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The Changing of the Guard

Some were happy, some were sad, and most were in shock. Chuck Liddell was knocked unconscious by one punch, thrown by a reality TV show winner. If you had said that one, two, or even three years ago, any MMA fan in the world would have disagreed or possibly ridiculed you incessantly. Now, on September 6th of 2008 it is a reality. Rashad Evans knocked out Liddell at UFC 88. And it is a reality that more than a few people will have a hard time swallowing.

We as a whole do not like change. You can argue it’s a human characteristic. You can argue it’s biological, that humans draw comfort from familiarity and fear the unknown. I do not profess to be a psychology major. But one thing I can attest to, I have always hated change. And I feel like UFC 88 was a tidal wave of change.

Zuffa purchased the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2000. In 2001 they started to get the sport regulated. Since that time, the first crop of up-and-coming fighters had ascended to the top of the heap in the sport. The names are now synonymous with the UFC. Hughes. Franklin. Liddell. Sure, as a hardcore fan there are many more names that you associate with that time in the sport, arguable more talented and better names. But to the casual fan, the fan-base that truly pays the bills around this sport, those names define MMA. And now they define an era of MMA.

They will forever be tied to that epoch of MMA. In my opinion they are the symbol of a golden age of the UFC, if not the sport as a whole in the United States. They were the flag bearers of American wrestling to the sport, responsible for wrestling converting from little known sport to legitimate building block of martial arts. Some used their wrestling to dominate their opponents on the ground, some used their wrestling to allow them to dominate their opponents on the feet. All became champions as a result.

All were the best in their respective divisions at what they did and how they did it. The first rock stars of the sport, They were trailblazers as well as role models to some of today’s current stars. They set the examples with their charisma and approachability, paving the way for the current explosion of the sport.

Is their decline caused by age or an unwillingness to continue evolving with an ever-changing sport? The popular answer is a little of both. Stopping the deterioration of age is a puzzle that we may never solve, and it is a combat sport fighter’s greatest enemy. And observing the decline of our elected MMA icons can be bitter sweet.

Some fans will always look forward, ever changing their focus from older staple to burgeoning contender without missing a beat. Some fans will let their memories linger on what once was and how it will never be the same again. Categorize myself in the latter grouping, even though I know deep down that all good things come to an end.

I don’t think my trepidation is centered around fear of the unknown. I know I will grow to enjoy and appreciate the next class of champions. At the end of the day, I am a fan of the sport, not of any one fighter. But I think my love of the sport and the fantastic moments and memories that seduced me are attached to those faces. Will the new guard supply us with great moments? Absolutely. They have already started. But the fact that most of my moments include those fighters, and may no longer do so, is a sad revelation for me. Memories will carry me through, and moments created by the new guard will make me eventually forget my sadness and move forward to make great new memories. But I will always appreciate and never forget the moments and the feelings that these great fighters have supplied and provided me.

Are these fighters finished or retired? By no means. But I cannot escape the feeling that things will never be the same, and that is sad to me, if only for a moment.

  • admaxman says:

    Thanx for everything Chuck, You’ll always be the champ in my book.

  • shine_box says:

    Couldn’t agree more. These three really defined an era in the sport.

    Somehow Pierre, Griffin, Silva just doesn’t have the same ring.

  • GoofyMonkey says:

    Good article… Could have done without the naked picture of Chuck, but still a good read.

  • fight_girl234 says:

    Great article, well written. I agree with you that new memories in the sport will continue and we can only be excited for what new surprises these fighters (old and new) will have for us.

  • First-National-Dank says:

    Can you one of you guys write an MMA closer for Deadspin? They have no one to do it and they never give MMA the respect it deserves.

  • rich says:

    I could not agree more. People hate change whether you are at work or in your daily lives. People get comfortable and do not want to change, but in this day and age of MMA you will have to keep evolving as a fighter to stay in the mix. I hate bring it up, but it is a good example and I am only doing it for the purposes of change. In the election we have two candidates one who will keep the country going in the same direction (McCain) and one who wants to change the direction of the country. We have the worst president in U.S. history leading right now and a largest national debt that young people will be paying for years, but people still do not want to change. Even after everything Bush has done to the country in 8 yrs McCain is still in a dead heat with Obama. The only thing I can say is people hate change even if they now it is best for everyone to change. That is why some people are shocked and upset with Evans victory over Liddell. All I have to say is Evans was a better fighter on that night.

  • the sheik says:

    if it was anyone other than Rashad, I wouldn’t mind change 😀

  • Crazycanuck says:

    Can’t speak for Griffin because I don’t believe he’s in the same class. But I believe you’re witnessing the development of new rock stars in Pierre, silva and others.

  • champ says:

    SUPER article!!!! i feel exactly the same way. it just seems a little weird that these guys i saw on a reality show,(forrest, rashad) are beating up my heroes. WTF????

  • champ says:

    next you’re gonna tell me that one of vince mcmahon’s actors is gonna beat up randy couture???? i feel like im taking crazy pills !!!!

  • ctownhood says:

    Champ, we won’t tell you that, don’t worry. However, I will tell you that a former NCAA HW wrestling champ will smash Randy Couture….

  • Jay K. says:


    Need a tissue?

    Watching Liddell, you could tell he didn’t have the crisp snap that Evans did. But Evans was wise to fear the man who could drop him with one overhand right bomb.

    Great fight.

  • Davey D says:

    I think in order for Liddell, Hughes and Franklin to stay competitive they need to go up in weight class. This kind of change is better to suit their method’s of training. I think they’ll actually get stronger and perform even better.

    Rich won on Saturday and staying active at 205 could work out very well. Hughes still wants Serra but it would be interesting to see what he could do at 185. Same with Chuck at Heavyweight. He could reinvent himself over the next four year’s. Change is good and for these three. Maybe this kind of move is all the change they need?

  • Zuffa myth alert in the third paragraph. Somebody call Zach Arnold.

  • Jay K. says:

    Apologies Sam, I meant Nick. Why can’t we have an edit feature for every time we fubar the keyboard?

  • Jeremy says:

    Good article, but the addition of Franklin seems odd.

    While he is no longer champion, his performance on Saturday shows he is still quite relevant today.

  • dsid says:

    No offense, but this piece sounds like it was written by someone who just started following the sport with TUF1.

    And those guys brought wrestling to the sport? Ever hear of guys like Mark Coleman, Dan Severn, Don Frye, Kevin Randelman, Mark Kerr, etc., etc.?

    I think you might’ve missed the first 70 or so UFCs…

  • philip hazzard says:

    good article but dont include rich franklin in that silva can beat him agreed but hes pretty much same age franklin is olny 31 and has a lot of good years ahead of him

  • joetheacupuncturist says:

    I have to disagree a bit. I think those guys made their money and didnt have the drive like they used to. Look at BJ and Randy, still have that eye of the tiger and are the top 10 lb for lb. i think what were seeing is heart and determination more than anything

  • James says:

    Thanks for the article. Here’s to hoping Chuck can bounce back to give us at least another 3-4 superfights. Chuck-Rampage 3?

  • Nick Travaglini says:

    dsid- I was fully aware of the ommission of Coleman, frye, kerr, and others in my article, but as I stated in the article I was referring to the weight class champions of the regulated UFC, not the unregulated tournament days. I attached those fighters with the era 2001 and on as figure heads of the sport, and as such were the first successful wrestlers in that timeframe. No disrespect meant to any of those wrestlers that came before.

  • Batman says:

    Chuck is still a great fighter he got caught with right hand punch with dynomite in it. He will be back I am sure of it look at what he did to wanderlei silva. Then look at what wandy did to jardine, also jardine beat chuck, see none of it makes sense. Wandy beat rampage I could go on forever but I guess chuck is not the best anymore and thats all that has happened here.

  • mike says:

    great article, i couldn’t agree more. i love the iceman, but the older fighters, most specifically hughes and chuck, just can’t compete with the new breed of fighters. maybe they are just so set in the ways that made them the champions, that they are just unwilling to change. It’s actually extremely depressing. These are the guys that got me into MMA, and to see them in this light is sad.

    Pierre and Silva are the future, but where does Penn fit in? I wouldn’t say he’s the “new” nor would i put him in the same category as hughes and chuck. Any ideas?

  • warcry says:

    There is such truth in old giving way to the new. We all have our heroes. Chuck wasn’t one of mine but one day Anderson Silva will get his and I will probably be in the dumps. Matt Hughes can keep coming back to get his ass kicked in my opinion. Chuck is cool dude and it was absolutely shocking to see him take a nap in the middle of the Octagon. I can’t tell you how insane it is to be at a live UFC event. Me and friend were watching from nose bleed seats at Philips Arena, just waiting for Chuck to knock Rashad into next week. When all of a sudden we see Chuck falling and we see people rushing to help Chuck. Meanwhile, some 15,000 people are totally losing their minds it was unbelievable. If a UFC event is in your state or town treat yourself and take in the scene.

  • milliniar says:

    I still don’t understand why franklin is including in the Changing of the guard, he has lost 3 times in his career, and 2 of his last 6 fights. those losses being to Silva arguably the best p4p fighter. Liddell is understandable in that of his 6 losses in his career 3 have come from his last 4 fights, 2 to people that some would say he was supposed to have no problem with. Hughes is also questionable though he has mentioned that he is old himself and may not fight much beyond his current contract, and also that he has lost only 6 times in his career 3 from the last 4 fights, 2 of them to GSP another man that people see near the top of the “p4p rankings”

  • Ronnie Liddle says:

    It happened before, it will happen again – hello, tank/shamrock/kimbo/graice. sucks, but everything changes.

  • Ronnie Liddle says:

    spelliing – Kimbo = kimo

  • Mike A says:

    Why the hell is franklin in there… to me hes a relative newcomer compared to Chuck and Hughes, not to mention hes only lost 2 times in the UFC and it was the the same guy… hes faaaar from done??

  • platypus says:

    let him make a point ppls

  • Rich S. says:

    “Why can’t we have an edit feature for every time we fubar the keyboard?”

    i second that, i mess up every time :)

    oh.. great article..

  • Steve says:

    great read, i agree.

  • dsid says:

    You can’t just start the clock at 2001. MMA had seen massive evolution prior to that, thanks in large part to many of the people I mentioned. Heck, you even left out Tito (much as he irritates me) and Randy. How can you say that Chuck or Rich brought wrestling to the sport rather than those guys? It just doesn’t follow.

    Also, I can’t agree with 2001 and beyond reprsenting any kind of “Golden Age” of the sport. Maybe for you, but there are those of us who clearly remember the true golden age of the sport, which were the early tournaments.

    That was the time when everyone learned what real fighting was all about and truly distinct styles came up against one another. Heck, prior to that people actually believed that guys claiming to be a 10th Dan this, or a Red Sash that, or a Ninja other thing, actually new how to fight. The early UFCs changed all that (here’s to truth winning over bs) so I’m not sure how you could call any other period the “Golden Age” of the UFC.

  • John says:

    “Zuffa purchased the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2000. In 2001 they started to get the sport regulated.”

    Wait a minute. Zuffa bought the UFC in 2001, not 2000. And what’s this about Zuffa getting the sport regulated? Surely everyone knows there had been sanctioned and regulated events in New Jersey before Zuffa existed? Pretty surprised to see The Zuffa Myth on an MMA blog.

  • Bocholo says:

    I like Liddell so it did suck to see him get laid out but i can’t stand Hughes or Rich Franklin. Hughes is a penis and i encourage him to continue fighting cause i love to see the dumb look on his face everytime he is getting up from either being submitted or getting TKO’ed. Keep fighting Hughes cause most of us love to see you get your ass beat! As for Rich Franklin well i honestly dont’ think he is that good. Big hype around him cause he beat Ken Shamrock…..who cares!!! Who can’t beat that old fart. If Tito Ortiz can beat on your with ease then you have no business in the MMA fight game anymore. Besides Yushin Okami who else did he beat that is TOP LEVEL!!!??? Travis Lutter, Jason McDonald, David Loiseau and Nate Quary are NOT TOP LEVEL GUYS!!! That division was WEAK and he was the best in it at that time and now he is a TOP fighter!!!??? Are you kidding me Come on…..I garentee you that if Nate Marquart fights Rich Franklin, Nate would destroy Rich. Rich Franklin should not be in the article cause he is just not a top level fighter. Perhaps in a weak division at the time but his career will now consist of random and pointless fights cause he can’t beat Silva and he won’t beat anyone better then Hamil. Sorry Franklin you hit a dead end

  • Sergio Hernandez says:

    IIRC, UFC 28 was the first event to be sanctioned by the NJASC.

    Zuffa, of course, took over with UFC 30.

  • bigSteve says:

    although never a huge liddell fan i was shocked and embarassed that he got caught with that punch. hats of to evans but i still say 9 out of 10 times liddell beats his ass. good read.

  • Imbecile says:

    Very nice article Nick, and it sums up the feelings a lot of us have about these former champions in the last couple of years as the sport changes.

    Those three men, along with Couture and Ortiz, helped define an era, and while still relevant, will probably never be the icons they once were.

    Pay no attention to that guy “dsid” who posted above. He clearly missed your point in an effort to prove his own authenticity as a “true fan” of the sport. Yes, dsid, we all know the sport had many pioneers before the men metioned in the article, but they were only icons to the select viewing audience that existed before the current boom in American MMA popularity.

    The men mentioned by Nick in the article were the icons that ushered in the era we all enjoy today, and really were at the top just when this sport needed them to be its standard bearers. It is sad to see them slowly and ignobly fade from being the icons that we all grew to know and love, and there is nothing wrong with recognizing their significant contributions. Thank you for doing so Nick.

  • Nate says:

    nice article. the spirit is right on.
    If I was more particular, I’d debate the talking points, but I really liked the spirit of the article.

  • Sean says:

    Great article Nick! MMA is a young sport that continues to evolve and the changing of the guard is proof of that. People will always remember the Liddells, Hughes’, and Franklins of the the MMA world the same way football remembers Unitas, Namath, or Bart Starr… All were pioneers, but probably couldn’t start for a Division 1 Team today, but will always be remembered as great because the era they played in.

  • dsid says:

    I wasn’t trying to prove my own “authenticity as a ‘true fan’ of the sport”. I just disagree with what Nick posted (isn’t that what discussion is sometimes for?)

    The bottom line is that those guys Nick mentions just happened to be on top when the sport took off (and I noticed you added in Couture & Ortiz after I did – you’re welcome). That’s great for them and I enjoyed – and still enjoy – watching them fight. But to proclaim it a golden age of the sport and to mourn the passing of these guys as if they’re icons doesn’t make sense.

    That’s all I was saying. I suppose some people will always cling to whatever period was happening when they fell in love with something, but I for one look forward to the sport evolving and to seeing new fighters come along to push the sport forward.

    Why bemoan Chuck or Hughes being on the downside of their careers when we have guys like Silva, St. Pierre, Penn (again), etc., etc. coming through and making the sport even better?

  • Imbecile says:

    @ dsid

    “…just happened to be at the top when the sport took off.”

    Perhaps, but that is the point of Nick labeling it the “Golden Age.” They were the faces of the sport when it broke through from a novelty niche into broader success and popularity. It is the personalities of these me, inside and outside the Octagon, that helped drive this sport into the mainsteam. Nobody disputes that there were pioneers previous to the generation of fighters mentioned in the article – nobody. But I see no problem elevating the alumni of the generation that broke through to a mainstream audience to to a special place in the history of MMA. They were the first superstars that of the sport as we know it today.

    And yes, I too included Couture and Ortiz. That was an agreement with you that they belonged among the same generation as Liddell, Hughes, and Franklin, though I hardly think I would have been at a loss to come up with those names had you not previously contributed them.

    That’s fine if you feel no particular affinity for that generation of fighters. But there is obviously a large segment of the MMA fanbase that agrees with Nick as he waxes nostalgic about the generation that is now falling from their pedestal in MMA. That doesn’t take away from fighters previous to them, nor does it detract from the current crop of amazing MMA stars.

  • islandguy says:

    You are showing your age Nick…

  • Lalo onzalez says:

    I like Matt Hughes a lot, as well as Rich Franklin… the one who I have a problem with is Chuck Liddell. I have ALWAYS and still think he has been over rated. Had he beaten Evans he still would only have been 2-2 in his last 4 fights. Dana was ready to give him a title shot… Thats garbage in my eyes. Look at who he fought when defending his title… a bunch of grapplers who couldn’t stand and strike with him. Thats what he built his legend on. Enter Rampage(a striker) and look what happens.

    So in part I bid goodluck to Rich and Matt, but Chuck… PLEASE!

  • chucks a schmuck says:

    ive been saying retire for the past year chucks washed up and was never that good to begin with


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