A little more than a year ago, elite WEC featherweight standouts Mike Brown and Urijah Faber found themselves standing atop their division, headlining WEC 36, and competing for Faber’s title, a title “The California Kid” had defended five times up to that point.
At that point in time, Faber was commonly placed in the top ten of many sports writers’ top pound for pound lists, considered one of the elite martial artists in the world.
However, the underdog Brown defeated Faber with a no-doubt, flashy knockout. After the smoke cleared, Brown stood alone atop the division, the new champion. He would stay there, if only for a fleeting moment.
Brown defended his title twice, allowing Faber a chance at redemption in the process. In his second loss to Brown at WEC 41, a unanimous decision, Faber showed the world exactly why he was so highly revered.
In a true display of character and desire to compete, Faber took a war to Brown that lasted five brutal rounds. Faber broke his right hand early and later dislocated the other, yet he persevered where many men would have thrown in the towel. In the end, he obviously lost, but in his loss he gained as much respect as he might have had he won.
Not only did he persevere, but he competed as best he could without the use of his hands. Even in defeat Faber was impressive. Mixed martial arts rarely has ever seen anything like it: A fight where a man is obviously handicapped by injuries sustained in the fight, yet he continued to chase his belt.
Brown suffered his own bumps and bruises in the fight, but emerged the victor again. The warrior’s heart that both of these elite featherweights posses was obvious. The type of character necessary to put it all on the line and leave it all in the ring like these two did is not common; to the contrary, it is quite rare.
All that being said, six months after their last fight in a cage together, both men find themselves looking back up to the top of the mountain they collectively ruled for almost three years.
Looking up at the position of greatness that defined their careers in this sport. Looking up to a position they once gave their all to master.
Looking back down at them is the future of the featherweight division, an obstacle which seems immovable. A man who gives no indication that he intends to relinquish his new title.
A man by the name of Jose Aldo.
Aldo was the man to dethrone Brown in November of 2009. It was not just Aldo’s victory to win the championship that was impressive, but how he got there. The Brazilian is on some kind of indescribable tear in this sport.
The term meteoric rise really doesn’t do this young fighter’s momentum justice. It suffices to say he has made a strong statement in the 145-pound division.
There is a certain level of elevating the bar that has taken place over the last three or so years.
It started with Faber and his domination that was undeniable throughout not only the FW division but the sport as a whole. When fighters looked at Faber, they knew they better tighten their games up. They had better dig in if they expected to contend with a fighter of Faber’s quality.
When Brown beat Faber twice in such decisive fashion, it really left an impression on the entire sport. If Faber was so good, what does that make Mike Brown?
And yes, Faber really is that good, and Brown was better than that, twice. It really is hard to fathom if one understands just how great of a fighter Faber is.
That torch of utter domination and feeling of supremacy was passed to Brown in such a fashion that people really started to wonder: Other than these two, who was going to compete in this division?
The hardcore fans already knew, but for the casual fan, Jose Aldo had the answer to that question.
When Brown stepped into the cage with Jose Aldo, little did he know he was also about to pass the torch. By the second round of Brown’s attempt to defend his title for the third time, it was very apparent that the bar had yet again been raised.
Where Brown had exceeded the curve of what was perceived as the best there was at that weight, Aldo has pushed the envelope even further.
Aldo took a guy who had the number of one of the best pound for pound fighters in the sport, a guy who assumed a touch of invincibility, and smashed him. There were no questions left to ask after Aldo took Brown’s belt. Other than maybe, “now who beats Aldo?”
Who has that answer like Brown had for Faber, and Aldo had for Brown?
Now, like the others once did, Aldo finds himself high atop the mountain staring down into the eyes of starving, thirsting warriors. Fighters that know the feel of a title belt around their waist, fighters that miss that weight.
As Faber raised the bar for Brown to excel, and Brown raised it yet again for Aldo, now Aldo has the responsibility of taking it a notch or two higher.
By doing so, he not only elevates himself, but the men who made his quest so difficult not long ago by their own domination. It was the strength of Faber and Brown that made Aldo work so hard to achieve his dreams of becoming a champion.
Now Aldo can return the favor, and improve upon what was already a difficult path to master.
Now if Faber or Brown dare to challenge for their belt at any time in the near future (and without a doubt they will), they will now have to answer Aldo’s questions. They will have to step up to the level he has come to succeed at. In doing so, he makes them better, and himself better in the process as he tries to stay a step ahead of them both.
This weekend, Brown and Faber both take the next step towards in trying to get back their belt. One of them will obviously get there first—the other will patiently wait for his chance at the winner, assuming they both best their foes this weekend that is.
Mixed martial arts is truly a beautiful thing. Good luck to all three of them, and thanks to them for making this sport truly world class.