TORONTO – One by one they trotted across the stage, decked out in their Sunday best, championship belts slung over their shoulders. A near-capacity crowd at the Ricoh Coliseum roared its approval as each of the seven Ultimate Fighting Championship world champions were introduced.
UFC announcer Joe Rogan called them out, with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz leading the way, followed by featherweight Jose Aldo, lightweight Frankie Edgar, welterweight Georges St. Pierre, middleweight Anderson Silva, light heavyweight Jon Jones and heavyweight Cain Velasquez. The fighters beamed and waved to a loudly enthusiastic welcome.
It was an impressive sight, seeing the seven of them together in public for the first time. What it was mostly, however, was a show of the UFC's power within the mixed martial arts industry.
These were the seven best fighters in the world, all on the same stage, all working for the same promotion.
The industry is no longer fractured like it once was. Now that Zuffa, the UFC's parent company, has added Strikeforce to its list of purchases following PRIDE Fighting Championship, World Fighting Alliance and World Extreme Cagefighting, about 98.9 percent of the world's top talent is now under the same banner.
Perhaps the biggest MMA fight that could be made now would be one pitting Silva, the world No. 1, against St. Pierre, the world No. 2. If St. Pierre defeats Jake Shields on Saturday in the main event of UFC 129 and Silva bests Yushin Okami at UFC 134 in August, the door is open for a super fight between them.
Some fans have called for a match between Silva and Jones, the sport's young phenom. When Rogan asked Silva if he'd like to fight Jones, the crowd roared its approval as Jones arched his eyebrows and then grinned broadly.
But Jones, who is 6-foot-4 and has an 84 1/2-inch wingspan, may soon outgrow the 205-pound division. And sitting next to him was Velasquez, the reigning heavyweight champion. A Velasquez-Jones bout for the heavyweight title is also one well within the realm of possibility.
Virtually any match that any fan wants to see now can be made. The vision that UFC president Dana White had for the company in 2001, when he and his Las Vegas buddies, brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta bought the UFC for $2 million, has clearly come to fruition.
This is a worldwide sport with endless possibilities. There is no fight that is out of reach. There is no city, country or continent where the UFC won't promote a show. MMA has finally hit the big-time.
The only losers in this could be the fighters themselves. With no legitimate alternatives for which their managers to shop them, they are in a way at the mercy of White and Fertitta to treat them fairly. Five years ago, if a UFC fighter didn't like the contract offer the UFC made him, he had other options. He could have gone to PRIDE, which was competing fiercely with the UFC.
A few months ago, a fighter had the option of going to Strikeforce.
But now, the only promotions that Zuffa doesn't own are essentially the MMA equivalent of the Pacific Coast League. They're Triple-A ball. A few of them have some good prospects, many of whom will likely move up to fight in the UFC. Bellator has Eddie Alvarez, a world-class talent already. But with every other top lightweight in the world under contract to Zuffa, Alvarez has no choice but to sign with Zuffa when his contract with Bellator expires or else he'll never be able to take part in what should be a mind-boggling series of great lightweight fights.
For the fans, though, it's full-steam ahead. It's a dream a diehard fan could never have imagined a few short years ago.
But the seven nattily clad young men who graced the stage together for 40 minutes on Friday are proof that the future of the sport has arrived. And it's filled with great fights.
- Ultimate Fighting Championship
- Anderson Silva
- Jon Jones
- Cain Velasquez