The passing of the torch. What a phrase. Used time and time again in not just combat sports, or sports in general, but almost every activity across the globe. The gorgeous metaphor can relate to almost anything, from it’s origins in ancient Greece where one prestigious torch carrier would pass it to another during the Olympic ceremony, or from where one underage teenager passes his half broken, stolen off license lighter to another so they can light their respective marijuana cigarettes, it has many meanings. But today we’re only worried about the examples of this phenomenon in the sports we love. This weekend, someone who is definitely in the conversation for greatest of all time, Anderson Silva, faces his up and coming junior Israel Adesanya, who’s similar body type and premium striking ability have caused the world to inevitably compare the two. Could the young star get the win against one of the sports’ icons, one of his heroes and one of the best to ever do it, or is it too much too soon for the rising star? Following Aldo’s performance at UFC Fortaleza, it showed us that the experienced veterans still have gas in the tank, and the raw ability necessary to defeat their juniors, regardless of how talented they are. Could the same thing happen at UFC 234?
By passing of the torch, we mean when the more experienced fighter loses to an up and coming talent who many see as the start of a new era, taking the spotlight that the veteran once held, laying the groundwork for their own legacy. Israel Adesanya has gone from strength to strength, showing more and more what he is capable of as he progresses the ranks of the UFC’s middleweight division. He’s been likened by many to Anderson Silva due to his elite striking ability and octagon intelligence. His movement, his mannerism, the way he utilises all of his limbs, there’s no surprise people are constantly comparing him to the Spider. He’s strung together a series of impressive victories which most recently saw him demolish the then sixth weight middleweight, Brunson, in the first round, showcasing almost every legal method of striking. Knees, kicks, punches, kitchen sinks, ground and pound, and above all, perfect timing and pacing. Now with a 15-0 record to boot, he is easily one of the most exciting fighters in MMA and one of the most dangerous. But is it enough? Will he be passed the torch? Does he have everything needed to dismantle the old, hungry lion? This is Anderson Silva we’re talking about. The man that mesmerised millions. Personally, I think we’re all too quick to forget how incredible this man was and how he made an entire generation fall in love with MMA. In his prime, he was easily the greatest striker to ever live. His world class Muay Thai destroyed everyone put in front of him, his head movement made getting hit impossible, and his resume of elite fighters he embarrassed kept growing and growing. I challenge anyone to find me a fighter with a higher proportion of highlight reel knockouts. It’s okay. I’ll wait. The man is even a legit BJJ blackbelt, may I remind you of the first Sonnet fight where a picture perfect triangle broke Chael’s heart in the last second of the round, literally just moments before losing. I mean yes his overzealous and overconfident techniques definitely were his undoing in Weidman 1, yes Weidman 2 may have shown how his body deteriorating, but to lose to a freight train, prime Bisping in a highly contested fight, a potentially GOAT Cormier after extremely short notice AND got the distance, to then still get the win against the very talented Brunson at over 40 years old is unbelievably incredible in our book. What Silva will we see this weekend? After watching Aldo last weekend, anything is possible.
Match ups like this are mouth watering for combat fans. Passing of the torches only happen a few times a generation, and even then it’s hard to book. The similar styles, the similar skill sets, the similar abilities. But when it happens. Oh god, it’s good. A great example in the world of boxing would be Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. Ali at the time was still the GOAT heavyweight, maybe even GOAT boxer, he could do no wrong. Still charismatic with the incredible footwork, chin, and hands we all know and love him for. What could possibly go wrong? At the end of his illustrious career full of drama and era defining moments, Ali lost a tightly contested split decision to Spinks. After training hard, studying, learning from his mistakes and using the techniques that got him to the dance, Ali avenged one of his only career loses soon after. So what now? You’ve had one of the greatest careers of all time, you’re a global hero, and you’ve just cemented your boxing legacy. In steps Larry Holmes. Holmes was 35-0. 31 years old. Knockout after knockout and he was ready, he was hungry, he wanted to be the best and he wanted it bad. He fought his hero Muhammad Ali in 1980, and his performance was a clear sign of things to come. He utilised his jab which has become quite frankly the greatest jab in boxing history, he utilised his precise footwork, his weight shifting, his angles, and his flawless judging of range. He completely dictated the pace, speeding up and slowing down at will. The RTD in this fight is absolutely heartbreaking, we all love Ali, and to see him so defeated was rare. He was well and truly beaten, beaten like an old rug, beaten like eggs pre scramble, beaten like the meat of a 14 year old boy watching Beyonce’s “Green Light” music video. Or 24 year old. Whatever. But despite this, there was an air of happiness, of excitement. There was so much respect between these two, and their styles were so similar, the departure of Ali could have left a void, but it didn’t, it created a new legacy. And Larry Holmes, although not well known by casual fans, is easily one of the greatest of all time and in the end, arguably better than Ali himself. A perfect example of the passing of the torch.
Another great example of the passing of the torch, this time in the MMA world was when the then Bantamweight king of the world Renan Barao, riding an incredible 32 fight win streak which started in WEC and carried on into the UFC when they merged. He looked unstoppable, losing his first ever professional fight he then went on to take the Bantamweight world by storm, proving no match for any opponent who was unfortunate enough to face him. Dominant wins against Faber, Pickett, McDonald and Wineland saw him become one of the pound for pound greats of his time. It seemed at one point that nobody could ever take the crown from him, all those that had failed had barely left a scratch on him, not only losing, but being outclassed in every department. Then, along came TJ Dillashaw. The then 28 year old, with a record of 10-2, to many seemed like just another victim for Barao to feast upon. Dillashaw, coming back from a KO loss to John Dodson on the ultimate fighter had strung together an impressive run in the UFC, losing only to Raphael Assuncao via split decision, had an incredible amount of heart and determination going into the fight, however, to most, this wouldn’t even get him through round one, let alone crown him the bantamweight champion. However, from the minute go, TJ outclassed Barao with a striking and movement display that, in my eyes has rarely been matched even to this day. Barao looked like a lost child, the years of dominance vanished in seconds, one of the most impressive champions of his generation was on the losing end of the most one sided championship fights ever witnessed in the UFC. For any doubts this was a stroke of luck, and that Barao had merely lost by sheer luck, were quashed in the rematch, where TJ proved that not only is he here to stay, that the torch had been well and truly passed onto him. The only difference in the rematch that took place a year later was that TJ put him down a round earlier. From there on out TJ has gone on to cement his legacy as one of the best bantamweights of modern day MMA, and well, Barao has never been the same since. Not only did TJ take the torch from Barao, he took a part of Barao that made him never look the same since.
It has to be said, these are dream match ups and dream scenarios that we as fight fans are lucky to be able to behold. Things don’t always work out this way. GSP arguably took the torch from Matt Hughes who, at the time, was the best wrestler MMA had ever seen. GSP after initially losing, became arguably an even better wrestler, with a more rounded game and better portfolio of striking and submissions. He went on to avenge his loss and then win the rubber match, setting him up to be quite possibly the greatest to ever do it, with a takedown success percentage higher than Lesnar’s testosterone level. After one of the best careers of anybody in any sport, a young whippersnapper by the name of Johnny Hendricks looked prime to take the torch. Everyone was framing him as a young GSP with cleaner, crisper wrestling, a NCAA champion, who had serious cinder blocks for hands. He was knocking out everything he touched and GSP’s chin was definitely called into question. With a 15-1 record going into the fight, and huge names on the resume, it was the first time in a long time people thought GSP could lose. Some people even think he did. I mean, did he? Who knows. The first couple of rounds were definitely Hendricks and if it wasn’t for GSP’s chin, which turned out to be made of obsidian, St-Pierre wouldn’t have been able to go on and have an incredible showing in rounds 3, 4 and 5. Regardless, I’d like to make a decision, but I honestly can’t. This was an incredible opportunity to take the torch, and despite this loss his comeback victory against Lawler was impressive. I wish I could say his career ended there, but oh Jesus, oh God no. Much like a single Dad who’s just been fired and got a divorce in the same week, his life just began to fall apart. He looked uncoordinated, unfit, unmotivated and an absolute shell of his former self. He went on to have a staggering 6 loses in his next 8. Yes, 6. After missing weight time and time again, he made the executive decision to move up to middleweight, where it would be absolutely ridiculous to miss weight. Then… then he missed weight, again. It gets very sad. He bowed out after being completely dominated by the young up and comer Paulo Costa, putting an end to one of the most “what could have been” careers. Honestly, his run before GSP was a sight to behold, and if the decision went his way and he grabbed the torch that fateful night, the entire landscape of the welterweight division would have changed forever.
So after recapping some of these great passings of the torch and a look at one of our favourite “what could have been”s, we are so excited for this monumental clash between Adesanya and Silva. Will Adesanya’s youthful raw talent and elite striking be enough to topple the old giant, one of the greatest of all time who’s sleek movements and destructive power still send shivers down the spines of fight fans young and old? We honestly don’t know, and we really can’t wait to find out.