The two most memorable MMA finishes that I’ve been fortunate to see live were in many ways very similar, but in one way were completely different.
Saturday night’s knockout by Chris Weidman over Anderson Silva to win the UFC middleweight title in Las Vegas ranks right there with Fabricio Werdum’s triangle submission on Fedor Emelianenko on June 26, 2010, in San Jose, Calif.
There were the obvious similarities. At the time of Werdum vs. Emelianenko, Emelianenko was considered by most as not just the greatest MMA fighter of the era, but the greatest in the short history of the sport. He had a few close calls that made you realize he was mortal, most notably a brief period being pounded on by Brett Rogers to where it was almost stopped. He was also one step from knocked out by Kazuyuki Fujita and being dropped on his head with a suplex by Kevin Randleman. But in all three, he recovered. In the latter two, he finished both opponents seconds after his streak was seemingly over. With Rogers, it took until the next round.
Emelianenko lost three in a row and retired at the age of 35. His mantle as the world’s best fighter was in the hands of either Silva or Georges St-Pierre. While St-Pierre kept steadily winning, it was the way Silva humiliated and finished his opponents that caused him to be regarded as the greatest MMA fighter in history.
Silva had his one memorable scare, being dominated by Chael Sonnen and en route to a one-sided loss with less than two minutes left before wrapping Sonnen up in a triangle.
A year older than Emelianenko, he remained dominant long after Emelianenko faded from the top spot. He also fought at a time when the competitors were more well-rounded.
What made the end of each man’s long winning streak so much more memorable were those scares. We knew both men could be in trouble, but it almost made beating them that much more farfetched.
But the endings, while equally memorable, were altogether different.
Werdum baited Emelianenko. He went down and acted like a punch that may not have even landed had put him down. Emelianenko was the shark that saw blood, finally running into the octopus with so many tentacles. He went into Werdum’s guard thinking he was about to finish, and was caught in a triangle.
The record shows that fight lasted 69 seconds. I can watch that fight now and see that Emelianenko was in that triangle for the last 27 seconds. The last 21 seconds it was clear Emelianenko was in significant trouble.
I know that. But those were the longest 21 seconds of any MMA fight, or maybe any sports event I’ve ever seen. It felt like time was not quite standing still, but moving in ultra slow motion. Every second felt like a minute while thoughts raced because you knew how good Werdum was and that Emelianenko was really trapped. But he was Fedor. Fedor doesn’t lose. And most certainly, Fedor doesn’t tap.
But the reality is, someday, everyone loses. And anyone can tap.
Silva’s streak, on the other hand, felt like it ended quicker than a blinking of an eye. Silva finished the first round and started the second round mocking Weidman. Silva got hit with a punch and started staggering.
But he wasn’t hurt at all. He was letting Weidman hit him to mess with his head and show he didn’t feel his power. The staggering was such an obvious act to mock Weidman, but, like Silva has done so many times, his ridiculous reflexes allow him to get away with it.
Then Weidman cracked him with a second left hook and it was over. If Fedor’s loss turned seconds into minutes as your brain was saying you aren’t really seeing what you’re seeing, this was the opposite. You saw it, and there was no time to think about anything because it already happened.
A quick look at the five greatest major promotion main eventers winning streaks in MMA history leaves one with no clear cut best.
Realistically, the big three are Silva, St-Pierre and Emelianenko. St-Pierre beat the toughest competition and was on the defensive the least in his fights. But he also had the lowest finishing percentage.
Silva was the best finisher, while Emelianenko’s streak covered the most fights and the most time.
ROYCE GRACIE - From the debut of UFC on November 12, 1993, in Denver, Gracie became the first superstar of the industry capturing the initial eight-man tournament with three submission wins in less than five minute total time
He won his first eight fights. He did come to the cage for a fight with Harold Howard after being dehydrated in a fight earlier that night with Kimo Leopoldo. His corner threw in the towel. At that time it was a forfeit loss. Today, the record books act as if the fight never happened. And in truth, it didn’t.
Gracie went undefeated through 13 fights, with 11 wins, all by a form of submission, one decision and one draw (in a fight he likely would have lost had their been judges). Gracie was smaller than almost all of his opponents, but the key to his success was being ahead of the game. His family had been doing early incarnation of MMA fights dating back to the 1920s. It took 17 months, but when he fought Ken Shamrock to a 36:00 draw, the game was starting to catch up. But in no way can that 17 months of being on top be comparable to facing well-rounded fighters for seven years or longer. And of his opponents, only two, Shamrock and Dan Severn, were ever champions in MMA.
FEDOR EMELIANENKO - The Emelianenko record book shows a loss in his fifth pro fight to Tsuyoshi Kosaka, at the time a well-known Japanese pro wrestler who came from judo. In reality, a blood stoppage from an illegal elbow should have been ruled a no contest. But it wasn’t.
Emelianenko’s streak was 29 straight fights undefeated as a heavyweight. There was one no contest with rival Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, after Emelianenko had suffered a deep cut from an illegal head-butt on August 15, 2004, in a major Pride event in Saitama, Japan.
His streak started on April 6, 2001, and ended on June 26, 2010, for more than nine years. One could argue the streak should have been 33 fights and date back nearly a year earlier.
His streak has longevity over Silva. Of his 29 fights, if you throw out the no contest, there were five decisions out of 28, meaning a finishing percentage of 82.1%
Of those 28 fights, ten were against fighters who at some point in their careers held major MMA championships, and that doesn’t include his highest profile career win over Mirko Cro Cop in Japan, who never held a major MMA title but was generally regarded as top three at heavyweight at the time the fight took place.
The game didn’t evolve to the level it did during Silva’s run, and his streak did include seven matches with pro wrestlers. But it still holds up as overall the most impressive streak of its kind.
WANDERLEI SILVA - Silva went undefeated after losing in a UFC light heavyweight title fight eliminator to Tito Ortiz. From that point, competing at 205 pounds (Pride’s middleweight division), Silva went unbeaten from August 12, 2000 to December 31, 2004, or nearly four years and five months.
During that period of 18 fights, he had 16 wins, one draw and one no contest. The draw was in a match against Cro Cop, a weight division up, under special rules that didn’t allow judges. Throwing out the draw and no contest, in his 16 wins, only two came via decision, meaning a finishing percentage of 87.5%.
It also should be noted that the fight that ended the streak, a loss to Mark Hunt, came in a freak show fight where he lost a split decision that he could have very won, and Silva weighed 203 for that fight and Hunt weighed 279 pounds. He actually won twice more in his weight class before losing a decision to Ricardo Arona.
However, only five of his wins came against fighters who won major championships during their career. Three other wins were over Kazushi Sakuraba, an all-time great who never held a major championship. But Sakuraba was a significantly smaller man physically than Silva.
The Silva streak, unlike that of Emelianenko, was heavily protected early. When he beat Sakuraba, at the time Japan’s national fighting hero, it became imperative to Pride for a Japanese fighter to end his streak and become the new national hero. But that never materialized.
At one point he fought nine Japanese fighters in ten fights, six of which were against pro wrestlers. Aside from his gimmick match with Cro Cop, he didn’t face a non-Japanese fighter until Quinton Jackson, at which point he had beaten every tough, or even not-so-tough, Japanese in his division.
GEORGES ST-PIERRE - Since St-Pierre’s loss to Matt Serra in the biggest upset in UFC championship history on April 7, 2007, he’s reeled off 11 wins in a row, ten of which were championship matches.
Still active at six years and three months, he’s tied Silva with ten title match wins in his streak (one being a win of an interim title).
To break Silva’s UFC records, he’ll need six more wins to tie Silva in matches and another year to tie Silva’s unbeaten tenure.
St-Pierre’s finishing percentage of 27 percent is the lowest of the big five. However, his dominance has been the most impressive in the sense he has only been in trouble once, when he was knocked down in his Nov. 17, title defense against Carlos Condit.
In only one fight, against Jake Shields, when he was fighting most of the fight with one eye, did he even lose a single round. Six of his 11 wins were against men who held championships of major organizations, and three others, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Thiago Alves, were all right at that caliber. As far as beating the highest quality of fighters, St-Pierre has the edge over all the names mentioned. And his six years and three months unbeaten in a division with the kind of depth UFC welterweights have
ANDERSON SILVA - Silva’s last previous loss was a disqualification against Yushin Okami on January 20, 2006, with the winning streak starting on April 22, 2006, with a first round knockout of Tony Fryklund.
His title win over Rich Franklin, on October 14, 2006, was the third fight of a 17-fight winning streak. Of the big streaks, in finishing 15 men, that’s an 88.2% percentage, the highest of anyone.
That percentage is more impressive considering his overall quality of opposition is second only to St-Pierre. Six of his wins were against guys who held major championships.
Going forward, besides St-Pierre, people to watch out for are the current championship lineup of Jon Jones, Weidman, Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao and Ronda Rousey.
Jones should have a 19-fight streak, except for a disqualification loss in a match where he destroyed Matt Hamill. Instead, he’s at nine, with only his match with former training partner Rashad Evans going to a decision, and he only lost one round during the period.
Weidman is at ten wins, eight by finish.
Aldo is at 15 wins, with eight finishes, and seven straight wins in championship fights. His streak dates back to May 20, 2006.
Cruz is at ten wins, but eight of those ten wins are via decision. His streak dates back to March 22, 2008, but he’s missed two of those five years due to knee surgeries.
Barao is unbeaten in his last 31 fights, dating back to May 13,2005. But most were in smaller promotions and only one, Urijah Faber, has ever held a championship.
Rousey has won seven in a row, but all via armbar, and all in the first round, in just over two years as a pro.