Mike Brown lay on the canvas inside the Octagon, his featherweight body pinned face down. His hands covered his head, barely. His legs couldn't rescue him. They were stuck in the vice grip of Jose Aldo.
With each ferocious punch Aldo threw, Brown's World Extreme Championship title slipped away, his No. 1 spot vanishing. By the time Aldo finished his assault, he was the new champion of WEC's 145-pound division. A new fighter for fans to support. A new face for WEC to market.
On the other side of the cage lay Brown, his face swollen, his title gone. Just like that, he's the yesterday to Aldo's tomorrow. And so goes the precious position of champion in mixed martial arts.
In an ever-emerging sport where "the next evolution" of mixed martial artists updates faster than a college kid can text friends during class, champions can never have an off day. Never skirt by and rest on past laurels. Never run out the clock or play keepaway.
The NFL used the salary cap to gain parity among its team. MMA just uses its fighters.
Defending a title in MMA has never been easy. Not everyone can be UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Brown did it twice, beating Leonard Garcia and Urijah Faber and receiving much criticism along the way.
Win or lose, the climb back to the top is even tougher. Aldo climbed his mountain. Not everyone can.
Just ask Kenny Florian. He lost a lightweight title match to Sean Sherk in 2006, then had to spend the next three years clawing his way back to title contention. Florian lost to BJ Penn at UFC 101 in Philadelphia in August.
Move up a few filet mignons into the light heavyweight division and you'll find Forrest Griffin. He won the 205-pound title then lost his first defense to Rashad Evans in December 2008. Griffin then got knocked out in the first round against Anderson Silva. He fought Tito Ortiz last night at UFC 106. A win and he's still in the mix. A loss and he won't get a sniff of championship fights until 2011.
Griffin is still among the most popular fighters in UFC, so he'll float closer to the top in terms of big fights. But his road toward championship glory will be a long one, especially in the toughest division there is.
Brown is fortunate that WEC is a smaller promotion, so he likely will get back into the title picture sooner rather than later. But the UFC has more than 200 fighters on its roster, with plenty of worthy headliners. It's not enough to just reach the edge. You have to be willing to jump.