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Fast Forward: Can You Really Know Which UFC Stars Will Reign Supreme A Decade From Now?

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HDNet wonders which MMA star is the best bet for a long term deal. Jonathan Snowden looked back to a decade ago and determined MMA futures are an extremely risky bet.

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Earlier today Albert Pujols, the greatest hitter in baseball, signed a 10 year contract to play ball for the Anaheim Angels. The remuneration? An unspeakable two hundred and fifty million dollars. I spelled it out so there could be no confusion about whether I inserted too many commas or put the decimal in the wrong spot.

When the contract ends, Pujols will be in his forties. His glory days will likely be long gone. Will it have been worth it for the Angels? Anything short of a World Series title says "absolutely not."

Later in the morning, HDNet Fights posed an interesting question. Who would you sign to a ten year Pujols style deal in the world of mixed martial arts? Is there anyone that would be worth that kind of significant investment?

Let's look back a decade to see how that investment would have paid off had the UFC signed any of its world champions to enormous deals in 2001.

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Heavyweight Champion

Name: Randy Couture

Current Status: Retired

Last Title Held: Heavyweight title (2008)

Years As A Significant Force: 2002-2006, 2007, 2009

Comments: Couture had a stellar run, dropping down to light heavyweight and winning the title there as well. A retirement that didn't take and a contract holdout together cost him almost two years of his career. Couture would have been an unlikely choice for a long term deal. He was already 38 and had been through a war with Rizzo. Still, all told, the UFC got seven main event years from one of its all time legends. A solid investment.

Light Heavyweight Champion

Name: Tito Ortiz

Current Status: Approaching Retirement

Last Title Held: 2003

Years As A Significant Force: 2002-2004, 2006

Comments: Ortiz is one of the most important fighters in UFC history and was at the top of his game in 2001. But he was quickly surpassed by both Couture and Liddell and was only the top light heavyweight in the world for two more years. He's battled injuries and contract issues for much of the decade as well. The top bet in 2001 for a decade of success, Ortiz would have been a bad investment.

Middleweight Champion

Name: Dave Menne

Current Status: Fighting on the independent scene

Last Title Held: 2002

Years As A Significant Force: None

Comments: Menne lost his title almost immediately to Murilo Bustmante and gradually faded as a top star. His last UFC appearance was in 2006. He's lost every significant fight of his career since the Bustamante bout. This would have been an epically bad investment.

Welterweight Champion

Name: Matt Hughes

Current Status: Last Legs of a Hall of Fame Career

Last Title Held: 2006

Years As A Significant Force: 2002-2009

Comments: Hughes was a brand new champion in December, 2001, but he turned in to one of the all time greats. He defended his belt against all comers for years, then regained the title when B.J. Penn left the company. Unfortunately, as good as he was in the cage, Hughes struggled at the box office. He only became a star after appearances on The Ultimate Fighter and a superfight with the legendary Royce Gracie. By 2006, Hughes was the total package. Unfortunately, Georges St. Pierre has already surpassed him as the division's best fighter.

Lightweight Champion

Name: Jens Pulver

Current Status: Fighting on the Independent Scene

Last Title Held: 2002

Years As A Significant Force: 2004, 2008

Comments: Pulver's decision to vacate the UFC title and try his luck in Japan changed his life - and not for the better. Pulver was never again a real factor in the fight game and has struggled to make a living. He made a triumphant return to the Octagon in 2007, but was knocked silly by Joe Lauzon. He moved on to help launch the WEC into the mainstream but was no longer competitive against the best.

Analysis:

MMA is a sport that sees change happen rapidly. It's a dangerous game for older fighters - and a ten year, high stakes contract in the sport would be the equivalent of playing roulette. In the end, two of the UFC's champions would have been decent long term signings. Conversely, two would have been absolute disasters. But the biggest star of the decade, and an integral part of the UFC's growth would have been an after thought in 2001- "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell. MMA is unpredictable like that. The next big star is probably sitting just outside our field of vision. I wouldn't want to place a bet on who that might be. Would you?