Recapping the summer's top MMA stories -- in and out of the ring

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Phew. If you haven't already, you may want to take a moment and catch your breath. In June I wrote the "summer of 2008 could go down as a tremendously important stretch for the sport" -- it sure didn't disappoint.

Despite more than enough big fights to make fans lighter in the wallet than your average investment banker, in-ring news paled in comparison to events that weren't on the calendar.

Consider the past three months. Now, what stories jump out as meaningful?

Rampage and monster trucks. Couture and monster heavyweights. The monster of all heavyweights asserting himself in the U.S. On and on, in every corner of the MMA world, June 21 through Sept. 21 was unabashedly wild. As we transition into what could be an equally intriguing autumn, here are five news items we might discuss for years to come:

It took the demolition of a recent UFC champion for most holdouts to finally accept what longtime followers of MMA already knew: Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight the sport has ever seen.

Based on how many times media brought up Fedor during a recent UFC teleconference to announce Randy Couture's return against Brock Lesnar, the Russian's presence has been duly noted. How long that lasts will depend on the fights Emelianenko agrees to take in the next year, particularly on American soil. More performances like the one he put on Tim Sylvia in July should only enhance his lofty reputation -- a welcome thing for promoters that have hitched their wagon to the soon-to-be 32-year-old "Emperor."

The most upsetting news of the summer came in early September when former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner passed away from heat exhaustion in the California desert. His death while on a solo camping trip shocked and transcended the sport.

Perhaps the most indelible thing to emerge from the loss of a man who lived by the creed "Power of One" will be his words. As introspective and insightful as Tanner was while writing about his adventures and thoughts on life, it took his demise for a great many people to read him for the first time. I get the sense Tanner will be remembered for a long time to come for much more than his success as a fighter.

Perhaps it didn't feel like the biggest story of the summer, but it could be the most important when we look back in 2018. Who knows where the sport will be then, but the importance of the partnership between boxing juggernaut Golden Boy Promotions and upstart MMA company Affliction might be one of those things we only fully grasp in time.

Of course, it could flop. But at the very least the partnership, which commences in 2009 with one mixed-event pay-per-view per quarter, will elevate MMA alongside boxing in the sporting world. While some MMA purists might not agree, boxing is still regarded as the quintessential combat sport in America.

In deciding to promote MMA next to boxing, Golden Boy acknowledged the growing sport has taken its rightful place -- and they also made it clear there's a market for the sport that they feel they can tap into.

With its younger audience, MMA too can provide a benefit to the Sweet Science. What it all means won't be known for several years, but I think it's the start of something more significant than simply boxing/MMA cards.

In 2007 the resignation of Couture from the UFC was the biggest story in MMA. Less than a year after the company's heavyweight champion excoriated UFC officials, Couture made amends to the tune of a new three-fight deal and a piece of what is being billed as the "biggest" bout in UFC history.

Not only was the return of Couture to the UFC an amazing turn considering the vitriolic nature of the public wrangling on both sides, it sent a strong signal that the UFC remains far and away the most powerful promotional company in MMA. Had Couture managed to free himself and fight Fedor in, say, Affliction -- which is the route he seemed so intent on traveling -- there might have been a ripple effect. Instead, Couture meets Lesnar in November in a bout that should do tremendously well on TV.

Over time it might drop into the recess of history, but right here, right now, the top story to emerge from the past three months has to be the saga of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

With major money endorsements staring him in the face, Jackson walked into his UFC light heavyweight title defense on July 5 in the best position of his career. Defending his belt as a clear favorite over Forrest Griffin, Jackson gave up the title on points. Worse things have happened over the years, of course. It was a close bout, with many, myself among the group, calling it a draw.

Jackson's fall was just starting.

Ten days later, "Rampage" made for the most notorious news item in the sport's history when he rolled through the OC in a monster truck with his image emblazoned on both sides. Photos of his arrest popped up on TMZ. Stories of his fragile mental status were made public. Rampage, quite succinctly, was a mess.

With Jackson facing felony charges the story is hardly done. He's also rumored to be fighting Wanderlei Silva in November, which should only serve to drag the circumstances of this troubling affair back into the public eye.