Over the years we have seen many great fighters rise and fall in MMA, some with half decent reigns as the top dog, and some with not as much success. There is a difference between MMA fighters or champions and legends of the sport, for instance when you think of the greatest of all time, do you think more about Matt Serra or GSP? There in my point lies. It takes more than just being the champion, even in the biggest MMA promotions on the planet, to be considered a legend of the sport.
No offense to Matt Serra by the way, that comment was meant to clarify the difference between a great fighter and a GOAT fighter. Guys like Forrest Griffin (former UFC 205lb. champ) also make the grade for the comparison. Forrest was a great fighter, very entertaining-will he go down as one of the greatest of all time? It's unlikely, his induction in to the UFC hall of fame left a few people scratching their heads (though I think it was more about how he helped launch the modern UFC brand).
So what is it that makes a champion into a legend? Well it's a number of things. The first thing that usually gets considered is accomplishments, records, championships or titles held. Let's take Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jones for example, as they always seem to pop up in GOAT conversations.
Big time championships are (or have been) held by these four legends. Fedor Emelianenko was the Pride FC champion back when Pride FC was the premier organization. Silva, GSP and Jones all hold the 185lb.,170lb., and 205lb. titles, respectively, in the UFC. This seems to be a common factor, but not a neccessity, as is the case for guys like Kazushi Sakuraba who never won a major title-but is still regarded by many (myself included) as a legend.
We've established that major titles are a factor, so what else? I think style has a lot to do with it, finishing of fights is included in that category. Fans don't want to see someone get held in the clinch for 15 minutes, trying to maintain your status as champion by desperately grinding out wins isn't a fan friendly style. Fans like excitement, and guys like Fedor and Silva provide it. One of my favorite Fedor fightas was his bout with Fujita in Pride. After almost being KO'd himself, Fedor rocked 'Iron Head' with punched and kicks and finished him with a choke.
Anderson Silva likes to take the mind bending approach to fighting, his speed and accuracy are out of this world. The way he knocks fighters out is appealing to fans of MMA, regardless of the other factors considered when talking about legends.
So you need to be the best, you need a fan friendly style......Or do you? Take a look at Randy Couture's career, he is widely considered an MMA legend, but he had a Greco Roman wrestling background. He didn't look to knock fighters out with big hooks or kicks, he liked to grind you out and wear you down. So where did Randy's legendary status stem from? Well, the answer is that he had part one of the equation, UFC LHW/HW title, but he also had the adversity box ticked.
'The Natural' was thrown in at the deep end in most of the fights he had, ok apart from James Toney. Couture faced the biggest, baddest men on the planet and he never ducked a fight. Add in the fact that Randy was thwrown in against some of the best strikers in MMA, he won the UFC Heavyweight title at the age of 43 for the third time, he was a two time LHW champion and the oldest fighter to win a UFC fight/title in the history of the promotion.
Randy also competed during a time when Heavyweights were REALLY Heavyweight's. Randy is 6ft1 and walked around at 220lbs. meaning most of his opponents had size, reach and weight on their side. Randy always seemed to find a way when he really needed to.
People relate to a struggle, but another big argument for legendary or GOAT status is dominance. Anderson Silva's 16 fight win streak in the UFC is often brought up in arguments about who is the best fighter. Fedor's ten years of dominance, GSP's lockdown of the Welterweight division, or Jones' meteoric rise to the top at 205. I also think that charisma has a big part to play in the debate. As I mentioned before, Saku never won a title, he was never really very dominant for long periods of time. He had his fair share of adversity, but he also had a boat load of character.
Sakuraba was respectful, but at the same time he was a crowd pleaser. He had some crazy moves, but he would always show respect and honor-win or lose. I'm coming to the conclusion that we can't measure these legends against each other because they all have unique qualities. Although they mostly fall within the same categories: Dominance, style/ability, achievements, character and the power to overcome.
Obviously there are countless other MMA legends such as BJ Penn, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Fujita, Big Nog, Cro Cop and many more. Why not let me know who your MMA legends are and the reasons why?
The fact is that we, as MMA fans, are lucky enough to be part of the birth and growth of an absolutely awesome sport. Who knows what the future holds for the sport? I'm pretty sure that in 10 years time we will have a whole new group of MMA legends to add to the mix.
Video courtesy of Cagepotato's youtube channel: