(If you see the old Wandy, please call our missing-legend hotline at 1-888-AX-MURDR.)
“I’ve rededicated myself, I’m completely remotivated. I just need to get back the old Clay — getting them to the ground, going from my strikes to putting them on their back and making them panic in there.” — Clay Guida
"I’m not really worried about who I’m fighting. I’m fighting me right now. I’m fighting against myself, trying to be the old me." — Jens Pulver
For as long as there have been losing streaks in combat sports, we’ve had to suffer through the creaky cliché of fighters promising to return to their "old" selves. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one gladiator in ancient Rome shuffled off to an epic poet after a loss and said, "Yeah, I might have gotten run through with a javelin in my last fight, but I’ve been training hard and you’re all going to see a return to the old Heropoulos, giving the fans at the Colosseum what they paid to see — me disemboweling Christians with a trident." And for some reason, the sound-bite is being employed more and more these days (see above), which is why we’d like to send it on a one-way ferry ride to Ban Island, where it will hopefully never be heard from again. The reasons are quite simple, really…
It’s a regression. Look, as much as we’d like to see Wanderlei Silva recapture his past glory of soccer-kicking undersized Japanese grapplers to death, returning to a previous version of yourself is not the most effective goal for a professional fighter to pursue. Whenever a veteran fighter starts to encounter some losses, his first reaction is often, "I’d better refocus on doing what used to work so well for me; at the very least, the crowd will appreciate it." The truth seems to be counter-intuitive. Guys like Silva, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, and Mirko Cro Cop would be better served by expanding their games and becoming more complete, modern fighters. (Particularly because they’ve been around so long that their opponents have their "old" versions completely figured out by now.) Remaining competitive in this sport requires constant evolution. Regress, and you might as well retire.
It’s desperate and basically meaningless. When you’re winning, you feel like you’re doing everything right. When you’re losing, everything you do feels wrong. I’m reminded of what Nick Thompson wrote after he lost to Dan Hornbuckle at Sengoku 10 last year: "[I] just felt like I had no idea what I was doing…it was a feeling of helplessness…I am dumbstruck. I don’t know what I could have done differently." Thompson, like many fighters after a loss, seemed to credit the result to his own poor performance, rather than Hornbuckle’s brilliant one. When fighters promise to bring back their old selves after strings of losses, what they’re really looking to resurrect is the old feeling of winning, when everything they did in a fight clicked. It’s a lot easier to say "I just have to bring back the old me" than "I’m getting older, I’m losing a step, and these other guys are getting better as I get worse."
It’s annoying. How many fighters have promised to return to prime form and actually succeeded in doing it? (Vitor Belfort doesn’t count; for all the talk about "the old Vitor," that phrase was never uttered by the Phenom himself.) In the end, it’s an empty promise delivered by rattled fighters who aren’t quite sure how to win anymore. And besides, is the old Tito Ortiz more exciting to you than the new Jon Jones? Is the old Cro Cop more relevant than the new Cain Velasquez? The only way fighters remain interesting to fans is if their current versions win fights right now. Doing a cheap imitation of your younger self usually won’t bring you much more than an ass-kicking.