UFC 166 Notebook: A Night of Enduring Human Spirit
HOUSTON — There was a moment, at some point during the fourth round of the UFC 166 main event between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, when I noticed that my internal monologue had changed tone in a drastic way.
It went a little like this:
Round 1: OK, this looks just like the last fight.
Round 2: OK, this looks just like the last fight and maybe that's not a good thing for JDS?
Round 3: I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable watching this.
Round 4: Will somebody please stop this fight?
Round 5: STOP THE FIGHT.
Those who follow me on Twitter will confirm the above is true. This fight wasn't just a repeat of the last time Velasquez and dos Santos faced off; it was worse, because it essentially doubled the punishment for the Brazilian.
Velasquez, the scariest man on earth who doesn't look like the scariest man on earth, lost to dos Santos the first time they met. Since then, Velasquez has delivered nearly 10 ruthless rounds of punishment for the former heavyweight champion. Outside of landing a few power shots that Velasquez simply walked through, dos Santos has been completely and thoroughly decimated.
In the first round, I thought it might be a good idea for Velasquez and dos Santos to face each other in perpetuity.
This was a mistake. I do not want to see Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos face each other ever again. What is the point of such an idea? Why would I subject "Cigano," who is one of the nicest people I've ever met in the fight game, to another extended beating that might conceivably make his later years a little bit less enjoyable?
I don't. Dos Santos has an incredible chin and an amazing heart. To stand there, upright on his own two legs while enduring one of the most horrific beatings in UFC history? I don't even know how he did it. Much respect must be given to the Brazilian, who is the second-best heavyweight in the world. But he'll have to settle for that title, because he's not ever going to beat Velasquez.
Fighters are a courageous lot by trade, anyway, and they must be so in order to do what they have chosen to do for a living. Getting punched in the face is not a normal undertaking. But dos Santos refused to wilt when many of his compatriots would have taken the easy way out. He stood on his feet and suffered until he could suffer no more, until he finally dropped to his knees and covered his bruised and lumpy head in a picture of surrender.
That is heart. That is courage. That is inspiring. That is the best of human nature.
And that is something I never want to see again.
Sanchez, Melendez: True warriors
If dos Santos has the largest heart in mixed martial arts, it is Diego Sanchez who serves as his little brother.
Sanchez, who repeatedly did some things that you and I would call crazy in his three-round war with Gilbert Melendez, showed the world once again why he's one of the most exciting fighters in UFC history. He has delivered more thrilling bouts per square inch than anyone I can remember, and in this way has endured long past the point where most fighters find themselves staring down the barrel of Joe Silva's loaded elephant gun.
Melendez beat Sanchez to the punch consistently over the first two rounds, but something changed in the third round. Sanchez, long known for doing remarkable things in the third rounds of fights he's losing, suckered Melendez into a war. It was the kind of fight he wanted, and for good reason; the Toyota Center exploded with glee when Sanchez dropped Melendez to the canvas with a vicious right uppercut. Sanchez—all blood and crazed madman by that point—tried to pounce and finish Melendez in the same way he has other victims whom he has surprised in the final frame.
But Melendez was not the others, and if the former Strikeforce champion wanted a fight to help prove his mettle to skeptical UFC fans, he could not have picked one better. So often fights that are highly anticipated end up being duds once the actual work in the cage starts. This one? It blew away anything we could have imagined and instantly went down in UFC lore.
Much like with dos Santos, however, I can't help but think one thing: I don't want to see Diego Sanchez in these types of fights anymore. They're exciting, to be sure, but I hate the idea that Sanchez must willfully engage in slugfests in order to stick around the fight game. He's not quick enough to beat today's modern lightweights, and so he relies on suckering his opponent into the kind of fight we saw on Saturday night. It may provide for 15 minutes of solid entertainment, but once the glow of the moment wears away, we're left wondering about things like long-term health and brain damage.
I realize I'm covering a combat sport and not the local knitting team—there are dangers inherent in this sport and always will be. But that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the idea of someone who needs to turn a fight into a war, to take incredible amounts of punishment in order to dish out his own.
But, with that said: What a moment in time. And what a privilege to see it in person.
What will it take to really beat Roy Nelson?
After handily losing to Daniel Cormier, Roy Nelson said "He didn’t engage me really. That’s not to take anything away from Cormier, but its tough to fight like that. He’s a great fighter but it's frustrating."
To which I say...what?
Cormier outstruck Nelson 74-17. He landed the harder punches. He wrestled "Big Country" and controlled him at will. In short, Cormier was the superior fighter in every aspect for 15 minutes. He didn't stand and trade punches with Nelson until one of them went down. That might be Nelson's definition of "engaging," but maybe it's also the reason why he can't quite seem to get over the hump when facing the best heavyweights in the world.
Eye, Kaufman deliver yet another exciting female fight
I had the Kaufman vs. Eye fight scored for Sarah Kaufman, but it was close enough that I knew any decision was possible. Those who scored the fight for Eye are probably correct, just as those who scored it for the Canadian aren't wrong either. The first two rounds were incredibly close, with Kaufman delivering the more brutal punishment in the third. But with the way mixed martial arts scoring works, Eye had just as much of a chance to win as Kaufman, no matter what the third round looked like.
In any case, I wouldn't mind seeing these two compete again. And again. And again.
The highs and the lows
The most uncomfortable moment of the night came when T.J. Waldburger was knocked out by Adlan Amagov.
It wasn't shown on TV, and I can understand why, but there was a painfully long and drawn-out period of time when Waldburger was flat on his back on the canvas. His coaches and teammates joined Texas doctors in whispering words of encouragement. Perhaps it was all done for precautionary reasons; Waldburger was stretchered to an ambulance and was taken to a downtown Houston hospital for examination and CT scans. Dana White said that everything came back clear for Waldburger, and so all is well that ends well.
But we didn't know any of these things when the 25-year-old Waldburger was on his back in the cage, with Amagov celebrating and giving a gleeful interview to Joe Rogan a mere five feet away. You can understand the Russian's joy, of course, but you can also understand the concern those of us in the arena had for Waldburger. I can't remember the last time I've seen a fighter stretchered from an arena, and it's not a fun moment.
We love the highs this sport provides. But it is the lows that bring us back to earth.
You did OK, Texas
As a native Texan—I was born and raised in Houston—I was mostly proud of what I saw in the arena on Saturday night.
The crowd was boisterous and loud. I couldn't quite make out how it decided what it would boo and what it would cheer, but it was loud. There were moments in the Melendez-Sanchez fight that were as loud as any reaction I can remember while watching fights; it was a wall of sound that would've made Phil Spector proud.
And considering there were no fights in the crowds featuring Affliction-wearing idiots until just before the main event, well, I'd say we did all right.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, however? That's a different story for a different day. Stay tuned.
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