Oh, what difference a year makes. Since last October, three UFC titles, four Strikeforce titles, and ALL THREE WEC titles have changed hands, some of them multiple times.
On its own, this fact is hardly shocking. The best mixed martial artists compete multiple times a year. What is noteworthy, however, is that the past 12 months have seen some of the most dominant forces in the history of MMA become, well…less dominant.
As in any other sport, in MMA you can only be the best for so long. At some point even the greatest fighters have to lose. But for some guys, you just can’t believe it until you see it. Wanderlei Silva, Miguel Torres and even the great Royce Gracie, have all seen an end to their invincibility.
I didn’t see it coming then, and I didn’t see it coming now. Here are the most shocking title shakeups of the year.
When Lyoto Machida knocked out Rashad Evans for the UFC Light Heavyweight belt, UFC color commentator Joe Rogan famously summed up the victory, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Machida Era.”
Machida had increased his record to 15-0. His unique shotokan karate-infused fighting style made him seem elusive, unsolvable and unstoppable. Rogan, and the rest of the world, thought Lyoto was about to begin a long reign at the top of the 205 lb division. Machida’s first defense of his title, a close decision victory over Shogun Rua, was the most controversial decision of 2009.
When the two met again at UFC 113 for an immediate rematch, nobody knew what to expect. Most people thought Machida, a meticulous game planner, would bounce back from the first real test of his career and have a better answer for Shogun. They were wrong. Shogun leveled him in the first round with devastating punches, refusing to leave it in the hands of the judges again.
Total length of the “Machida Era”: One or zero fights, depending on who you ask.
Sure, sure…Anderson Silva did not actually lose this fight. He was able to submit Chael Sonnen in the final minutes of the final round. But for first time since 2004, he actually seemed human.
Going into this fight, no man in UFC history had been as successful or as feared as middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He had set a UFC record with six title defenses, obliterating everybody who had the misfortune of facing him in the cage. Silva had been yawning through his competition, seemingly thrashing opponents with one hand tied behind his back.
At UFC 117 all that changed. Chael Sonnen, the very brash and very American contender, did everything he said he was going to do: namely rip “The Spider” off his pedestal, throw him on his back, and punch a hole through his face.
For every second of every minute of every round, Sonnen did things to Anderson Silva that nobody had dared dream possible. He just plain beat the hell out of him, earning some 10-8 rounds in the process, while fans around the world watched in complete disbelief. Silva ultimately defended his title, and in the wake of the fight Sonnen tested positive for banned substances. But it was already too late. The evidence was already out there. Anderson Silva, the pound for pound king, is in fact a mortal man and can theoretically be stopped.
Love him or hate him, Brock Lesnar has undeniably been one of the most relevant names MMA since his UFC debut in 2008. His volatile personality, professional wrestling background and public career-threatening illness have kept his profile extremely high.
Four of the five highest selling UFC Pay Per Views have been cards he’s headlined. But forget all of that. In just six fights he was able to win the UFC Heavyweight belt and defended it twice (tying the record for most defenses of that title). And not only that, he really beat the crap out of people. His ability to talk trash and look like a terrifying psycho, coupled with his destruction of opponent after opponent had many MMA fans touting Lesnar as an instant legend and an invincible champ.
Again, they were all so very wrong. On Saturday at UFC 121, Cain Velasquez, the undefeated, ever-improving workhorse, dethroned the champ…during Brocktober no less! In the course of one round Cain was able to neutralize Lesnar’s powerful wrestling and outstrike him into a bloody mess.
It was a triumph of technique over physique. There’s something amazing about seeing a man of Brock Lesnar’s size get beat up. It feels like a dream, like you are seeing something you know isn’t possible in real life.
When BJ Penn lost his belt to Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 it was one of the most hotly contested and controversial decisions of 2010. It was a close fight, but a fight many feel should have gone to Penn on the scorecards. Even still, there had to be a reason Penn was unable to dismantle Edgar the way he had dismantled every other lightweight in the division since 2007.
It must’ve been a knee injury. Or a sinus infection that cost him three weeks of training camp. Maybe he just underestimated Frankie Edgar and the kid got the best of him. BJ was notorious for coasting on natural talent alone and not putting in the hard work.
Whatever the reason may have been, one thing was clear: it wasn’t going to happen again. A healthy BJ Penn was going bounce back from his first challenge in years and return, newly motivated, to the Octagon to destroy Edgar...guaranteed!
Before UFC 112, BJ hadn’t lost a fight at 155 since 2002. Nobody in that weight class had even managed to take him down once in that same time period. BJ had a reputation for being one of the most vicious, tenacious, destructive fighters in MMA, just ask Sean Sherk or Diego Sanchez’s faces. Nevertheless, at UFC 118 he was picked apart once again by Frankie Edgar. Penn had no answer for Edgar’s quickness and infinite gas tank. He looked tired, sluggish, helpless and bested.
It may not have been pretty. It may not have been exciting. But Frankie Edgar did the impossible…again.
Hands down the greatest title shakeup of 2010: Fedor Emelianenko, “The Last Emperor”, the Baddest Man on the Planet, finally lost. The fight was not for any promotion’s gold, but the title in question was far greater than any mere belt.
Fedor Emelianenko was unquestionably the greatest heavyweight fighter on the planet. He was both feared and loved, and if anyone ever had a reputation for being literally unstoppable, it was him. He had faced the best of the best for his entire career.
We had seen him escape submissions and withstand damage that should have killed normal human beings (e.g. being suplexed on his head by Kevin Randleman.) Since his first professional fight on May 21, 2000, Fedor had amassed 32 victories with no legitimate losses, on his way to winning the Rings Heavyweight and Openweight Tournament Titles, Pride Heavyweight Championship and Heavyweight Grand Prix and WAMMA Heavyweight Title.
While nobody could question Fabricio Werdum’s competency as a fighter, the bout was seen as a major step down in competition for Emelianenko, just another lackluster matchup put together by Strikeforce to keep Fedor away from their champion, Alistair Overeem.
Somebody must have forgotten to tell that to Fabricio Werdum. The BJJ ace was able to wrap Fedor up in a vicious triangle choke/armbar in the first minute of the fight, submitting him at the 1:09 mark, shocking the world in the process, dropping jaws around the globe.
Fedor’s future remains to be seen. Have age and years of fighting finally taken their toll on the Russian? Or will he back in top form? If he does return, it will be without the title of World’s Greatest…at least for now.