all while striving to increase the number of digits in their win column.
An elite few overcome the odds and somehow manage to secure the illustrious title of champion. Then, of course, begins the struggle to keep contenders at bay—giving birth to the expression, "It's harder to keep the belt than it is to get it in the first place."
Some UFC champions—both past and present—have managed to handle it admirably. But as I've said before, there's a clear line of demarcation separating a mere champion in a series of many from one who propels the sport of MMA to lofty new heights. We have yet to see the ideal superstar who extols the traits of a champion for the ages.
Which ingredients would we need from some of MMA's most iconic figures, and more interestingly, what if we were to throw them in a melting pot in a quest to assemble the archetype of an MMA superstar?
Start with a Full Serving of Georges St-Pierre's Signature Professionalism
The French Canadian sets MMA's standard for suave and sophistication—he's practically synonymous with the suit-and-tie look. Always respectful of opponents and attentive to company needs, GSP would represent the core of our dream superstar. All the crucial traits would have to carry over: professionalism, business-oriented attitude, work ethic and even self-promotion.
The ideal MMA athlete would need the right stuff both inside and outside the cage.
Mix in a Good Batch of Sheer Athleticism Courtesy of Jon Jones
Top-tier athletes tend to look the part. This mixture would result in a physically impressive fighter a la Jon Jones. Reach and height would enable nothing short of blinding speed and dexterity. Victories would have to be highlight-reel worthy, with each finish acting as a firm declaration.
Jones knows this to be true—he tends to end his fights in ways that guarantee water cooler talk.
Stir in Equal Amounts of BJ Penn's Raw Talent
There's something to be said for a fighter who has the natural it factor.
Movements would have to be so fluid and natural that even the most casual MMA fans could feel like they were witnessing something special. Penn was not only the first American to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships, but he was also the first to be simultaneously ranked No. 1 in two separate weight divisions.
Our star would need to replicate the innate talents of "The Prodigy" in order to break such boundaries.
Add a Hint of Ronda Rousey's Magnetism
Enormous media coverage, polarizing interviews and a willingness to cull fans from untapped resources would have to be second nature to a superfighter of the next generation. Ronda Rousey managed to introduce UFC fans to a new subset of mixed martial arts—nearly half a million pay-per-view buys isn't too shabby for her first time at bat.
Season it with a Dash of Chael Sonnen's Wit and Intellect
Arguably the most interesting figure—and certainly the most quotable—in MMA, Chael Sonnen has mastered the the art of selling a fight. Fans can squabble over his fight game, but few would be foolish enough to argue his skill at self-promotion. Sonnen knows just how to use his mouth to achieve a desired result—so would our superstar.
When the lights shine bright, the camera gains focus, and all ears are directed at what our fighter might say, nothing is more promising and pivotal than the delivery. Sonnen has proved it time and time again.
And Then Let it Marinate in Anderson Silva's Aura
The recipe wouldn't be complete without adding Silva's preternatural ability to evoke awe from the crowd. He lost interest in mere victory long ago—cementing his legacy is at the forefront of his mind as he inches toward the conclusion of his record-breaking career.
Our dream combatant would need a certain overwhelming characteristic that words fail to describe. Each fight would need to reverberate throughout his or her career—a special place in history would be reserved once the curtain closed.
There's little to no doubt that we'd be left with a crazy concoction.
But those individual ingredients—if blended together as part of a complete package—amount to the epitome of a superstar. Winning streaks would serve as stepping stones on the path to the title. And even then, the next-generation champion would be unwilling to rest.
Who is currently MMA's closest thing to a crossover superstar?
Casual fans would associate his or her name with the entire sport of mixed martial arts—akin to Michael Jordan's effect on basketball or Tiger Woods' impact on golf. Boundaries would be broken because this fighter would consider no feat too daunting to attempt.
Sounds like crazy, wishful thinking, doesn't it?
Well, before you toss the recipe aside, just consider that we never saw Jon Jones coming—nor did we see Anderson Silva before him.
The ebb and flow of mixed martial arts is less like a gentle river and more like a violent whitewater rapid. Ordinary fighters are routinely swallowed by the rushing tides, whereas the extraordinary ones manage to stay afloat.
Somewhere, somehow and in some random suburb, a young, hungry fighter is training relentlessly. Posters of MMA greats adorn his or her walls.
That novice could potentially mature into the realization of this ideal recipe—a genuine superstar in the making.