11 Current MMA Greats Most Likely Competing Past Their Peak Performance

Brian Oswald@@briancoswaldMMA Editor July 3, 2011

11 Current MMA Greats Most Likely Competing Past Their Peak Performance

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    Peak performance can be defined simply as: able to do one’s best in one’s best physical state.

    Math tells us that what goes up must come down, and in between, there is by and large a moment in time when you reach your peak. Such is the case for fighters who, if they do everything right, go from prospect to contender to champion. And then, at some point, our bodies start to betray us, and the cruel circle of life comes full circle.

    The last painful—and drawn out—display of a champion we once thought of as indestructible played out with Chuck Liddell. It had also been occurring with Wanderlei Silva…and last night was likely the exclamation point of that decline from former champ to shell of former self.

    Wanderlei has been past his peak for sometime now. There are other fighters that are somewhere between possibly past their peak (but it's hard to say for sure) and very far past their peak. And some fighters, well, they make it hard as they look to be on the decline...only to get back up again.

    Let’s take a look at some of the more notable ones, shall we.  

On the Watch List: Anderson Silva

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    When a fighter is still champion, and knocking people out in dramatic fashion, it is hard to really say they are past their peak. One component of peak performance is one's physical state, and Silva looks to still be very sharp, but at 36, he might be in that area where his skill set and cage experience are compensating for a slight deterioration in his bodily condition.  

    We simply can’t say Silva is past his peak yet because he could continue to blast lesser men for years to come, or, there could be that moment where he gets blasted himself and things start to unravel. As surreal as it seems, when you are competing at such a high level, and things are so nuanced, you are never quite sure when that proverbial cliff is all of a sudden right before you.

    For now, Anderson Silva is likely still at his peak. Hell, for all we know, he could even be improving before our eyes if he continues to add new skills and mental tricks to his arsenal. It seems impossible that Silva would fall off like Liddell did, but all great things must come to an end at some point, right?

    Peak Performance: TBD

Wanderlei Silva

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    Let's get this one out of the way so we can get back to mourning.

    It is not like we couldn't this one coming. But love can blind us.

    Wanderlei Silva peaked back in PRIDE. He came into the Octagon on a brutal two fight losing streak, getting knocked out by Mirko Cro Cop followed by Dan Henderson. Since joining the UFC roster, he has gone 2-4, adding two more brutal KO losses to his record.

    Whether or not Wanderlei gets one more fight is irrelevant. One of the legends of the sport has been betrayed by his body, and, being far past his peak, should strongly consider retirement. We say this not because we are in a rush to retire fighters, but like Dana White with Chuck Liddell, we care about their safety and their functioning as a healthy and happy human being long past their fight career.

    Peak Performance: agaisnt Kazuyuki Fujita at Pride Critical Countdown Absolute. Silva finished his opponent with punches and soccer kicks at 9:21 of the first round. His next fight would be the infamous head kick KO loss to Mirko Cro Cop in the Openweight Grand Prix Semifinal.

Mirko Cro Cop

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    Another obvious one.

    It is hard to imagine it was almost five years ago when Cro Cop knocked Wanderlei Silva out with one of his signature head kicks. That man has given so much to the sport, but he is way past his peak, as his body, and likely spirit, has betrayed him.

    Unlike Silva, Cro Cop stepped into the Octagon on a five fight win streak and was expected to compete for a title shot…that is, until he was on the wrong side of a vicious head kick courtesy Gabriel Gonzaga.

    He has gone 3-3 in his last six UFC fights, but the last two have been flash KO’s. It looks like the legend might get at least one more fight, though, and perhaps he can capture some of the magic that Tito Ortiz found this weekend.

    Peak Performance: Before losing his Octagon debut, Cro Cop had back to back wins over Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett. He finished off Barnett to win the Open-Weight Grand Prix tournament. 

Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    Another former PRIDE legend, Big Nog has not deteriorated quite—at least in our mind—as much as the last two on this list. But, it does appear that time is catching up with this once unbreakable man…and his chin could be going the way of the junk yard.

    You could argue Big Nog peaked back in PRIDE, but coming from behind to submit Tim Sylvia to win the UFC interim heavyweight title at UFC 81 could suffice as a peak moment.

    Big Nog is 1-2 in his last three fights, suffering a T(KO) and KO loss to Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez respectively. In between those fights, he engaged in an epic thee round war of attrition with Randy Couture.

    His upcoming fight with Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 will be telling. Will he be knocked out by the up and coming fighter just like Cro Crop, or does the grizzled Brazilian have something left to offer?

    Peak Performance: His gutsy come from behind performance over Tim Sylvia to win the UFC interim heavyweight title at UFC 81.

Fedor Emelianenko

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    Perhaps the greatest PRIDE start of them all—although some would argue that distinction belongs to Wanderlei Silva—Fedor is considered by many to be the greatest MMA fighter of all time…although Dana White and many UFC fans would argue against that notion.

    Fedor is set to face another legend in Dan Henderson later this month, and if he should happen to lose, the Russian enigma will likely force himself into retirement. With a win, it is hard to say what would be the next logical step for his career.

    While we know Fedor is past his peak, figuring out exactly when he peaked is a bit harder. You could argue the apex of his career was his win over Mirko Cro Cop at Pride Final Conflict 2005 where he defended his heavyweight title. That was almost six years ago, and Fedor went on to win eight more fights (in a row) before dropping his last two.

    The problem is that Fedor faced a litany of questionable opponents during that stretch. Perhaps his peak was his win over Tim Sylvia where he dropped him and then quickly submitted him? Or was it his dramatic KO win over Andrei Arlovski? One of the three mentioned fights could all have merit.

    Peak Performance: You be the judge

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

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    It is hard to tell what is left in the gas tank (or knees) of Shogun Rua. Another PRIDE legend, Rua was once considered the best light heavyweight in the sport (back in 2005 when Liddell was knocking people out in the UFC).

    The injury plagued Rua lost in his Octagon debut to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. He would rebound and go on to win fights over Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell, setting up his title shot against Lyoto Machida at UFC 104. While Machida was awarded the decision, more fans thought Shogun won, including Dana White, and he got the immediate rematch, where he blasted Machida in the first round.

    Shogun looked to be back at the top of his game and was once again the best 205-pound fighter in MMA. But his reign was short lived, as he ran into the phenom known as Jon Jones. So what is left in Shogun remains to be determined, but it seems unlikely his peak performance is set.

    Peak Performance: His six rounds with Lyoto Machida, although some would argue strongly it was back in 2005 when he beat Antônio Rogério Nogueira (one of the best competitive fights of all time), Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to win the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix Finale.

B.J. Penn

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    Considered the greatest lightweight fighter of all time, B.J. Penn was forced to move up in weight after being replaced by the younger, hungrier, faster possibly more complete MMA fighter in Frankie Edgar.

    Penn still seems to have a decent amount of gas left in the tank if his spirit wants to keep fighting. He was able to record a draw against Jon Fitch, the third best welterweight of all time.

    But Penn is also in no man's land. He is a very good fighter, but can't get past the best at lightweight or welterweight. But he can continue to add to his legacy, and the fact that it is impossible to submit or knock him out gives him a long shelf life akin to Tito Ortiz.

    B.J. Penn has had several ebbs and flows to his career, and you could argue for several peak moments. At current, it appears his two fight stretch against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez was his peak. His win over Matt Hughes and his "loss" to Lyoto Machida were both pretty special peak performances. Looking at his career, it is easy to see why the "prodigy" has been beloved, then beguiled, only to be beloved again.

    Peak Performance: Penn likely peaked both mentally and physically when he ran roughshod over Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez at UFC 101 and 107 respectively. Can Penn summon it all again once last time and make some sort of run at 170 pounds?

Rich Franklin

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    Once upon a time, Rich Franklin was a middleweight champion. And even after Anderson Silva eviscerated him not once but twice, Franklin was still the second best fighter at 185 pounds.

    But this "company man" moved up to light heavyweight, then down to an open weight of 195 pounds, and then back up to 205 to help the UFC make interesting fights. He was a pivot piece, fighting some of the biggest names in Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Chuck Liddell and finally, Forrest Griffin.

    "Ace" went 2-3 in that stretch and now finds himself in likely the final stretch of his storied and likely UFC Hall of Fame career. While he may have continued to improve since his second loss to Silva, his peak performance may have come against Yushin Okami at UFC 72, a win that set up the rematch with Silva.

    You could also say his peak performances were his back to back title defenses over Nate Quarry and David Loiseau.

    His loss to Forrest Griffin, though, showed that he just can't compete with the bigger bodies, and at 205, there is simply no going back to the middleweight division, which is still owned by Silva.

    Peak Performance: Gutting out a 29-28 decision win over Okami, who now has the honor of trying to dethrone Silva at UFC 134.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

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    Another former PRIDE star on the list, "Rampage" has left a bigger mark on the UFC than any of the others before him. Storming into the Octagon at UFC 67, Jackson tattooed Liddell with a right that not only took away the "Iceman's" belt, but was also the beginning of the end in his storied career.

    Putting Rampage on this list is probably a bit premature considering he is schedule to take on Jon Jones in a light heavyweight title fight at UFC 135 later this year. It just seems that ever since "Rampage" lost his belt to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86, he hasn't been the same.

    Although, perhaps his peak performance did come after that fight when he blasted Wanderlei Silva at UFC 92. If Jackson can muster enough "Rampage" to upend the young champion in Jones, then he will have rewritten the book on his career, but if he is taken out like most anticipate, then it will be safe to say his best days are behind him. 

    Peak Performance: Rampage was able to summon all of his rage to exact revenge on the man that made a mockery of him in PRIDE and knock Wanderlei silly at UFC 92. For those that dispute that, you could go with his win over Chuck Liddell. Does he have another peak performance in him?

Frank Mir

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    We likely never got to see the peak of Frank Mir due to his motorcycle accident. Whether you love Mir or loathe him, what he pulled through to get a second career going in this sport is nothing short of inspiring.

    He broke the arm of Tim Sylvia while applying an armbar to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship only to be stripped of title when he was unable to defend it (due to accident).

    A year and a half later, Mir was back in the Octagon. He suffered a T(KO) loss to unheralded  Márcio Cruz and went 1-2 in his first three fights back. But he got his mojo back and went on a three fight win streak, picking up wins (both finishes) over Brock Lesnar and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira.

    Since then, Mir has gone 3-2 with much malign during that time. He was bloodied and beaten by Lesnar in their rematch and became the first man to knock out Cheick Kongo inside the Octagon, only to get brutalized by Shane Carwin. Since then, he has picked up a tepid KO win over Cro Cop and an impressive shake down over Roy Nelson.

    While most pundits wouldn’t give Mir a chance at beating either Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos, it is hard to bet against the tenacity of Frank Mir.

    Peak Performance: The back to back wins over Lesnar and Big Nog would have to be it, unless Mir can somehow muster one more title shot and win it all once again.

Tito Ortiz

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    There is life in that old dog yet. While it is has been years since Tito had fought at his peak performance, perhaps the win over Ryan Bader is peak performance 2.0.

    Tito hadn't won a fight since 2006. And that was to a washed up Ken Shamrock. But to his credit, he was at least somewhat competitive/wasn't completely over matched in fights with Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin and Matt Hamill (OK, so he probably should found a way to beat Hamill.).

    If it weren't for having a point deducted for grabbing the fence, he would have beat Evans. He kind of nearly submitted Machida in the final minute of their fight (at least enough to make it interesting). And enough fans thought Ortiz actually beat Forrest in their rematch.

    And at UFC 132, Ortiz looked like a new man, recording his first submission win since 2000 (UFC 29).

    So what is left to Tito? The great think him is that he is hard to finish...unless you're Chuck Liddell. So while Tito may not pick up that many more wins inside the Octagon, at least he can stay competitive.

    Peak Performance: Tito won the UFC gold back at UFC 25 when he beat Wanderlei Silva in a unanimous decision, and he went on to defend his belt five consecutive times before losing to Randy Couture at UFC 44. His wins were over now questionable competition, so let's just say this stretch was his peak...unless you want to count his two wins over Ken Shamrock at prior to losing to Liddell at UFC 66. 

Matt Hughes

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    There is not much more you can say about the storied career of Matt Hughes...and really, who wants to sit here and read through an account of his 53 fights?

    Everyone, including Matt Hughes, knows that he is in the twilight of his illustrious UFC run, so it's just time to sit back and enjoy what is left of the hall of famer.

    The roughest patch of his career was losing three out of four, where he was TKOd by GSP, then submitted by GSP and finally TKOd by Thiago Alves. He went on to win three straight after that, only to get blasted by B.J. Penn in 21 seconds at UFC 123.

    Despite the late abuse he has taken in his career, no one suspects him of breaking down quite like Liddell or Wanderlei. Hughes will step into the Octagon at UFC 135 when he takes on Diego Sanchez and will look to add one more win to his current UFC record of eighteen.

    Peak Performance: Perhaps defending his belt against B.J. Penn at UFC 63 or recapturing the belt that Penn took from him when he submitted GSP at UFC 50. Or maybe it was manhandling Royce Gracie at UFC 60. You decide.

Others Names...and Parting Remarks

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    There are many fighters still competing past their prime, as most have decided not to bow out as gracefully as Randy Couture.

    Ken Shamrock somehow still gets sanctioned to fight, and it looks like he will be going toe to toe agaisnt James Toney. Pre-Zuffa UFC fighter Dan Severn is still picking up wins in regional organizations...and takes the occasional beat down in the process. Former UFC heavyweight champ Ricco Rodriguez has racked up an impressive 11 straight wins and looks to fight Kimbo Killer Seth Petruzelli at Bellator 48.

    Beyond that, you could argue that Vitor Belfort has peaked, although good luck picking out the peak performance in his tumultuous up and down career. Perhaps Forrest Griffin peaked agaisnt Rampage Jackson in their UFC 86 title fight, although with a win over Shogun Rua at UFC 134, and he is back in the mix.

    The thing about a peak performance in that you never know when it is coming. A fighter's career can often resemble more of the up and down sine wave before dropping off vs. a classic inverted parabola. While the laws of physics eventually run everyone into the ground, math alone does not dictate the fate of the fighter.

    And while we can all sit back and say Wanderlei Silva should retire, or he should get one more fight, only the heart that beats inside the tortured soul can fully whisper to the fighter in all of us when to lay down our axe.