In fact, it seems all backward when you consider that the spirit of competition is the reason this sport -- and any sport -- exists in the first place.
There was a time when the actual best in anything wanted only to compete against the perceived best in anything to prove there’s only one best. In the contemporary sports world, people like to cue up Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the obvious example of this.
And why not? Their mutual respect was so profound that in the decade they competed, the idea of joining forces would have defeated the purpose of competing at all. When Michael Jordan came along, same deal. The last thing anybody wanted to do was co-exist as a hydra. Each wanted to prove they were better than the other, and it was not taken as a sign of disrespect that they didn’t want to let friendships trump individual greatness.
In 1992, the Dream Team was in part compelling because it broke down this basic barrier, and divided the egos by 12. It wasn’t alpha dog; it was alpha team. This was acceptable because it was short-lived. It wasn’t permanent; it was a temporary musing of power in the name of country.
But, specifically, here’s what was great about Magic/Bird: they co-existed as professionals in a sport at the same time. It was the very fact that they coincided. That their timelines overlapped, and the possibility to compete against each other could be realized. This seemed like the greatest gift to basketball fans, this rare moment in time when two of the game's best were made to compete twice a year (and in the Finals). And because they did coincide, the Lakers/Celtics rivalry grew epic alongside them.
So did the NBA. That’s what fighters in MMA need to realize.
By being about individual greatness, the sport becomes great, too. If Magic and Bird had been about creating a juggernaut -- like today’s Miami Heat -- it would have done away with the essential purpose of competing.
Fighters aren’t teams, so they can’t join forces. They can, however, simply refuse to fight each other based on some awe-inspired mutual admiration. They can simply say, “no thanks, I’d rather not.” At some point, you’d like them to say, “People are saying that that guy’s better than me? Well, let’s find out.”
After all, the money is nice at the top -- but greatness is the public echo that rolls down the ages.
Silva just defeated the only threat he’s really known in his weight class via a second round TKO. Chael Sonnen is now in his rear view mirror. It was Silva’s 10th title defense, and his 15th win in a row in the UFC. Everybody knows that he’s the best MMA practitioner in the sport. Everybody but Jon Jones, and people who’ve watched the 24-year old destroy everybody he’s faced. Standing between them is curiosity.
And if ever there was going to be a chance to roll out Silva versus Jones, this would be it. Jones still has to fight Dan Henderson. If he defeats Henderson, then he will have come very close to cleaning out the light heavyweight division. It will require imagination to think that Alexander Gustafsson or Glover Teixeira present any sort of challenge.
The same is true for the 37-year old Silva, who can wait to see how that Jones/Henderson fight plays out in early September. The names Mark Munoz, Michael Bisping and Hector Lombard have some intrigue -- but not the intrigue.
The UFC has hinted of a mega-event in January, possibly at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The greatest MMA champion in history could be available, along with the greatest phenom the sport has seen. The fact that they are both fighting in the UFC right now, that they’re greatness and timetables can intersect -- well, that should be reason enough for the fans to get behind it.
And that the prize of ultimate greatness dangles in the balance should be enough for the competitors. They are, after all, competitors -- they are in this to be the best. Deep down, each guy knows he can beat the other, even if they’ve enjoyed each other’s work from afar.
Admiration for each other is fine -- and believe it or not, admiration stays intact after competing. But nobody should feel content as parallels when the idea is to be the best.
When you’re the best, there are no parallels.