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Another Reminder of "Invincibility" in MMA

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On a historic night in the world's most famous arena, we were delivered another lesson about the fight game. Invincibility in MMA may not exist.

Madison Square Garden played host to both a shocking and epic night at UFC 217 which featured two undefeated champions suffer losses for the first time, both requiring the referee to salvage them from the punishment withstood by challengers looming in the dark.

In the post-fight build-up to the showdown in New York, Joanna Jędrzejczyk was regarded by many as the greatest female fighter to ever step foot in the Octagon. Comparisons to Ronda Rousey (prior to her gigantic fall) were running rampant, as the Polish superstar closed in on her title defence record.

The American Top Team fighter conducted herself in a way that was of an elite, untouchable champion in fight week. But within minutes of her strawweight world championship fight with the underdog and mostly written off Rose Namajunas, she looked as mortal as they come, when she folded at the hands of a crushing left hook. Follow-up ground-and-pound and it was soon over, the championship reign gone to dust.

Image: Boston Herald
Subsequently, Cody Garbrandt would lose both his "0" and coveted bantamweight championship when his bitter rival TJ Dillashaw stopped him in the second round. In all fairness, despite being undefeated and holding the 135 lbs crown, "No Love" remained rather green having finished many of his fights quickly, and making a drastic rise from unranked to champion in the space of one year.

Meanwhile, TJ Dillashaw's experience and resume is only dwarfed by the greatest bantamweight to ever do it, Dominick Cruz. He fell short by a whisker in Boston back at the start of 2016 in an incredibly close contest, but trucked away to get the title shot against a man who shares intense animosity with him.

On paper, Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw was a much closer matchup than the strawweight title fight that preceded it, but the result remained shocking. At the end of the first frame the champion was zeroing in on victory, when he had his former teammate stumbling after a huge knockdown. One head kick knockdown and a right hook later in the second round, TJ Dillashaw would now be beginning his second reign atop the bantamweight division.

Image: Bloody Elbow
The manner in which Garbrandt steamrolled to victory against Dominick Cruz certainly had many writing off Dillashaw. Of course, MMA math doesn't add up. Dillashaw proved that with the TKO as he became the first man to defeat "No Love".

As far as the main event of the night was concerned, Michael Bisping has never been declared as "invincible", he has instead made his name of his courageous and inspiring returns to the top no matter how many times he's been knocked down or the amount of setbacks faced. Georges St-Pierre could have engulfed that honour, had he not suffered defeats to Matt Serra and Matt Hughes earlier in his career.

Combat sports are truly events where the odds balance on a knife edge no matter what. You can take experience, but you can't take the other victories in the past inside the cage or ring with you. All it takes is one shot, one mistake - the margins are so fine that to be invincible you not only have to be the greatest to ever lace the gloves, but also have a slice or two of luck.

Image: SI.com
That's summarised perfectly with a look at what Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas brought to the table for UFC 217. The champion was a well established striker, not only proving it inside the Octagon with her sensational technique but also the fact that she has won multiple world championships in the Muay Thai arena, and kickboxing. On the other hand, "Thug Rose" had never knocked an opponent out in her professional career up to that point, although she had floored opponents she was regarded more as a threat on the mat.

But as soon as referee John McCarthy prompted the action, it was the Lithuanian who pressed forward and took the centre of the cage in spite of Joanna champion's striking pedigree. She easily slipped out of range when the Pole attempted to string some combinations together, and easily drifted into range to crack her opponent with big shots. She was willing to hang in the pocket and even take a body kick or two, and already had the champion backing off in the first minute.

A huge right hand knocked Joanna down for the first time and that was the confidence boost Namajuans needed. She remained looking calm as ever, comfortably on the feet and took her time before landing a massive left hook and that was it. As Joe Rogan exclaimed, "lights out in Georgia" as the dominant reign of the strawweight queen came crashing to an end.

Image: Las Vegas Review Journal
Inconceivable, considering how dominant Joanna was before. She had overcome adversity in previous fights overcoming early knockdowns or wrestling but this was another level. The mental aspect of it must have played a part too with Namajunas remaining unfazed despite all the taunts. Joanna was beaten at her own game.

MMA is still a developing sport which is perhaps why these streaks of dominance are allowed to last before being cut out of the blue. There was of course the famous case of Anderson Silva, who in his prime was regarded as the greatest of all time (and many still regard the Brazilian "Spider" as just that) before his taunting would cost him as a young Chris Weidman landed a left hook and dropped him to win the UFC middleweight championship. Ronda Rousey, too, was flawless and untouchable until Holly Holm landed the headkick heard around the world that ended her reign. Jon Jones has yet to suffer a legitimate defeat (the one loss on his record was through disqualification), but his poor track record with failed drug tests has that discussion well in limbo and doubt at this moment. There are many more names that can be added, Demetrious Johnson may stick out there at flyweight - but remember he was dominated by Dominick Cruz and also lost to Brad Pickett back in the WEC days. That was at bantamweight where he was dwarfed at times, but it still shows, invincibility is as good as utopia in other words. It's a fantasy, and it may not be achievable.

Image: Sherdog
There are now no undefeated champions in the UFC. It's testament to the matchmaking in the sport, even if it did take a detour with the "Money Fight" era ushered in by Conor McGregor, who perhaps is one of the few exceptions in the game. Boxing is undergoing an incredible renaissance and certainly remains at the top but in its supposedly "dead" patch in the fallout from Mayweather-Pacquiao its flaws were there for all to see, the good matchups never happened or were delayed to the point of losing all their firepower.

The amount of intangibles going into a mixed martial arts contest really throw up this variety of possibilities. To be invincible you must be invincible in every element, and there's hardly any UFC fighters in the roster who are. Demian Maia's jiu-jitsu may come closest but all it takes is some excellent takedown defence to nullify that, as exhibited by Tyron Woodley in their welterweight championship fight this summer.

For all Joanna's striking skills, Namajunas who had never knocked out a previous professional opponent landed a left hook on her chin and that was it. Garbrandt and Dillashaw both seem well rounded, although Dillashaw's finishing power could have been past its heyday after the dominant performances against Renan Barão - he rubbished those claims dropping his opponent first with the head kick, and then the right hook. Anything really can happen inside the Octagon, and that's why it makes for epic, unforgettable nights as was the case at UFC 217.

Invincibility isn't just about having a zero in your record. It's about the manner in which you go about things too, there's not been one fighter in history who could not have been beaten, but those who went out unscathed managed to avoid these factors or fight in a way that they could not have been beaten, for any sense that makes. That's no discredit to undefeated fighters, but one day, unless you get out in good time, defeat is inevitable.

UFC 217 was the perfect lesson of that. We'll see more dominant champions in the future, but that probably means we'll also be just as shocked when they fall.

Image: Bloody Elbow

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TheSportMatrix • We Live For Sport: Another Reminder of "Invincibility" in MMA
Another Reminder of "Invincibility" in MMA
UFC 217 aftermath: Undefeated records of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Cody Garbrandt ended on a night where "invincibility" is not achievable in MMA
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TheSportMatrix • We Live For Sport
https://www.thesportmatrix.com/2017/11/ufc-invincibility-ufc-217-jedrzejczyk-garbrandt-undefeated-no-more-nisar-khan.html
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https://www.thesportmatrix.com/2017/11/ufc-invincibility-ufc-217-jedrzejczyk-garbrandt-undefeated-no-more-nisar-khan.html
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