photo by Tracy Lee for Yahoo Sports
In the wake of Cain Velasquez's victory over Brock Lesnar at UFC 121, I'm reminded of a phrase Martin Tyler often reiterated during this summer's FIFA World Cup: "It is a game of fine margins." And while Mr. Tyler was referring to soccer, the statement is easily attributable to MMA. Never has this been proven truer for MMA than last night's heavyweight championship bout in which the self-proclaimed "Baddest S.O.B. Around" was smacked about the Octagon mercilessly, at the hands of a fighter mocked as having more hype behind his punches than he did power.
In the coming weeks, Velasquez will be showered with effusive praise, and rightly so. Virtually unknown before 2010, he doled out the most ferocious beating in a high-end heavyweight fight since Fedor Emelianenko embarrassed Tim Sylvia two years ago. As for Lesnar, the derision and skepticism to which he's been privy for three years will only escalate. The MMA community, so predictably capricious, will claim Lesnar was a fraud even though declarations of his invincibility are not in the distant past, while in the next breath they hail the arrival of the "Velasquez Era".
There are undeniable facts this morning: technique trumps size; consistent sparring with elite mixed martial artists is the most effective training; and poise is the most valuable "intangible" in any fight. Because Cain Velasquez held definitive advantages in all of these areas, he claimed a definitive victory.
It was not a flawless victory, however. Velasquez found himself underneath Lesnar, and exposed to the power of the champ in the clinch. But because he had acutely honed skills for each scenario, because he had marched through adversity before, because his resolve to conquer was steeled as hard as his chin, his opponent fell broken and blooded underneath him.
With that description, only one other fighter comes to mind - vintage Fedor. Yet, with the same swiftness in which Fabricio Werdum locked him in to a triangle choke, Fedor's decade of dominance was dismissed and his legacy slandered; in an instant, MMA's highest god was merely mortal. Now isn't it funny how just last week, there was speculation that Brock Lesnar was on the verge of becoming the greatest MMA heavyweight of all time? He was already being held aloft as the UFC's greatest champion, an unstoppable force to whom all must cower in fear. And now today, he's a never-was, a paper champion. How soon until the same is said of Cain Velasquez?
Much like the judging of a Presidency, the most accurate assessments of a championship reign will only manifest themselves after the culmination of said period is no longer fresh. And, who knows, perhaps Lesnar begins another championship run in 2011? Perhaps our new heavyweight king holds the title as long as he wants? Or maybe an unknown youngster emerges from the shadows and dispatches Velasquez with ease? In that case, this crown will topple and surely we will all doubt the infallibility that today seems so certain.
A game of fine margins, indeed.