Much like all things in life, there has been a long standing tradition of evolution and escalation across the sport of mixed martial arts.
What was once thought of as the peak has been surpassed time and time again only to have mountains topple and new pinnacles formed.
It is the nature of not only life, but MMA by its sheer design.
There was a time in this sport when it seemed like Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell could stop the world with his thunderous striking and unflappable take-down defense. He brought a sense of pure invincibility in the cage with him and fans of the sport rallied behind that success.
When an arena flashed a deep blue so cold fans felt they were trapped inside a glacier they knew it was only a matter of time before the heavy artillery would arrive.
Looking back at the glory days of Liddell, fans remember a different style of champion in the light heavy weight division.
They remember a champion who was above defeat, he was a champion in the truest sense of the word.
Liddell wasn't the type of guy challengers knew they could take a belt from, but the type of guy that challengers simply hoped they could compete with.
Chuck's reign was very much a strong part of the foundation of MMA's mainstream popularity. Today, while fight fans may point to guys like Georges St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar as MMA icons, Liddell was one of the first to earn that moniker as a mixed martial artist.
Of course names like Ortiz and Couture helped build that iconic status, and they were and are superstars in their own rights.
Yet it was Liddell who had their numbers, and he pulled their cards with relative ease.
Many memories stick out in the mind of the MMA fan, and a large portion of those greatest moments involve "The Iceman".
That all came to a screeching halt when the man known as "Rampage" put the brakes on Liddell's legend.
This was the second time Quinton Jackson and Chuck Liddell's careers would meet. Both ended with Liddell devastated by "Rampage" strikes.
In four years, Liddell lost twice, both times to Jackson .
Since he lost his UFC Light Heavyweight title, "The Iceman" quite simply has not been the same.
Of late his career has been mired in controversy over his ability and intent to continue his storied journey, and the opinions of just about everyone but he himself regarding that topic.
His lone win in a five-fight span has fueled many an opinion regarding the need for him to hang up his gloves.
He and his camp beg to differ.
With that being said, surely his days of opportunity are numbered in this sport and he has to do something drastic to change the perception that he is closer to the end than he may readily admit.
That chance comes against a man simply known as "Ace."
The hard rock of AC/DC blaring over the loudspeakers of any venue is a tell tale sign that Rich Franklin is making his march to the Octagon. His calm demeanor, but ferocious fighting style electrified fans. They knew when "Ace" was ready to do his thing that they were in store for a treat.
Having trained with some of the best in the world, yet wielding his own unique style of war, Franklin had long been a fan favorite.
His highlight reel finishes include an absolute starching of Nate Quarry and a stoppage over legend Ken Shamrock.
Like Liddell, Franklin also held a reign of greatness and dominance that led many a fight fan to wonder who would challenge such a champion. Franklin did not possess the resume strong in brand names like Liddell did.
Yet what he did boast was his ability to finish with a vengeance.
Putting fighters away by any means necessary had become Franklin 's story.
He had made a name for himself by creating the oddest of angles, followed up by a feverish pace that led him to end 20 of his first 22 fights before the final bell. Then he slammed head first into a concrete wall.
Another way of saying that is he found himself ensnared in the devastating web of a spider.
"The Spider" to be more specific—a man also known by his given name, Anderson Silva.
What Silva did to Franklin was not just defeat him, he destroyed him.
In one of the most vicious highlight reel finishes the sport has ever seen, Anderson Silva displayed what Joe Rogan calls a ballet of violence and dismantled "Ace."
He left him battered, bruised, bloodied, and broken without his title on the Octagon floor.
After that career changing defeat at the hands of a man who would go on to live in UFC infamy, "Ace" found his career in turmoil. Not for lack of effort on his part, but he seemed a changed fighter.
There are beatings a fighter can take, in any combat sport, that can change the confidence factor and demeanor of a once proud champion.
That seems to have taken place for Franklin .
He went on to attempt to avenge his loss to Silva only to suffer a similar fate as he did in their first tilt.
Simply put, Silva was Franklin 's kryptonite.
This forced Franklin to vacate his 185-pound aspirations as there was no point to him contending there with Silva atop that mountain.
Much like Liddell's abrupt destruction at the hands of "Rampage," Franklin 's decimation by Silva seemed to heavily impact his future in the sport.
Since his final battle with "The Spider" Franklin has been a fighter without a home.
His five fights since have ranged from 185 pounds to 205 pounds with two catch weight bouts of 195 pounds.
During that time there has been no hope for him to contend for any title, more so than he was just in limbo competing to stay sharp when ever and where ever he could.
Like Liddell, he may have seen the greatest days of his career come to pass.
Franklin will meet "The Iceman" as a replacement for Tito Ortiz at UFC 115 in Vancouver this month. They both have seen the greatest glory this sport has to offer in the UFC gold they once wore so proudly and deservedly.
They say when you are at your lowest point, when you are scraping bottom, there is no where to go but up.
The same is true for those who sit atop of the world.
These two proud warriors once stood tall at the highest peaks of this sport, and with no further heights for them to strive for, the only way they could turn was down.
When that descent began, it seemed perhaps they may never find glory of that magnitude again, and perhaps they will not.
Even still, with the game seemingly progressing beyond them, or perhaps even passing them by, fight fans still remember the thrill of their victories.
Fight fans remember their greatness and the form with which they earned it.
Is it out of the realm of possibility that their greatness still lies dormant in the shells of the champions they once were?
Is there one more strong run in the gas tank of either man?
Time will tell.
A win for either will not do nearly as much as a loss will do to their careers but it is step one for them to regain their momentum.
With all the greatness lingering in their rear view mirrors, they find themselves with much to prove as they take each day at at time leading into their upcoming battle with one another.
They have to prove that greatness can still be harnessed and applied within the confines of an Octagon.
They have to prove that the valleys they found themselves in are not their homes more so than the pinnacles they once ruled.
They have to prove that they are able to evolve with this sport as it has clearly escalated well beyond what it was when they led the charge.
There is no doubt considering the urgency at this point in their careers that they will both bring their A games with them Saturday night.
The fight fan remembers just how compelling they can be at the top of their games.
These facts bring with them a promise of a competitive match that could truly bring both the fighters and the fans back to a time where these two men were kings.
Here is to two legends doing it for the fans one more time.
When they hook 'em up be sure and pay homage for all they've done and continue to do for the sport and the fans.
This article originally published at hurtsbad.com