Friday, May 18, 2012

Champion vs. Champion, the greatest ever? Part II

In the second part and conclusion of taking a look at the greatest champion in each weight class across the history of mixed martial arts, I will cover the middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight classes. I’ll then try to determine who was the greatest titleholder in MMA history; but that argument may be a bit too much to uphold, even in choosing one out of five. 

Middleweight (185 lbs.) - Anderson Silva (31-4, 18 KO's 6 subs)
While this list is purely my opinion, I don't think I'll come across anyone who will debate this choice. Anderson Silva, the current UFC middleweight champion is being discussed as possibly being the greatest fighter in MMA history thus far. A spectacular combination of skill, grace and speed, 'The Spider' is equally adept either standing, where he has vastly superior boxing skills; or on the ground where he is a legit Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the Nogueira brothers. Considering how great he is and has been for so long, it's difficult to imagine that he's actually lost.

However, he has lost, though his last technical defeat was six and a half years ago when he was disqualified for an illegal kick against Yushin Okami. His demolition of a much better Okami last summer pretty much ended any speculation as to how that first fight would have ended. Since that last loss, he's won 15 fights in a row, 14 of which have been in the UFC; 13 of those have been title defenses.

Silva's greatness has even happened at light-heavyweight where he's moved up on a couple of occasions and just destroyed his competition. With a respectful mention of Frank Shamrock, who was the first ever UFC middleweight champion and who, along with Maurice Smith, I consider to be the true originator of what we now know as MMA; Shamrock won the title, defended it three times and later went on to become the first Strikeforce middleweight champion as well. However, as great as he was, there is no comparison here; Silva is the man. 'Nuff said!

Light-Heavyweight (205 lbs.) - Chuck Liddell (21-8, 13 KO's 1 sub)

This was the first weight class I got to where I really had difficulty determining who was the greatest. Why? The answer is simple, Wanderlei Silva. New fans to the sport may not realize this, but there was a time before they finally met in the UFC, when Liddell vs. Silva could have been the equivalent of Ali-Frazier; no I did not misprint here. For about five years in the previous decade those two were the names of the sport, who happen to be in the same weight class, but in different organizations; Liddell was the UFC champ, while Silva was the Pride titleholder.

So, how did I ignore Silva's great run in Japan and end up going with Liddell? Two factors; one was the level of competition. While Silva did fight some all-time greats such as Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson (twice) and Kazushi Sakuraba (three times); Sakuraba was clearly smaller than he was and he feasted on many Japanese fighters that just weren't on the same level as the guys Liddell had to contend with. Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Vitor Belfort are three current and future hall of famers that 'The Iceman' went (6-1) against and that is just part of the list.

The second and most telling reason I went with Liddell is the fact that they did finally go head to head against each other at UFC 79 in December 2007. The fight as can be expected was an all-time classic; however it was Liddell, not Silva who came out the unanimous decision winner. No one loves Wanderlei Silva more than I do, but looking at the above, plus the fact it was Liddell, who helped springboard the sport to mainstream status in the latter part of the decade, I have to put my heart aside and call it as I see it.

Heavyweight - Fedor Emelianenko (33-4, 9 KO's 16 subs)

Those that want to dispute this choice based on Emelianenko's last couple of years, save it. Take away the last two years and we're not talking about the greatest heavyweight champion, but the greatest overall fighter in MMA. Three of Fedor's four losses took place in the last two years and the only one before that was a disputed doctor stoppage nearly 12 years ago.

To put 'The Last Emperor's' career into perspective, his 10 year/27 win run without a loss makes Anderson Silva's streak pale in comparison. To top that off, he did the brunt of that in Pride when that organization's heavyweight roster was clearly superior to the UFC's at the time. Mirko Cro-Cop, Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (three times) all in their prime; Fedor defeated them all.

By comparison, the great Randy Couture was fighting a weaker heavyweight roster while fluctuating between heavyweight and light-heavyweight throughout his career. If you want to argue that Couture did it while being an undersized heavyweight, I'll respond by saying that at 6' 233 lbs., Emelianenko isn't necessarily looking down at anyone; and that is a kind estimate in height.

It's hard to imagine that I could comprise this list and not find Randy Couture's name. However, losing two out of three to Liddell @ 205 lbs. and comparing his career side by side to Fedor's with double digit losses on his record, it's easy to see why. As for whom is the greatest champion of all-time? It came down to Silva and Emelianenko; but considering Fedor's record the last couple of years, while Anderson (pictured above) appears to aging like a fine wine, the decision was evident.

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