The year 2016 in mixed martial arts will undoubtedly be remembered by the rise of Conor McGregor. It truly has been an action-packed year and a notorious rise to greatness. Culminating with the eventual raising of those two championship belts inside the Octagon. That will be forever ingrained into MMA fans’ minds as a sport-defining moment. Even the naysayers had to come to grips by appreciating its importance. Especially following this past weekend’s UFC 207 event, McGregor’s importance within the sport of MMA in 2016 can’t be denied. McGregor remained the face of the UFC throughout all of 2016. From his press conferences, weigh-ins, post-fight speeches, to the fights themselves. Every facet of McGregor was must-see TV. However, in doing so, he overshadowed many of the other memorable and monumental events that helped shape the sport for decades to come. This was the year USADA left a meaningful imprint on the playing field of our beloved sport with its stringent drug testing, creating misfortunes for the likes of Brock Lesnar, Cris Cyborg and Jon Jones. It was a year that saw the essential firing and rehiring of Ariel Helwani’s as MMA’s most visible reporter. It saw an end of Joe Silva, Dave Sholler, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes and Mike Goldberg’s tenure as UFC mainstays. It was the year that the UFC finally made the legal trek to New York to break every attendance and gate record. And after that tremendous success, the promotion’s year culminated with the failed return of Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 when Amanda Nunes devastated its second biggest star. All of this essentially paled in comparison to the UFC career of a relative newcomer in Conor McGregor. A fighter who lost, retired and unretired only later to become the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion all in same calendar year. The UFC limelight was in need of fresh blood as all of the old guard that helped establish MMA almost entirely vanished from relevant competition. If you couple that with the UFC’s multibillion dollar sale of the company to WME, Conors achievement represented the beginning of a new age of MMA. It was the third monumental changing of the guard in a sport which many still consider to be in its infancy. It was an eventful year, but there is no denying it was formally ushered in by the crowning achievement of the self-proclaimed King of Dublin, a feat that was denied in the past Zuffa era when BJ Penn lost miserably at the hands of George St Pierre at UFC 94. The old guard of MMA was given its last chance at glory when Dan Henderson got a title shot in a rematch against Michael Bisping, a fight in which Henderson would have retired regardless of the outcome. Many die hard fans alike witnessed Henderson fall short of achieving the coveted storybook ending for all fighters that rose to fame before Zuffa’s emergence into MMA. Dan Henderson valiantly went out as the fighter’s fighter at the age of 46. He took the final fight of his career at UFC 204 in enemy territory. Needless to say Hendo left the arena and rode off into the sunset to deafening applause, a near-perfect end to a legend’s career. Although the likes of Vitor Belfort are still actively fighting, I’m positive Hendo’s attempt was the old guard’s last chance at achieving championship glory. This was something that may have been overshadowed at the time by McGregor’s impending attempt to obtain two championships. Henderson, of course, was a simultaneous two division champion in Pride Fighting Championships. It may not occurred inside the Octagon McGregor would conquer, but his accomplishment still remains equally as important when considering the times. Both accomplished such a feat against elite competition across three different weight classes but with the dominance of the UFC in today’s MMA landscape. As time passes Dan Henderson’s accomplishment will pale in comparison to that of McGregor’s. Although the likes of Forrest Griffin are long retired, there remains some familiar faces holding championship status such as the likes of Micheal Bisping, Jose Aldo and Demetrius Johnson. All these fighters undoubtedly would not have came to prominence without the help of the Zuffa era. However it’s apparent that the company Zuffa sold the UFC at a very opportune time. Moving forward, the allegiance of these fighters appears to be connected to those times flowing from the Zuffa era. With the sale, many fighters felt the days of feeling you owed the owners something was over. Evidence that the fighters were becoming openly disgruntled was evident by the impending antitrust litigation, emergence of fighter unions and the possibility of the Ali Act which all contributed to a signalling that it was time to get out of the business while the time was ripe. Fighters were becoming wary and critical of the Zuffa’s way of keeping a lid on how low fighter pay is in comparison to other professional sports. While Conor McGregor broke barriers by arguably being the first fighter to be bigger then the very promotion he fights for, his claim to fame perhaps propelled the sale of the UFC by Zuffa to WME to the tune of four billion dollars. Some are already calling it the WME era after Zuffa accomplished every legalization hurdle on its own before passing the torch. However it’s better suited as being referenced to as the Conor McGregor era. How quickly the likes of a Khabib Nurmagomedov can change the fate of history remains to be seen. Historically, no one fighter has ever defined an era within MMA. Yet no fighter has had the drawing power of McGregor either. In order to ensure the preservation that no one fighter becomes bigger then the sport itself. Some fans already feel the need to cast doubt on the influence of McGregor in today’s MMA world. By demeaning his latest achievement as nothing more then a meager promotional gimmick of sort, as the UFC essentially unilaterally already decided that it planned to strip McGregor of one title regardless of the outcome, coupled with the fact McGregor had no real intentions of making the weight cut to 145 pounds again. Aside from this well documented story, 2016 seemingly will also be remembered as the end of the Zuffa era. As many are betting on the fact that McGregor’s dominance won’t last long enough to define the current times we witness for years to come. Therefore, the era we are currently living in remains undefined. As WME may be accredited with running the day to day operations of the UFC. That being said, it’ll be red panty night until McGregor’s days of dominance are through.
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