With the retirement of Randy Couture following his loss to Lyoto Machida this past Saturday at UFC 129 coupled with fellow UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell hanging up his gloves recently, is there anyone on the UFC roster who could be viewed as the elder statesman. Is there a fighter who the UFC can bank on to help them out of a desperate situation whether or not it benefits them personally the way Liddell and Couture did on so many occasions?
It's very rare that an organization has a fighter who is willing to put the needs of their employer before their very own the way Couture has. When they needed a main event for UFC 105 they called on Couture to take on the much younger Brandon Vera. When Tito Ortiz bailed out of his bout with Mark Coleman, Couture stepped in despite having nothing to gain personally. When James Toney ran his mouth and belittled the sport who came through to shut the boxers mouth and prove just how different the two sports truly are?
There aren't many fighters around today who could ever dream of becoming the icon Couture is. What is most important though is whether or not there is somebody who can be a true ambassador for the sport and follow the example "The Natural" has set during his illustrious career.
Rich Franklin was the first fighter who came to mind when I first thought about writing this article. A true company man if there ever was one, Franklin has fought anyone the UFC has asked him to. Not only has he taken on all comers, he has done so as a middleweight, light heavyweight and has fought a handful of fights at a catch-weight. Let's not forget how Franklin came to the rescue when Tito Ortiz bailed out of his bout with Chuck Liddell at UFC 115 last year and his coaching duties on The Ultimate Fighter.
The former math teacher from Ohio has had a very successful career highlighted by capturing the UFC middleweight championship against Evan Tanner in 2005. He has beaten the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Tanner (2X), David Loiseau, Yushin Okami and Liddell. Not only is he a great fighter, he is a true gentleman and carries himself with the utmost dignity. You will never hear the words controversial and Rich Franklin uttered in the same sentence.
Franklin is truly a fighter who the UFC can rely on to help them market the sport, grow their brand and show the world how truly special these athletes are.
I realize that Forrest Griffin is far from perfect, he has shown a side of him that could be construed as obnoxious or condescending, but when it comes down to it, Griffin has been at the forefront of the sport's growth and is one of the more recognizable names and faces on the UFC roster. His bout with Stephan Bonnar at the first Ultimate Fighter Finale will never be forgotten and it one of the main reasons I am writing this article and you are reading it.
Griffin is another guy who has a take on all comers attitude. When the UFC wanted to introduce their prize acquisition, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, it was Griffin who stepped up and said he would fight him. Not only did he take the former Pride Grand Prix Champion on, he choked him out. He turned that victory into a spot opposite then UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and a shot at his title.
When Anderson Silva was beginning to get booed because of his lackluster, uninterested performances against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, the UFC called upon Griffin to fight Silva at UFC 101. Griffin had to know that Silva was going to be out for blood and he took a beating at the hands of Silva as the UFC attempted to rehab Silva's image.
He is funny, he is smart and he is articulate. Let's not forget he has grown under the watchful eye of Couture and has been more than willing to help the UFC accomplish their goals before his own.
We all know that Penn can be hot and cold at any time. He has a tendency to lose or gain interest in his career at the drop of a dime, but at the end of the day he is one of the all time greats and truly loves the sport of mixed martial arts. He is the type of fighter who loves to teach, especially when it comes to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
He is another fighter who will fight anyone, any time in any weight class. He has fought as a lightweight, welterweight, middleweight and has even taken on Lyoto Machida who was fighting at 220lbs at the time. It is that type of attitude that goes along way in earning the respect of fans and fighters alike. He can come off as lazy and abrasive, but he can also show a side that proves just how much he loves the sport.
When Penn talks people listen, it's that simple. Who better to send into new markets to teach the rules of the sport and help grow the UFC name? Penn will be involved in mixed martial arts long after his career is over. You can't help but be impressed with his toughness and his overall resume.
Is there any fighter alive who is more popular than Silva? He was welcomed back in to the UFC after spending seven years dominating the Pride Middleweight division. Affectionately known as "The Axe Murderer," Silva is one of the most approachable, fan friendly fighters that the UFC has on its roster.
His in-ring work speaks for itself, he been through countless wars, fighting guys bigger than he on many occasions. His return bout to the UFC was a much anticipated dream bout with Liddell that despite taking so long to come to fruition, did not disappoint in any way, form or fashion. For 15 minutes the two legends went toe-to-toe showing fans that age was nothing more than a number.
His wars with Liddell, Dan Henderson, Cro-Cop, Rampage and Kazushi Sakuraba are the fights legends are made of. He is a great example of what a mixed martial artist should be and with his own gym and fight team, he will be around for a long time.
He works as hard if not harder than any other fighter, he doesn't shy away from anyone or anything and he is quickly becoming one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. Velasquez has readily accepted how the UFC turned his march towards the UFC Heavyweight Championship into something all Mexicans could be proud of. Truth be told, they are 100% right. He is a great leader and someone people of all races can look up to.
All that he has accomplished has come in such a short period of time as Velasquez has all of nine career fights in under five years. Velasquez extinguished the giant, Brock Lesnar, when no one thought it was possible. At just 28 -years-old, the sky is the limit for him and the years in the sport are plentiful. His background is wrestling which is something he can go and teach for many years after he decides his fighting days are over.
When you think of someone the UFC can bank on to help grow their sport and help them out in a pinch, Velasquez certainly fits the bill. You will not hear anything negative said about him other than things fans of his opponents may say. He is the guy the UFC will look to once they decide to expand into South America. You can bet he will do the job with pride and be just as successful as he has been inside the Octagon.