What a difference 5 years makes in MMA

The main event of UFC 115 next weekend would have been one of the biggest fights ever five years ago. Former champions Rich Franklin and Chuck Liddell will meet in a fight where in all reality, the loser should retire. The winner won’t have much of anywhere to move up the ladder and the loser will really only deserve to be on a PPV undercard.

It is amazing how quickly things have changed in MMA and looking back just five years ago to see who the UFC champions were and where they are now. On June 4, 2005, the UFC held UFC 53: Heavy Hitters where Franklin won the middleweight title over Evan Tanner. As of that show, here is a look at who the UFC champions were and how their careers have quickly headed south.

Heavyweight Champion – Andrei Arlovski: At UFC 53, Arlovski defended his title for the first time defeating the late Justin Eilers by TKO in the first round after Eilers blew his knee out. It was Arlovski’s fifth-straight win at the time, all of which were by stoppage. Arlovski followed that win with a one-punch KO of Paul Buentello at UFC 55 and was largely considered the most dominant champion in the organization. However, a bizarre loss to Tim Sylvia at UFC 59, in which Arlovski has Sylvia beat but then was caught with as straight jab that led to a TKO loss, started the downfall of his career. Another loss to Syliva led to a five-fight winning streak, but the fighter was never quite the same. He lost his aggression and confidence and has since lost three-straight fights and is almost an afterthought in MMA. His most recent fight was a decision loss to Antonio Silva, which was a sad performance where he never showed the aggression that made him the dominant champion of five years ago.

Light-Heavyweight Champion – Chuck Liddell: At UFC 53, Liddell was prepping for his first title defense after winning the title for the first time at UFC 52 by beating Randy Couture. Liddell would successfully defend his title four times, winning by KO in all four fights and emerging as a dominant champion. Many thought Liddell was unbeatable because he couldn’t be taken down and his punching power was greater than anyone’s. But, as striking evolved, Liddell did not. His career began its amazing downfall at UFC 71 when Quinton Jackson knocked him out in less than two minutes. That was followed by a loss to Keith Jardine where he came up short on the striking game. A decision win over Wanderlei Silva gave him some hope to return to title contention, but back-to-back KO losses to Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua have shown that Liddell can’t keep up with the prime fighters of today. Once considered the most explosive finisher in all of the UFC, Liddell hasn’t had a KO win since Dec. 30, 2006.

Middleweight Champion – Rich Franklin: Franklin was young and a rising star when he won the title at UFC 53 over Tanner by TKO. He followed up the title win with two dominant title defenses before running into Anderson Silva at UFC 64, where he was dismantled in a shocking display. Franklin sprinkled in wins over mediocre fighters like Jason MacDonald, Yushin Okami, Travis Lutter, and Matt Hamill, but was again dominated by Silva in a title rematch and also lost a close decision to Dan Henderson. Franklin defeated Wanderlei Silva last June, but was KO’d in the first round by Vitor Belfort back at UFC 103. Clearly out of the title picture in any weight class, Franklin has proven he is good enough to defeat the mid-level fighters, but doesn’t have what it takes to beat the elite, leaving him floating around in shark-infested waters.

Welterweight Champion – Matt Hughes: Just recently inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, Hughes has long been called the most dominant welterweight champion in UFC history. As of UFC 53, Hughes had just defended his title against Frank Trigg at UFC 52 and would go on to win his next three fights before running into the younger and more-talented Georges St. Pierre at UFC 65. Hughes was one of the best wrestlers in MMA during his reign, but his boxing ability was sub-par to say the least. As fighters became well-rounded, Hughes became a sitting duck. St. Pierre destroyed him on their feet to take his belt and a rematch a year later went even worse as GSP out-wrestled the wrestler and made him scream “I Quit” to an armbar. That was followed up with another KO loss, this time to Thiago Alves. Since, Hughes has tried to avoid younger opponents, knowing he can’t hang with them anymore. He has since won two fights over elder fighters like Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie, but it is clear that Hughes will never contend for the title he held for so long, again.

Lightweight Champion – Vacant – Next Champion – Sean Sherk at UFC 64: A lightweight champion wasn’t crowned in the UFC until UFC 64 when Sherk defeated Kenny Florida in a wrestling display. Sherk had one title defense before testing positive for steroids and being stripped of the title. Since then, Sherk has lost two of his last three fights. Like Hughes, Sherk is a dominant wrestler, but his striking game could use work and caused him to lose to quicker-handed B.J. Penn and Frankie Edgar. With his prime behind him, Sherk’s career is at a standstill.

The big trend to all of these fighters is that many of them were very one dimensional where today’s fighters are skilled in all major areas. It will be interesting to see in five years where today’s champions careers are headed.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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