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UFC 101: Redemption means more for many

UFC 101: Redemption, as many UFC fights in the past, is one filled with a solid lineup and featuring several well known fighters responsible for putting mixed martial arts in the mainstream and for the success it has seen.  Even with those fights responsible for UFC’s growth and emergence into popular culture, as with every sport, the athletes do not last forever.  

Redemption is a display of some of those fighters who have been around, taken their beatings, rolled with the punches and kept on coming.  Eventually, the beatings do catch up with you and slow you down, and that is the underlying story behind the night. Are B.J. Penn and Forrest Griffin getting old?

Griffin is 30, an age where most NFL running backs end up showing their age. He’s fought tough guys like Tito Ortiz and was one of the key players in bringing MMA to popularity when he won the first Ultimate Fighter.  He later became the light heavyweight champion and also served as a coach for the Ultimate Fighter in a later season.  Recently, he lost the title by TKO to Rashad Evans, broke his hand, and has been out of the spotlight for some time.

B.J Penn has been fighting a long time, even before jumping into MMA.  He earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2000, after only three years of practicing the art, where most people can spend a decade before earning the accolade.  He later became the world champion for the martial arts.  He also joined into the UFC, left, and came back after some negotiation, won the welterweight title, and Penn defended the title.  He was beaten in January 2009 by Georges St-Pierre in a controversial fight that had many rules about who was allowed to have and apply Vaseline to fighters, but St-Pierre took Penn down and gave him a thorough beating for all to see.

The question at hand is how long can these two keep going?  Griffin and Penn are both beyond their 20s now, and both have had their ups and downs, and Griffin’s broken hand is another point of questionable contention.  Has their time in the MMA spotlight come to an end, with the hype obviously far less for UFC 101 than it was for UFC 100 with Brock Lesnar soaking up the media furor?

For the athletes who have competed in the UFC, PRIDE and every other MMA body, the question is how can these people compete with the rising stars that came in commanding significant attention and popularity?  Kimbo Slice cut a piece of fame out for himself in homemade street fight videos, and Brock Lesnar outgrew his underwear in the WWE and decided to fight for real instead of pretend to wrestle.  These guys have gotten more attention in their short stints in professional MMA than those who’ve been in the trenches for the last 5 to 10 years, and the bottom line is dollars.

Advertisers and sponsors don’t care about who made the sport and got it to where it is.  They want who will attract attention, market their product effectively and be a recognizable image for their brand, like Michael Jordan was for Nike.  Those who keep winning are remembered.  Those who won before but have fallen from cloud nine are spoken of in nostalgia.