The phrase "best ever" is thrown around a lot these days. Sometimes irresponsibly. I should know. I just did it.
It's still worth noting, though, whenever anything receives that moniker. And such was the case back in October when the UFC put the wheels in motion for a heavyweight title fight between new champion Cain Velasquez and top contender Junior Dos Santos.
In the meantime, fans wait and talk about things like whether this fight could be the best title fight in UFC history.
So can it?
If any serious conversation with the words "best ever" is to take place, the fans should probably define their terms. First of all, given that it's subjective, who are the judges? The best UFC fight for us hardcore MMA fans (/snaps honorary suspenders) will be far different than that for the general populace, who with all due respect would probably most want to see something like Brock Lesnar versus Chuck Liddell (with special guest referee Spencer Pratt!). So let's say we're talking about the best possible fight for the serious fan.
It is also important that we define our terms, as "best" can mean different things. Does that mean the most closely contested? Most contentious? Most hyped? Most lucrative? Best ending? Bloodiest?
For my purposes today, I'll use the fourth definition of "best" listed on TheFreeDictionary.com, which is, quite simply, "most highly skilled."
There are a lot of great title fights in UFC history. The great fights between Liddell and Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz come to mind. So does Couture-Tim Sylvia. Anderson Silva-Rich Franklin was a doozy. What about Penn-Sherk?
No shortage of candidates. And yet, when applying the terms and conditions as defined above, I believe the battle for the heavyweight strap pitting champion Cain Velasquez against challenger Junior Dos Santos could indeed be the best title fight in UFC history. Here are five reasons why.
Do you think this has the potential to be the best title fight ever? If not, who do you give the nod to?
It's right there in the definition.
Velasquez has long been considered one of the most—if not the most—highly skilled heavyweight of all time. Dos Santos is widely considered one of the most—if not the most—highly skilled striker in the division's history.
But there's more. Both men can grapple, although Cain's college wrestling background probably gives him the edge on paper. Dos Santos is no slouch, though, having practiced Brazilian jiu-jitsu for years and now working hard to optimize his mat game.
Both men also belong to elite MMA camps. Velasquez trains alongside Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and others at American Kickboxing Academy, while Dos Santos works with the likes of Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at Blackhouse.
In short, there is not much to exploit on either side. Victory will likely not come because of a mistake; it will likely come from skill.
Like great movie epics, many of the great title fights have numbers after them. Liddell-Couture III, Ortiz-Liddell I, Hughes-St. Pierre II. Velasquez-Dos Santos I could be the next.
At 28 and 26, respectively, Velasquez and Dos Santos are entering their prime fighting years.
To make things a little more interesting, there seems to be just a whiff of bad blood in the water. Back in February at UFC 110, Velasquez demolished Antonio Nogueira, who is a friend and mentor to Dos Santos. Junior was calling out Velasquez (politely, but insistently) as early as March.
Dos Santos's razor-sharp striking is the default gold standard in the heavyweight division. And yet, there is no major separation between El Cigano and Cain, who brought down the shaven polar bear that is Brock Lesnar and whose overhand registers 1,000 pounds more pressure than boxing knockout artist James Toney (according to a recent edition of ESPN's "Sports Science").
Both man have the tools to stand and trade, and neither is afraid to do so.
The novelty of the grudge match is exciting, but it does get old, especially when every single person these days claims ex post facto that they were just doing it to hype the fight.
Unfortunately for the UFC, the hype for this one isn't going to come from the fighters. Velasquez is so quiet in interviews he almost appears nervous. And you could never discern what Dos Santos was capable of from his soft-spoken demeanor and beguiling smile alone.
Neither man has ever gotten in trouble out of the ring (that we know about, anyway), and Velasquez is a dedicated family man. There is no bad guy in this fight. All that matters is, you know, the fight.
But to me, this makes it all the more exciting. This is no bark and all bite, no sizzle and all steak. It will be like watching a movie that is dull for two hours, then makes your time worth the ticket price with a spectacular, white-knuckled ending. In the UFC, that ending is all that matters.
No novelties. No TV stars. No professional wrestlers. No old guys. No rookies. No one-trick ponies or one-hit wonders.
Neither man is afraid to stand. Neither man is afraid to go to the ground. There's no point karate or lay-and-pray in either of these guys. It's just not in their DNA. There is no way this fight cannot be exciting.
One undisputed champion and one undisputed No. 1 contender. Both in their primes and at the top of their games. Both good guys and fierce warriors. Both violent and incredibly proficient combatants.
May the best man win. I'm sure he will.