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The Changing of the Guard

Some were happy, some were sad, and most were in shock. Chuck Liddell was knocked unconscious by one punch, thrown by a reality TV show winner. If you had said that one, two, or even three years ago, any MMA fan in the world would have disagreed or possibly ridiculed you incessantly. Now, on September 6th of 2008 it is a reality. Rashad Evans knocked out Liddell at UFC 88. And it is a reality that more than a few people will have a hard time swallowing.

We as a whole do not like change. You can argue it’s a human characteristic. You can argue it’s biological, that humans draw comfort from familiarity and fear the unknown. I do not profess to be a psychology major. But one thing I can attest to, I have always hated change. And I feel like UFC 88 was a tidal wave of change.

Zuffa purchased the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2000. In 2001 they started to get the sport regulated. Since that time, the first crop of up-and-coming fighters had ascended to the top of the heap in the sport. The names are now synonymous with the UFC. Hughes. Franklin. Liddell. Sure, as a hardcore fan there are many more names that you associate with that time in the sport, arguable more talented and better names. But to the casual fan, the fan-base that truly pays the bills around this sport, those names define MMA. And now they define an era of MMA.

They will forever be tied to that epoch of MMA. In my opinion they are the symbol of a golden age of the UFC, if not the sport as a whole in the United States. They were the flag bearers of American wrestling to the sport, responsible for wrestling converting from little known sport to legitimate building block of martial arts. Some used their wrestling to dominate their opponents on the ground, some used their wrestling to allow them to dominate their opponents on the feet. All became champions as a result.

All were the best in their respective divisions at what they did and how they did it. The first rock stars of the sport, They were trailblazers as well as role models to some of today’s current stars. They set the examples with their charisma and approachability, paving the way for the current explosion of the sport.

Is their decline caused by age or an unwillingness to continue evolving with an ever-changing sport? The popular answer is a little of both. Stopping the deterioration of age is a puzzle that we may never solve, and it is a combat sport fighter’s greatest enemy. And observing the decline of our elected MMA icons can be bitter sweet.

Some fans will always look forward, ever changing their focus from older staple to burgeoning contender without missing a beat. Some fans will let their memories linger on what once was and how it will never be the same again. Categorize myself in the latter grouping, even though I know deep down that all good things come to an end.

I don’t think my trepidation is centered around fear of the unknown. I know I will grow to enjoy and appreciate the next class of champions. At the end of the day, I am a fan of the sport, not of any one fighter. But I think my love of the sport and the fantastic moments and memories that seduced me are attached to those faces. Will the new guard supply us with great moments? Absolutely. They have already started. But the fact that most of my moments include those fighters, and may no longer do so, is a sad revelation for me. Memories will carry me through, and moments created by the new guard will make me eventually forget my sadness and move forward to make great new memories. But I will always appreciate and never forget the moments and the feelings that these great fighters have supplied and provided me.

Are these fighters finished or retired? By no means. But I cannot escape the feeling that things will never be the same, and that is sad to me, if only for a moment.