At UFC 129, I heard Mike Goldberg say the strangest thing: he called Vladimir Matyushenko a “legend.” Now, I understand that Mike has been prone to say many dubious things, like the time he described Travis Lutter’s Jiu-Jitsu as "Michael Jordan-esque." I also understand that the man is simply trying to hype up fights. But calling Matyushenko a legend? Hold your horses, buddy.
Listen, I have absolutely no problem with Vladimir Matyushenko. The man has a great record (26-5) and has been through some tough fights in his long career. He has had several good battles against the likes of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Tito Ortiz, and Andrei Arlovski, among others. And to continue being competitive at his age? Remarkable.
Still, those achievements are not enough to earn the title of “legend.” His most notable accomplishments are winning the IFL Light Heavyweight championship from someone you’ve never heard of and defending said championship against someone you’ve never heard of.
Let me get to my point: Matyushenko is not a legend, he is a veteran. He’s a veteran the same way Yuki Kondo is a veteran, or Matt Serra (GSP upset withstanding), or even the beloved Fedor’s younger sibling.
To become a legend, you would need to have done something incredible for the sport. Royce Gracie very arguably sowed the roots of MMA to become what it is today. The Shamrock brothers are not just pioneers, they also brought the sport much needed exposure and were incredibly successful during their prime years.
Kazushi Sakuraba was one of the most exciting fighters to watch in Pride, and his victories over notable opposition made him a national hero in Japan. Chuck and Wanderlei held on to their UFC and Pride belts, respectively, for so long we thought they’d never lose them. Today, Anderson Silva’s legacy is secure as we wait for his next move.
Vernon White was a great fighter in his day. Carlos Newton won the UFC welterweight championship once. Renzo Gracie has had some really exciting fights over the years. These men are not legendary. They have been in the sport a long time, have had good success, and, well, that’s it.
To be sure, I don’t believe any of the veterans I have described would call themselves legendary. Aside from Frank Shamrock, most legends are humble and wouldn’t describe themselves as such either. Still, a distinction has to be made between the two. 50 years from now, what will MMA fans be remembering the most: BJ Penn winning belts in two divisions, or Luiz Azeredo’s three fight win streak in the early 2000s? Let’s not give the future something to laugh about when they recall the past and its tendency to bestow titles on the undeserving.
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