Saturday night live from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, UFC 97: Redemption was broadcast live on Pay per View. The main event of the night slated arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world, Anderson “The Spider” Silva, against Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace, Thales Leites.
Also on the card was the career lifeline fight between “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. This promised to be a great night of fights, as so many of the UFC’s live broadcasts are. And bars all across America were packed with fight fans, ready to see some action.
Leading up to the main event there was a good amount of satisfaction from the card, with only two televised fights going the distance, and one of those was an energetic, fast paced battle between two UFC up and comers.
Not too long before Silva and Leites squared off in the Octagon, fans around the world witnessed a legend in the sport of MMA, Chuck Liddell, lose his fourth of his last five fights. Not only that but it was his second loss in a row by brutal knockout. This marked a continuation of the fall of a UFC legend, and the jump start of a halted career of Mauricio Rua.
Then it was time for the main event featuring two Brazilian warriors, Anderson Silva, fluent in the standup game, and Thales Leites, fluent in the ground game. In watching all the pre fight interviews, I thought to myself if anyone can beat Anderson Silva, I wouldn’t mind seeing Leites do so.
He is a good fighter with great submission ability, similar to two of the four fighters to beat Silva in the past. No one has ever knocked Anderson Silva out, so a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner would have a better chance of handing the champion another defeat.
Also, Leites is a very tough fighter, winning a fight against Nate Marquardt after being illegally kneed in the head while on the ground, and hit in the back of the head later on in the fight. Most fighters don’t continue after being kneed in the head accidentally, yet he fought on to win by split decision. So going into the fight, I’m excited to see what happens.
I happened to be watching Yahoo Sports’ online stream of the telecast from my hotel room, which decided to freeze just as the fighters were coming out. After a frantic few minutes of restarting Firefox and the Yahoo Sports page, the stream cut back on as they introduced the fighters in the ring. After bowing to each other, showing respect as fellow Brazilians, the fight began.
The fight started out slow, which is understandable as fighters like to feel their opponents out and figure out strategical adjustments, but this went on longer than the first couple of minutes, and into the end of the round.
What went on for the next four rounds was Leites, as time continued, grew more and more afraid of Silva’s standup ability and after a few successful takedowns that amounted to nothing, decided to fall on the ground in his guard in order to trick and/or frustrate Silva into engaging him on the ground.
This went on and on to the point that the crowd not only booed the fighters, but they chanted “GSP! GSP!” a couple of different times to show who they thought was the real pound for pound king of MMA.
It got to be truly ridiculous as the rounds dragged on, Silva utilized new side kicks to hyperextend the knee, and danced around almost tauntingly challenging Leites to engage him. When Silva went on the offensive, whenever Leites was in the thick of trading punches he would fall to his guard, frustrating everyone including Silva. The fight ended in a unanimous decision in favor of Silva.
This frustrated fans of MMA, as well as me for many different reasons. I respect everyone who steps in that cage for the simple fact that they go in there and risk life and limb to compete for their pride and honor and our enjoyment.
In no way am I trying to disrespect Thales Leites as a fighter, but when a fighter refuses to engage with his opponent and even though he is losing a fight just decides to continue being timid, we see parallels to the boxing world.
The thing about MMA that attracts many people is the fact that they are there to fight. If you watch a full card in the UFC, you are guaranteed to see some action and someone be submitted or knocked out before the night is over. Dana White has done a great job of providing monetary incentives for submissions, knockouts and victories in order to promote exciting fights.
This is what boxing is missing, and why we see champions like Floyd Mayweather consistently win long, boring, drawn out fights that go to the judges time after time. Boxing has lost its novelty because no one wants to take chances to win big, they want to collect their paychecks and not get knocked out.
This is what I saw from Thales Leites at the end of the Silva fight, someone who fought not to lose rather than fighting to win.
I completely understand that he wanted to take the fight to the ground. I understand that he wanted to use his advantage to win the fight, but at some point when you are losing and the rounds are dwindling down, when you are fighting for the championship belt you have to have some guts, or something more profane rhyming with and synonymous with this word, and just leave everything in the cage.
You have to say “F- It, I am going to do whatever I can to win this fight”. And that’s what we didn’t see from Thales Leites at UFC 97.
In Chuck Liddell’s case, he was knocked out by “Shogun” Rua towards the end of the first round, but at least he went out fighting. Leites went back to the locker room and probably kicked himself in the ass for passing up a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Whether or not he is past his prime, “The Iceman” has earned the respect of any and everyone who has seen him compete because of his toe to toe brawling, win by any means fighting style.
I’m not saying throw all strategy out of the window nor am I saying never to deviate from your pre-fight plans. In the end though these guys are being paid good money, and at some point as a fighter you will be down, things won’t be going your way and you will sense the possibility of defeat.
At these moments every fighter will have to drop the gameplan and look into his own soul and fight…Just fight. This is why from Rocky to Rudy, no matter what form of competition, not skill nor talent, but heart is what it takes to be a champion.