How foolish is it to try and project even just six months into the future of the UFC? Well…it’s asinine foolish, if we’re keeping everything a hunnit. Like, preposterously, other-level ridiculous.
It’s easier to forecast earthquakes, you see.
Heading into the year plenty of the game’s most dominant icons were still intact. Anderson Silva, considered the greatest of all time, was coming back against Nick Diaz, yet another testament to his total sublimity. Jon Jones, considered the greatest of now, was still untouchable heading into his fight with Daniel Cormier. Anthony Pettis was (and still is) on the Wheaties box, for god’s sake. And Cain Velasquez was still considered by many — particularly UFCphiles who never acquired a taste for beet borscht — the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Oh yes, Velasquez. At UFC 188, Fabricio Werdum snagged another figure from the pantheon of greats, sapped him of will and aura, and smuggled his invincibility out of Mexico. Didn’t see that coming? Get used to it.
Six months into 2015 you can’t help but realize (yet again) just how unpredictable the UFC is. Champions are booked to get beat. Champions beat themselves. Champions are nothing more than really strong ephemera.
Velasquez got beat by perhaps the game’s master dupe in Werdum, who somehow always convinces everyone (including Vegas oddsmakers) that he has zero chance of beating the monstrosity in front of him. How long is Werdum’s reach? Those go-to-hell jabs he was crashing into Velasquez’s wobbling head were also aimed at our misconceptions.
What a mess.
Other than Ronda Rousey and Demetrious Johnson (and maybe Chris Weidman), the only constant right now is Jose Aldo, and it doesn’t take a diehard MMA fan to realize he’s the one pillar that the UFC wouldn’t mind painting Irish green. Conor McGregor fights him on July 11, and you best believe he’ll be sharing some Midleton Very Rare with the avuncular types at Zuffa headquarters should he take that belt. If McGregor can share Lorenzo Fertitta’s tailor, he can damn well share a glass of celebratory whisky.
Point is, champions aren’t meant to last in the UFC. Not anymore. Not since Georges St-Pierre, the game’s true opus, rode off into the sunset with a face battered to match its orange and purple majesty. Since then everything has been fog-based. If it’s not a challenger that gets them, it’s life. If that gauntlet is gotten through, it’s Hollywood. Or injuries. Just ask Dominick Cruz, who hasn’t lost anything since 2007 except his belt.
Werdum is the latest to rise out of some forgotten place to the greatest elevation in the sport. There was a time when Werdum was pleading with Alistair Overeem to come to the ground with him in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. He didn’t trust his hands. That memory, along with him getting crushed by a Junior dos Santos left at UFC 90, endured enough for him to sneak into the pound-for-pound conversation.
People refused to see him coming. Now he’s here.
Werdum joins the list of Improbable Stories, along with middleweight champion Robbie Lawler who was losing to Lorenz Larkin not all that long ago, and T.J. Dillashaw, who somehow defeated the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the sport (for that week), Renan Barao. There’s no rhyme or reason, there are only fate-dealing fists from the blue corner that keep changing the narrative.
The good news is that all this flux means other narratives change, too. For instance, Brazilian champions are no longer on the endangered species list. For a brief moment there it was Aldo fighting not just to retain his featherweight belt, but for the pride of Brazil. Dos Anjos and Werdum have reestablished Brazil as a force. Bethe Correia will get a shot at Rousey in August, and Barao will get another shot at Dillashaw.
But I’ll tell what’s on the endangered list midway through this year — the concept of the “superfight.” The most burning superfight that could have been arranged heading into this year would have been a fight between Jones and Velasquez, and that after Jones and Silva of years past, and that after Silva and GSP back when Dallas Cowboys Stadium came up during every press conference.
These days, who knows. In six more months, it’s possible the world will appear right side up. For now, we live in a time where Rafael Dos Anjos, Fabricio Werdum, T.J. Dillashaw, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Daniel Cormier and Robbie Lawler are all champions. What an unlikely list of names.
And by the end of 2015, here’s what we can safely say — those names are subject to change.