So here's the thing. In the wake of the recent Strikeforce card, which I personally enjoyed, I found myself following up on the usual post event drama via my favorite MMA haunts when a big shiny spotlight shone brightly on what I have termed as the contender conundrum.
The contender conundrum happens when fighters like Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Georges St. Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko go to fight and anyone who is not the other three mentioned here are the opponent. We've built these men on plateaus so high in our minds few can see them, let alone be deemed worthy to face them in a sport where one mistake on any given night means your membership to the club is revoked.
What defines a contender? Who decides who is a contender and whose undercard? For the sake of this article a contender will be defined as an worthy opponent to face any given fighter title or no title.
Since its so fresh in my mind lets take a look at the Fedor versus Rogers fight as an example. Can we agree that Fedor is a contender? I think we can. His track record speaks for itself though some will argue the quality of his opponents. Those arguments in of themselves actually serve to illustrate the topic of this article.
Fedor's opponent in Strikeforce inaugural event on CBS was one Brett Rogers with a 10 and 0 record whose most notable win was demolishing the faltering Andrei Arlovski in under 30 seconds. Should Rogers have been considered a contender? Well some would have you believe until a fighter signs a contract with the UFC, they are simply a pretender.
One could argue for or against Roger's gifts of size, strength and his evolving arsenal of MMA weapons to make a case. One could also sit back and watch Rogers put it on the line against arguably the best fighter to lace up the 4 ounce gloves. I prefer the latter myself.
Rogers showing against Fedor demonstrated albeit with a bit of improvement Rogers is a force to be reckoned with. Having fought Fedor Rogers now has essentially now arrived and may now be taken seriously, in spite of the loss and regardless if he had before.
If we go further back in history, while staying in the heavyweight division, we can see a similar story that played out with the opposite ending in the UFC. I am referring to the arrival of Brock Lesnar. Brock, like Rogers, is an absolute monster hovering around at 290lbs between fights cutting weight to make heavyweight and still athletic enough to be taken seriously.
Brock found himself with an opportunity to compete against the returning champion Randy Couture for the heavyweight crown. Many would argue this opportunity was premature for many reasons, namely it being Brock's fourth pro fight. Unlike Rogers however, Brock brings a well respected wrestling pedigree into any fight equation he is part of which if history has taught us anything is nothing to be taken lightly.
Brock's vaunted wrestling was actually marginally stymied by the cagey veteran Couture, who is no stranger to the wrestling discipline, before Brock was able to land one of his massive ham hocks and thus flooring the champion and leading to Brock's win of the UFC title.
Was Brock the lottery winner in the punchers chance sweepstakes? Only time will tell but if his battering of Frank Mir as his follow up was any indication likely not. Its far too early in Brock's career to make anything of said career just yet other than Brock has all the potential in the world. That is assuming Brock chooses to continue in MMA.
In both cases the MMA world seemingly scratched its collective head over the opponents for Fedor and Randy before and right up until the fights. If the world had its way we may never have seen these battles come to pass. We may have been treated to Brock devouring a Stefan Struve or Rogers toiling just outside the limelight squaring off with the winner of mediocre Werdum and Silva battle.
The one thing I take away from that spotlighting on the contender conundrum and the ensuing pondering is that a contender is actually born when the bell sounds and the fists, for lack of a better term, are doing the talking. History then becomes irrelevant because its being written. Legends and legacies are being forged in the heat of battle regardless of the banner. Everything leading up to and following afterwords is simply nothing more than promotion.
The UFC excels in promotion and is on top because the masses have bought into that promotion. This does not physically diminish the skills and ability of warriors fighting under its own and other banners though promoters would have you believe otherwise. It does however attract the majority of talent seeking fame and fortune which facilitates a greater depth in competition for the promotion on top.
Make no mistake friends whether we realize it or not we've been sold a good portion of what we believe about a fight and the fighters before the bell rings courtesy of shrewd promoting. Fortunately be it due to competition, genuis or morbid curiosity fightmakers are providing the necessary reality checks along this yellow brick road otherwise known as fights to snap us back from our fantasy world.