November 21, 2020
I have always been both intrigued and troubled by dominant champions. People that have risen among their peers, reached another level, and maintained that distance from everyone else. In most cases, they represent excellence, achieved through hard work and unwavering dedication. They are inspiring, they have the attitude which any one of us should aspire to have for their craft.
Yet, as people love watching a star rise, they love to see it come crashing back down.
I do not believe it is a matter of malice, at least not always; on the contrary, I think it comes from a human need to hope, to believe that the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely, and that it can be subverted by a worthy alternative.
On one hand, we love the underdogs; they allow us to dream that we can achieve greatness, even if there are people out there that are more skilled, more prepared, more resourceful than us. On the other hand, we love seeing our champions be challenged by worthy opponents, barely overcome the obstacle, and even lose; it brings them closer to us. We all face defeat and setbacks in our lives, and we want to see how our champion will handle it; we want to be inspired by their undying resolve to face the challenge, avenge their loss and rise up again.
We do not get that experience with dominant champions. They crush the underdog, along with every hope of witnessing a miracle, and that pushes us away. Even when they are extremely humble, we may admire them, but we find it harder to relate to them.
And this can have a wide variety of repercussions. They say that a dominant champion helps an entire division rise, in an attempt to reach them. While that may be true, it has its limitations. When the challengers are not able to quickly catch up, the entire division may actually be at risk.
Sports are part competition and part show. Promotions sell tickets, pay per views, TV broadcasting rights; they need the audience in order to survive. There are only so many times that a promoter can try to sell a championship fight by building an intriguing narrative around a new challenger, only to see it crumble in ridiculous fashion during the actual competition. After a while, people just stop tuning in; they turn their sights to other divisions or other promotions. Suddenly, voices begin doubting the value of the division; they bring the necessity of its very existence into question.
As a dominant champion, you find yourself at the peak of your game, and at the brink of unemployment. And this is tremendously unfair. This is not a worthy reward for all the blood, the sweat and the tears that it has cost you to get to where you are.
At that point, there are not that many great choices. You probably have to change things up, switch weight classes, go after another champion, sign with a different promotion, or even retire. Or you try and take full advantage of the “show” aspect of your sport, becoming a heel, making sure that people will tune in hoping to see your spectacular downfall. Not everyone has it in them to do that; even when all of it is merely an act, what you say and do can have some very real consequences.
In a way, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.