It wasn't so long ago, you'll remember, that everyone outside of a certain Russian heavyweight grasped championship belts like they'd just been plucked out of the Pacific.
Yes, there's always the option of complaining about lopsided beatings; these men aren't above criticism, and neither are their challengers. But it's certainly worth marveling at just how far elite mixed martial artists have evolved in the application of their skills. Not only is it less cynical, but it pays proper respect to champions who finally have the gumption to dominate.
Apropos to the abilities of Silva and Penn, who defend their respective belts Saturday in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., UFC 112 was dubbed "Invincible" by its promoters. There's always the suggestion that after selling a 10 percent stake to Flash Entertainment, a U.A.E. subsidiary, executives in UFC's parent company are swimming in cash and feeling good about themselves. But for our purposes, let's pretend Silva (25-4) and Penn (15-5-1) inspired the title on the poster.
That's probably how
"For me, it's an honor," said Edgar, a very good lightweight saddled with very long odds. "It's really forced me to bring out the best in my training. It's helped me a lot because I had to prepare for someone of B.J.'s stature."
If he intends to be more than a name on a growing list, Edgar, 28, will be required to do something special. Even then, who's to say it will be enough? Yes, the gritty wrestler from Toms River, N.J., has displayed the attitude, work ethic and resolve to deserve an opportunity at Penn's belt. He resides in a class of similar lightweights --
"They all have a good shot of fighting for the title one day," Penn said. "I don't want to look past those guys. I don't want to make believe they don't exist."
Leave that to fans, media and bookies.
Edgar's shot is now, and, not that this is some revelation, great upsets can't happen without plucky challengers. He's an excellent wrestler. Penn, 31, may be better. With speed and accuracy, Edgar (11-1) can box. Over the past three years, the sweet science has emerged as one of Penn's great strengths. On the floor, it's not much of a contest -- Penn is one of the finest Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists in the sport.
The same could be said for Maia, though some believe he has better prospects of uprooting Silva than Edgar does Penn. Maia, in point of fact, was not too long ago the best in the world at grappling with submissions. Silva's no slouch there either -- how many times have
"Grappling is my style," said Maia, who scored the fight after
Pray is more like it, because the 32-year-old Brazilian challenger can forget about it on the feet.
During an unprecedented run of 10 consecutive wins inside the UFC, the lanky champion has Picasso'd opponents, and Maia (12-1) is two fights removed from being swatted out of mid-air by
So few people consider Edgar or Maia legitimate threats to the belt that the predominant story heading into UFC 112, which airs live in the U.S. at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT and replays at 10 p.m. ET, centers on Zuffa's first outdoor promotion on exotic Yas Island in an arena that was erected over the past three weeks.
A testament to Silva and Penn? An insult to Edgar or Maia?
We don't know, but we think we do.
Saturday's event, and it most certainly is that, may be the closest Zuffa comes to emulating the Pride-style production that prompted so many fans to fall in love with the Japanese promotion. If so,
Making his UFC debut more than 18 years after fighting for the first time as a professional, Gracie's presence in the Octagon against former welterweight No. 1
If this were a popularity contest, Gracie's chances of winning would hover near Saturday's champions'. But it's not. Hughes, no stranger to finding the downside of his career, has plodded along since 2006, losing twice to St. Pierre and once to a young, hungry