17 years, MMA has endured immense evolution. It has never met a new day without having improved in some way, shape. or form on the previous one. Such is the mantra of the fastest growing sport in the world.
With evolution comes relentless and constant change; it takes what once was superior and makes it inferior through improvement at the most minuscule of levels.
While the future brings with it a sense of progress, that improvement is based upon a concrete foundation of fundamental understanding: To become the best one can be, they must improve upon what was already supreme.
For examples of this theory, the fight fan need look no further than pioneer and legend, Royce Gracie. Gracie used the control of simplicity and imposed it into an environment of mayhem.
He used what was practical and disregarded the rest; not unlike the theories of Jeet Kun Do. JKD was the form of martial arts outlined by Bruce Lee, whom many consider the godfather of MMA.
This showed fighters forever that bar room brawlers and back alley knuckleheads had no business in the sport of MMA. Those that took note built their careers on the understanding that being tough and willing was not enough.
Enter Don Frye. The first ever cross trained mixed martial artist. Frye was tough; he was willing; and he was also an accomplished Judo, Boxing, and Wrestling practitioner. His victories set the tone for the expectation of more than a single level of expertise.
To fight in this game, you have to at least understand, if not excel, at all levels of hand- to-hand combat.
Since then, it has never stopped. Today there are glowing examples of what Don Frye was trying to be so many years ago: the perfect fighter; the entire package; dangerous in all facets. GSP has become the most amazing representation of what MMA is truly all about.
To become the icon and true legend that he is, he had to topple mountains, and defeat Goliaths that the masses felt could never fall. The name Matt Hughes is legendary across MMA, amongst hardcore and casual fans alike.
GSP had to destroy Hughes twice to take his place amongst the greatest. His ownership of one of the greatest fighters to ever live solidified his position amongst the world’s most respected mixed martial arts athletes, both present day and throughout history.
Yet the victories of GSP’s career do not in any diminish the accomplishments of Matt Hughes. Without Hughes, there is no GSP. At least not the GSP fight fans have grown to love and respect today.
Somewhere in the cold Canadian weather a few years back, GSP could have been found breaking himself in preparation for the best Matt Hughes that ever was. GSP was aware of what he was up against and knew that to overcome it, he himself had to become great.
This is the very recipe for evolution within the sport of MMA. Today Matt Hughes is taking steps to rebuild his historic career, and GSP is the new litmus test of greatness. Today, to be great, someone will have to become greater than one of the new greatest fighters to ever live.
It truly is a symphony that sets a promising tempo for that which has yet to unfold. Men like Georges St. Pierre, or even women like Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos are setting the beat that those who follow will look to duplicate and in some cases improvise and improve upon.
Another man who has greatly influenced the tempo of MMA is none other than “The Prodigy”, B.J.Penn. The warrior from Hilo Hawaii has been nothing short of legendary throughout his exploits in MMA.
A true pioneer and practitioner of all aspects of martial arts, Penn has in his own right set the bar for what it takes to lay eyes on the next levels of the sport. Some of the biggest fights in the sport’s history included Penn, and he often shined.
A true warrior's spirit nestled deep within the confines of an extremely able body has allowed Penn to write history into the pages of MMA. His devastating striking, relentless and ruthless attack, combined with a uniquely dangerous dexterity has made it seem like the sport was made for him, and has thus defined Baby J’s career.
While B.J. traveled all weight spectrums and even found UFC gold at both WW and LW, the LW division is Penn’s home. It is where he truly belonged. But the winds of change have been slowly gaining momentum in the LW division.
The same evolution that crafted Don Frye, and the same that passed by Matt Hughes, is the same evolution that showed the world how a man like Brock Lesnar could defeat a legend like Randy Couture. It struck again.
In what many perceived as a stutter step, LW standout Frankie Edgar would sweep in and steal B.J. Penn’s LW title like a thief in the night. With swift and precision striking Edgar would dissect the legend of Penn one round at a time.
Not all fights can be won, and Penn was awarded a rematch. And as the gears of evolution began to groan and grind as they came to life, the inevitable winds of change became hurricane force winds.
The tsunami that was Frankie Edgar washed over the shores of what many perceived as a forgone conclusion. Washed out to sea were any misconceptions regarding flukes or one night miracles.
Frankie Edgar became a wizard at UFC 118, wielding the power of De Ja Vu and obliterating not only idea that Penn was invincible but the idea that his first win was anything short of exactly what should have happened.
At UFC 118, Edgar did it again.
Edgar proved hands down that the title of number one LW mixed martial artist in the world is his. Nobody could argue that Sunday. Not one soul.
But does it diminish the greatness that is B.J. Penn? Absolutely not. It actually solidifies it. What did Frankie Edgar have to become to be the man that changed the LW division forever?
Greatness is the only answer to that question. Edgar had to become greatness to defeat greatness. And anyone who has been paying attention knows, Edgar could have very well raised the greatness of Penn in return.
Just as Edgar had to elevate his fight to beat Penn, Penn will now have to accept that his greatness is not enough anymore. He will have to change his fight to find his way back to the top.
Time will tell if he can pull himself up from two losses in a row and bounce back or if the best days of his historic and amazing career are behind him.
For the sake of MMA hopefully the latter is a story that is far from being told. Equally compelling though is the idea that the story of Fankie Edgar is just beginning to be told. His back to back defeats of Penn will never be forgotten, and it may be just the beginning.
By the time the last page on both of their careers are turned, here is to hoping that there are many more displays of their greatness and contribution to this sport. As for the fans, we all owe them our respect and gratitude.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad.com