Long gone are the days of surviving on pure heart and determination. Well, that is not quite correct; there will always be a place for fighters who throw their own well-being into the fray and get into a slugfest for bragging rights. Those gunslingers will never be anywhere near the top 10, though, at least not anymore.
The MMA game has changed so much that now, to be at the top of the division, one has to be a natural athlete. Hard work will only get a fighter so far, until he or she meets a younger fighter who has been training since he or she was 11 years old. This is only getting truer because of Chris Leben’s retirement. I think Leben was the last of the old guard, a man who worked and worked until he was at the top. He was not necessarily the fastest, or the strongest, but he had the most heart and that could carry him pretty far. Like I said above, though, those days are long gone.
Leben’s retirement has got me thinking, who else is about to bow out? Who else is going to realize that the newer, younger guys are just too much? It happened to Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin and Kenny Florian. All of these guys realized that this sport is not kind to older men, especially ones who have taken some shots in their days. I can only fight back the feeling that Diego Sanchez is one horrible knockout away from being asked to retire. After all, one man can only take so much punishment, and the fact that his forehead splits wide open in every fight is not making a strong case for him to keep getting in wars.
It has become evident that the first generation of true mixed marital artists’ is now leaving the sport one by one. It is kind of sad actually, seeing our favorites quietly file to the back while trying to fight one more time, believing that they can make one more spectacular knockout. As sad as it may be, we are moving on to greener pastures.
There are now Olympians, former boxers and football players, as well as other major sports athletes crossing over into mixed martial arts to compete. The fights are going to get more technical, more aggressive and more intelligent. Prepare to see things that we never knew were possible or thought would work. The old are filing out to make room for a new generation, and while we have to thank the old guard for what they did, there is nothing good in looking back.