One by one, our light heavyweight kings have fallen, and fallen hard. Liddell, Jackson, Griffin, Evans, and now Machida, all in the last three years.
And now we ask, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, are you the man to build an empire? Are you the one to rule a kingdom? Are you the one?
Lyoto Machida was supposed to be the one. It was less than a year ago when he knocked out Rashad Evans, and UFC announcer Joe Rogan pronounced the beginning of the "Machida era." He was supposed to be untouchable and unreachable, too unique to be described and too elusive to be hit. Yet one fight later, he was made mortal, when only a suspect judges' decision allowed him to retain the belt, and in the rematch, his rule came to a quick and quiet end. Machida was knocked out, laid unconscious on the mat as Shogun ascended the throne.
Starting right now, Shogun gets the bull's eye. Can he handle it? In the last seven UFC light-heavyweight title matches, the champion has gone 2-5, and that includes a gift of a decision for Machida in his first controversial defense. That means that dating back three years, only Quinton "Rampage" Jackson defended the belt without any major drama, though the fight resulted in a hotly contested five-round decision win over Dan Henderson.
Why is it so hard? Well, look at the men who have held the belt. Re-read the list. Those are some game fighters. If you don't bring your A-game, you're going down.
That's what Shogun is going to face going forward. Even with Liddell fading from the picture, guys like Jackson, Machida and even Evans are still threats. Throw in grizzled vets like Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, young guns like Jon Jones, Ryan Bader and Phil Davis, and wild cards like Anderson Silva who are capable of switching divisions and causing havoc, and don't be surprised to see the revolving door continue.
The funny thing is, Shogun was supposed to get here all along. He was always a chosen one. In 2005, he was a 23-year-old kid with a notable win over undersized Akihiro Gono when he entered the PRIDE Grand Prix.
Facing an intimidating series of veterans, Shogun plowed through the murderer's row of "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to capture the tournament. With that, he became the future of the world's 205-pound division.
Even after a fluky loss to Mark Coleman -- during which he dislocated his elbow while trying to break his fall -- his star shined bright. And when PRIDE closed up shop, Shogun was one of the prized acquisitions as the UFC bolstered its roster with a host of international stars. In fact, while it was never stated, it was believed that with a win over Forrest Griffin in his UFC debut, Shogun might have been moved right into a title opportunity.
Instead, he was upset by Griffin, who turned the opportunity into gold when he upset "Rampage" at UFC 86.
That loss began a terrible stretch for Rua, who later disclosed that he'd suffered a knee injury in training for the fight, and eventually had two surgeries to correct the problem. For 16 months, he was sidelined while recovering, and when he returned, he struggled to finish 44-year-old Mark Coleman in a fight that drew criticism.
Still, Rua would not be deterred.
"The injury, it always motivated me to fight for my dreams," he said after Saturday night. "I'm a person who has always pursued my dreams and it's no different in fighting. I always work hard and if God gives me hope, I want to go in there and do it. It is my life and profession."
Rua knocked out Chuck Liddell in April 2009, but the performance did not do much to change the minds of doubters, many of whom thought Liddell well past his prime. But then everything changed six months later, when he gave Machida the fight of his life. Not only did it convince people that Shogun was back, it built in doubt about Machida. And on Saturday, we learned that he was human, and that the puzzle was hardly impossible to solve.
The lesson is this: No matter how high you rise, there's always an arrow that can reach you.
Shogun deserves to enjoy this moment. It's been a hard road to gold, fraught with ruthless rivals and unseen setbacks. He just can't enjoy it too long. When you're the king, someone's always preparing to storm the castle.