Regarding JDS/Fedor I just don't know. JDS is more athletic, which indicates an evolution of the sport as a whole, not necessarily individual fighters. I don't feel I can judge Junior's entire array of skills, either, since he's so good at keeping the fight standing and ending it there.
But, Fedor was fairly unique in his prime, you can't draw conclusions about the sport at the time based on him.
Jones/Shogun is not even close. Jones is a far superior athlete, a far more complete fighter, and has a rare mental acuity when it comes to taking advantage of a hurt opponent with submissions.
GSP/Hughes - GSP is better at everything, and again, freak athlete.
Bendo/BJ Penn - BJ is a more technical striker and Grappler, and a very underrated wrestler. But you touched on the fact that he's not much cop as a sportsman. He lacks drive and determination, and in a more evolved sport would achieve as much as the Vince Carters of the world do - not much. And MMA is getting there. I think Bendo is more evolved in the sport of MMA. He also has athleticism, size, and Cardio over BJ, and probably wrestling. All of these things are part of the sport.
So in conclusion the sport has evolved to incorporate more physically gifted athletes. It has evolved to incorporate more multifaceted fighters. Soon there will be no more pure strikers or BJJ specialists. And people have figured out that if you want to be a champion, you have to be able to go five rounds.
this is gonna make sense or it wont. but il take a chance. recently i was discussing football with a friend. and i mean the one you play with your feet. the relevance is this. the more we thought about it, the thing that separated the game from today and yesterday in general was the athletics. in addition i would say strategy and tactical nous. now the reality is that the greats already had athletics. pele was an athlete. even maradona has attributes wrapped up in an unlikely physique. lesser player like matthew le tissier could score goals that would make people jump out of their seats. and where im going with this is that back in the day, people could play. but they couldnt necessarily run as hard and as fast for 90 mins in g-e-n-e-r-a-l.
back in the day you had special players like hoddle who could hit a 50 yard pass on a penny (or a dime if you prefer). then you had beckham who could do the same and run for 90 minutes. he was never the fastest, but athletically he could run a marathon for fun.
these guys stand out for individual skills. it dont mean beckham is a better passer than hoddle. and it dont mean the guys 40 years ago who would never make the premier league today, are worse passers than the ones who do.
even under pressure, some of the mistakes you see in the modern game are ridiculous. just as some of the feats are amazing.
thesedays, you have world class athletes as standard. especially in football, which along with tennis is a really hard sport stamina wise. but you also have guys who cant hit a pass straight and hit 9/10 shots over the cross bar.
in mma fedor for example was a natural mma guy. he wasnt just advanced, he basically trained harmonious mma his whole life. which is why he dominated. american mma is still a bastard combination of basics rather than a martial art.
do american based mma fighters have better basics? i doubt it. they draw on wrestler boxing or mt bjj. they are usually clunky or lean heavy in one area. transitions are getting a lot better but it has taken an age.
where american mma excells is athletics and sporting ethic. it excells in strategy for the wrestler friendly context that the ufc cage and unified rules represent.
it dont mean that guys like bendo are better fighters than guys like bjpenn. where he excells is the athletics and the tactical understanding of his context.
and fedor never gassed. i cant think of one time ever. jds gassed a few times and couldnt put nelson away. arlovski for one tooled nelson and finished him. mmaths, i know, but things dont just evolve in one steady direction. even in nature things dont just evolve that way. my old environmental science teacher used to hammer that one into our brains from the moment he got off his bicycle everyday. they move in a direction supported by their context. occasionally they fit nature to themselves. but the point im trying to make is that newer dont mean better. it means generally more suited to the context, and the all time greats are basically not covered by this.
jds looks great against ok mma strikers and wrestlers with no chin. an atg sambo / national elite judo guy with subs and devastating stand up, not to mention a ridiculously good chin and reactions, gas tank and indominable drive and in fight nous, would be a bad bad day for him.
if shogun and jones were the same size or shogun was younger/less damaged and fighting in pride, there is a good chance he would ruin jones.
bendo looks great against edgar. he would tool the shit out of penn if it went a few rounds. however bjpenn could submit bendo. and he could ktfo him as well. so the fact that bendos defensive bjj is so good or that his stamina is so good, dont really help him necessarily. and his wrestling isnt going to go well against world class tdd. his size isnt going to help him against someone who fought machida...
its a really interesting subject. but i think the greats are good in all areas. and always were more or less. the difference is the shifting gamesmanship with regards to the rules and the progression of competency in the basics and athletics in the general fighter. the more you look at the bigger picture, the more you realise this.