Six champions with plenty of big fight experience will step into the Octagon on Saturday
Championship pedigrees are a funny thing.
In some cases, fans cling to faded glory, remembering the days when their favorite fighter was one top of the world. No matter what you say, no matter how valid your argument, nothing will ever change that once upon a time, their guy was the best in the business.
Time wreaks havoc on the success of some former champions. While a select few are held in high regard no matter how long it’s been since they had a championship belt around their waist, others are subjected to The Janet Jackson Analysis: what have you done for me lately?
There are also those whose championship days are either forgotten or explained away as a fluke. They don’t get the credit they deserve for having beaten the best, if only on one night. Matt Serra is the President and CEO of this group; Frankie Edgar is his hot-shot VP being groomed to take over the company.
Off to the side, there is another group; a very exclusive ensemble.
Current champions can cross into any of the above groupings, sometimes inhabiting two at the same time. Each title defense is a quest to prove the critics wrong and earn their respect, and validate the support and standing awarded by others.
UFC 132 features six fighters with championship pedigrees: one current, two beloved, one battered by time, and two who are all but forgotten.
THE CURRENT CHAMP
UFC Bantamweight Champion
Won: WEC 47 – March 6, 2010 def. Brian Bowles (TKO-Doctor Stoppage, R2)
Title Defenses: Two – WEC 50 (def. Joseph Benavidez), WEC 53 (def. Scott Jorgensen)
The Skinny: Cruz became the first champion of the UFC’s 135 pound division when the organization added the rosters of the WEC to their current ranks. Though many recognize Cruz as the sport’s top bantamweight, there are others who still don’t know his name.
His style makes him an easy mark for critics who crave finishes and fighters taking unnecessary risks for the sake of entertainment. The facts of the matter are that he’s unbeaten in the 135 pound ranks (eight straight wins) and aiming to avenge the only loss of his career in his UFC debut.
Cruz has all the potential to become a beloved champion as time goes on. He’s engaging and funny outside of the cage, and has been on another level compared to his competitors of late.
A win on Saturday night could be the performance that launches him into a new level of recognition and respect among fans and critics alike.
THE BELOVED FORMER CHAMPIONS
Former WEC Featherweight Champion
Won: WEC 14 – March 17, 2000 def. Cole Escovedo (TKO-Corner Stoppage, R2)
Title Defenses: Five – WEC 25 (def. Joe Pearson), WEC 26 (def. Dominick Cruz), WEC 28 (def. Chance Farrar), WEC 31 (def. Jeff Curran), WEC 34 (def. Jens Pulver)
Lost: WEC 36 – November 5, 2008 to Mike Thomas Brown (TKO-Punches, R1)
The Skinny: Faber was the poster boy of the WEC throughout his championship run and even once it ended. His abilities inside the cage and attributes outside the cage led to him standing head and shoulders above the rest of the roster in terms of recognition.
His resume since losing to Brown bears that out. While some former champions have to win two or three fights before climbing back into a championship tilt, it took Faber just one following each of his losses to Brown before he was back at the top of the card.
Interesting fact maybe only I care about: Faber is 4-0 in non-title fights since beating Pulver at WEC 34; he’s 0-3 when the belt is on the line.
Despite his recent championship setbacks and the rise of other fighters within the weight division, Faber’s supporters remain steadfast in their belief in “The California Kid.” Years from now, he’ll still be held in high regard, no matter what happens from here on out.
Former Pride Middleweight Champion
Won: Pride 17 – November 3, 2001 def. Kazushi Sakuraba (TKO-Doctor Stoppage, R1)
Title Defenses: Four – Pride 19 (def. Kiyoshi Tamura), Pride 23 (def. Hiromitsu Kanehara), Pride 28 (def. Quinton Jackson), Pride Shockwave 2005 (def. Ricardo Arona)
Lost: Pride 33 – February 24, 2007 to Dan Henderson (KO-Punch, R3)
The Skinny: You may be hard pressed to find a more beloved former champion than “The Axe Murderer.” In fact, you might be hard pressed to find any fighter with a greater, more adoring group of supporters than Silva, period.
When you break it down to sheer statistics, Silva is just 6-7 since New Year’s Eve 2004. That night, he lost a split decision to Mark Hunt, and he’s been a .500 fighter ever since. None of that matter though.
“The Rock” may have been “The People’s Champ” in professional wrestling, but Silva holds that title in MMA. He always gave the fans what they wanted: electric performances in the ring or cage, win or lose.
Regardless of how the rest of his career plays out, Silva will forever stand as one of the most beloved former champions in the history of this sport.