After getting pounded senseless by Shane Carwin for one round, Lesnar came out in the second, pulled off a submission against a completely exhausted opponent, and was then immediately hailed as the baddest man alive for having submitted such a beast! That Carwin was unable to compete after a single round of fighting due to fatigue should’ve been a hint. That Brock, after getting hit with a couple of punches to the face turtled up like I used to when my Dad got out the belt, should have been another one.
Maybe there’s a rush to judgment regarding who is the best after only a few big fights—or maybe we’re a little too comfortable elevating fighters with limited track records, who are often times competing against opposition with the same limitations. This was true in Fedor’s prime and still is today. No fighter was able to sustain an unbeaten record against the top level competition for nearly as long, regardless of the era. This included the best of the best. Sakuraba, Frank Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, Dan Severn and Minotauro Nogueira were all champions and considered pound for pound prospects, but were eventually beaten.
Dan Severn is a legend, who fought well into what is considered old age for any athlete and kept on winning. The truth is, Severn was past his best with his first cage fight at the age of thirty six. The question should be; could Severn compete against today’s top heavyweights if he were in his prime? It’s likely that if he did, he would be a completely different fighter, with a much broader skillset. He certainly didn’t lack size, athletic achievement or natural athleticism. He won thirteen national AAU titles, was a gold medal winner in the junior Olympics, a three time Olympic alternate as well as a Canada Cup gold medalist. His credentials are more impressive than all but a few of today’s best fighters regardless of weight class. But times change and it can be difficult for a fighter who has spent his life competing at the highest levels to suddenly alter the very things that may have gotten them where they are. In other words, if Severn were to fight against the best of today’s competitors, with only the skillset of his early years he wouldn’t stand a chance—but that would be unlikely. Severn was an innovator, a pioneer when there was no template. He helped to lay the foundation for the sport and every other athlete that followed—a better question might be, “how many of the current crop of fighters are game changers like Severn or Fedor”?
In the case of all elite level athletes, one thing remains consistent. Times change and athletes get better, not always because they’re bigger or stronger, but because competition forces innovation. Inevitably todays monsters will get old—or the sport will grow around them leaving us asking the same questions. Were they really as good as we remember them to be? The answer in Fedor’s case is "yes"! All we have to do is watch his extraordinary beating of Minotauro, who was widely regarded as the pound for pound best of his era.
Fedor established the model for what ground and pound could look like in the hands of a true master. He may have learned the basics by watching Olympic level wrestler, Mark Coleman at his peak, but Fedor took it to heights previously undreamt of. He was just as impressive in out striking the master striker, Mirko Cro Cop—at the time the most feared man in the sport.
MMA has been filled with great athletes from its beginning. However without a road map they were forced to learn on the fly, in the heat of battle. Mixed martial artists today have a far easier time learning their craft than the founders did. The competition is no doubt more fierce than ever before, but only because of it's pioneers having laid the necessary foundation, creating a level playing field.
Fedor was an innovator, as tough as they come—a small heavyweight, like The Manassas Mauler - Jack Dempsey, known as Jack the Giant Killer for his annihilation of men who were massive by comparison. Fedor was a quiet, humble man, rare in today’s sports world, he was also the most feared and respected mixed martial artist of our time, and we should remember that!