A not-unpleasant thought occurred to me when I was writing about UFC 104's main event between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua.
To appreciate just how dominant the Dragon has quietly become, you must take a closer look at his resume.
Once you do that, you realize he's dispatched some of the brighter names in the light heavyweight business—Rashad Evans (knockout), Thiago Silva (KO), Tito Ortiz (unanimous decision), B.J. Penn (UD), Rich Franklin (technical knockout), and Stephan Bonnar (TKO).
If you want to be uncharitable, you can attach certain qualifiers.
Working in reverse—The TKOs of the American Psycho and Ace Franklin were way back in 2003, the Prodigy was fighting at a considerable height/weight disadvantage, and the Huntington Beach Bad Boy was fading when Machida was unable to finish him.
However, if you go that route, you must also attached gold stars to the 31-year-old Brazilian's most recent outings. By brutally stopping both Silva and Sugar Rashad, Machida gave each gladiator his first defeat (in 14 and 15 bouts, respectively).
Regardless of opinions about his track record, Lyoto Machida can present the UFC with a very sticky situation by dispatching Shogun Rua. All the better if he does it resoundingly.
Take a look at what the UFC's title-holding landscape will look like should the Dragon do what so many of us expect him to do:
Heavyweight Champion—Brock Lesnar
Lesnar hasn't lost since Frank Mir submitted a very green mixed martial artist in February of last year. In 20 months, the former professional wrestler has dispatched three adversaries (including Mir in a title unification rematch) and hasn't been so much as bruised in the process.
To contend with Brock's growing menace, the Heavyweight Division can muster Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez (plus the possible resurgence of Mir or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira).
Those are three very promising up-and-comers who will surely present a sincere challenge with a little more seasoning.
The problem, of course, is that Brock Lesnar isn't sitting on the couch popping chocolates. The dude is a physical and athletic freak of nature—one must assume he is improving as well.
Light Heavyweight Champion—Lyoto Machida
The Light Heavyweight Division has seen the most turbulence in recent years, but the Dragon is threatening to calm the situation considerably.
Should the pied piper of karate use his awkward counterattacking style to batter the relentlessly aggressive Rua, he will be the first of the last three champs to defend his title and it could be a sign of things to come.
The weight class is too deep to list all the interesting heirs to Machida's tenuous throne. Instead, suffice it to say the 205-pound pile will be the toughest to stay atop for an extended period of time.
Shogun might just knock him off in several hours, but—if anyone is up for the challenge—the smart money rides with Lyoto Machida.
Middleweight Champion—Anderson Silva
The Spider hasn't lost at any weight class since 2006, he's worn the Middleweight Championship belt since October of that same year, and he's successfully defended the title six times (if you include when Travis Lutter couldn't make weight).
Uh...and then there are the two embarrassingly easy victories at light heavyweight over James Irvin and Forrest Griffin, neither of which made it out of the first round.
Judging from the state of the Middleweight Division , other fighters have noticed that—of the Spider's 11 straight vanquished opponents—only Thales Leites has heard the final bell. Arguably the best pound-for-pound combatant in the world has stopped the other 10 before the end of the third round.
Consequently, anyone who can avoid Anderson Silva's home turf seems to have done exactly that. Only Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia seem to pose any threat whatsoever, except Marquardt's already been TKO'd by Silva in the first round and Maia was just annihilated by Nate.
Welterweight Champion—Georges St. Pierre
Again, forget it.
The Welterweight Division has some more intriguing depth than Anderson Silva's territory, but there still isn't a whole lot that would trouble me if I were GSP.
Mike Swick, Dustin Hazelett, Anthony Johnson, and a few others are dangerous fighters to be sure. Nevertheless, even those three would have to bring their lunch and dinner to take out Rush St. Pierre.
Remember, if not for the hideous upset suffered at the hands of Matt Serra, St. Pierre would be the reigning Welterweight Champ going all the way back to 2006.
That obviously means very little since the loss happened, but it's informative to emphasize how long GSP's been laying waste to the division.
No champion's stranglehold on his weight class is as complete as the Spider's, but Georges St. Pierre is approaching the mark.
Since becoming the undisputed king of the hill in 2008, the French Canadian has defended his belt twice and taken out B.J. Penn in an catch-weight, non-title bout (as was so graciously pointed out by Flyin' Hawaiian, this was very much a title fight so GSP actually has THREE title defenses).
Lightweight Champion—B.J. Penn
One last time, forget it.
The Prodigy might be the most likely to slip up and lost his grip on the title, but only because his focus and commitment to the sport is the most suspect from this group.
And that might not even be true anymore given how he throttled a very polished Kenny Florian the last time out.
Complicating matters, nobody in the Lightweight Division should scare Penn too badly. Nate Diaz looked like the genuine article, but he's tripped up a couple time lately. Gray Maynard has that edge to him and has performed accordingly. Additionally, Efrain Escudero warrants mention.
Yet a focused, mature B.J. Penn might be the most invulnerable fighter of the five current champions. I'm not kidding—the Hawaiian almost has four arms when you account for the dexterity and flexibility in his legs.
Couple that with his ability and willingness to hold his own against fighters much larger than he, and the result is an obstacle atop the smallest division that looks rather immovable.
Step back from that picture.
Absent a relatively jarring upset, four of the five weight classes look settled for at least the next year or two.
The Light Heavyweight belt appears most subject to change, but Lyoto Machida might alter that perception drastically in his next few fights should he defeat Mauricio Rua.
A highly unlikely incursion by Fedor Emelianenko or exodus by Brock Lesnar would shake up the Heavyweight Title as well—don't hold your breath.
So the natural question is: what happens if/when the titles stagnate?
You KNOW Dana White won't put his sexiest gladiators on ice until a truly suitable challenger emerges, which means any candidate showing a glimmer of hope will be rushed along and fed to the lions as soon as possible.
It goes without saying that anything can happen on any night, but chucking neophytes to battle-tested champions only seems to enhance the latter's advantage.
This would further stagnate the situation—the best contenders would be picked off first and their development sidetracked by a likely defeat.
In that eventuality, would the UFC be forced to return to its roots in order to save its future? Would we see super fights again? Open weight-class grand prix? Rule changes?
One thing seems certain—the powers-that-be will have to get creative because four belts look to be under lock and key already. Worse, Lyoto Machida could finally give the Light Heavyweight belt a permanent home.
And that would make five.