UFC President Dana White delivered an apropos summary of UFC 166: "... From the first fight of the night, right up to the Heavyweight championship, it's the best fight card we have ever had," per Thomas Myers of SB Nation's MMA Mania.
Looking back on the series of vicious knockouts paused to make room for savage wars, it's tough to argue otherwise.
Cageside fans in Houston's Toyota Center erupted in applause countless times over the course of the evening's 13 bouts—seven explosive knockouts, five back-and-forth exchanges that went the distance and a lone submission to boot.
Though we might recall each and every blow vividly, it's important to respect and admire the fighters who are sometimes left without similar luxuries.
At UFC 166, several fights—with emphasis on Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez and Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos—were highlighted by fighters willing to push past the proverbial envelope.
There was much to be learned from Saturday night's affairs, so let me take this opportunity to point out some of the most valuable lessons gleaned from UFC 166.
Praise from a fellow fighter is something to be appreciated—praise from Carlos Condit is something to be especially respected and strongly considered.
It's no surprise, then, that Amagov thanked Condit for assistance in further refining his striking prowess in the weeks leading up to UFC 166.
Moreover, he thanked the whole of Jackson's MMA in a state of pure excitement—it made perfect sense given the vicious onslaught he'd just unleashed on TJ Waldburger. An uppercut wasn't crippling enough for the Russian's interests, he accented the blow by bracing the back of Waldburger's head with his other hand.
Amagov's blistering victory put him alongside Rustam Khabilov and Khabib Nurmagomedov in a league of Russian imports looking to redefine the UFC's cultural landscape.
As a fellow Russian, I can affirm that there's a certain fire and brimstone aura that defines the culture and heritage of the Motherland; this recent rash of impressive Russian fighters is nothing short of confirmation that a stoic, dedicated and hard-earned upbringing tends to produce some seriously motivated athletes.
And to think—in spite of Amagov's impressive knockout victory in Houston—we haven't even seen the breadth of his arsenal.
Exciting times, indeed. The Russians are evidently here to stay.
Nate Marquardt is a seasoned veteran with an impressive catalog of fights spanning a multitude of organizations, but at UFC 166, Hector Lombard dismantled him so quickly that none of it mattered.
The Lombard that stepped onto the weigh-in scale looked like a leaner, meaner version of his hyper muscular, middleweight self.
In hindsight, that shredded manifestation was a telltale sign that Marquardt was in for an awakening.
Lombard lurched forward with a slightly unsettling swiftness, surging towards his opponent with the utmost of ease. He threw looping punches until Marquardt collapsed to the canvas.
As if the display wasn't frightening enough, he sealed the deal with some perfunctory hammerfists.
If Saturday night's performance was any indicator, Lombard's unique blend of Judo-based takedown defense could force many more 170-pound fighters to dodge his blinding haymakers.
The welterweight division is officially on notice.
More mass signifies more force, an effect amplified by the longer limbs synonymous with the bigger weight classes.
The lighter weight classes just can't produce the volume of knockouts you see with the big boys—the science doesn't lie, am I right?
Well, apparently, John Dodson doesn't particularly care for our objective reasoning—he's got a knockdown rate suitable for a heavyweight fighter, according to Reed Kuhn of Fightnomics.
And that's a feat made all the more impressive when you factor in his 125-pound fight weight.
Like any other flyweight, he's got enough dexterity and natural athleticism to last for ages—but it's that black magic he uses at the end of his fists that truly mesmerizes anyone watching.
Three of his four UFC victories have come by way of knockout, an accomplishment that earns him the distinction of being one of the organizations most lethal strikers, according to Kuhn.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu can be principally defined as human chess, boxing as the refined art of hand fighting, wrestling as the mastery of physical control—and the rest of the specialities follow suit.
Technique and controlled approach certainly have a very defined place in the sport of mixed martial arts.
But there are times—distinct and noteworthy times—when there's nothing that can take the place of two fighters willing to leave heart, mind and body battered and broken inside the cage.
At UFC 166, Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez engaged early in the first round—but more interestingly, they never disengaged. Fists, feet, knees and elbows flew at a rate that earned them the official Fight of the Night award and front-runner status for the 2013 Fight of the Year.
Melendez and Sanchez put on more than a show inside of 15 minutes of combat—they delivered a combat sports spectacle filled with more than a single fight's worth of critical strikes and adrenaline-pumping knockdowns.
Their showdown is one that won't ever be forgotten.
Given his unassuming demeanor and earnest smile, there shouldn't be anything frightening about Cain Velasquez.
But those traits only qualify when a locked cage door is nowhere in the vicinity, for as soon as it slams shut, he assumes a far more sinister alter-ego.
He doesn't let opponents gauge distance, find a comfortable footing or even hope for anything resembling a rhythmic, even pace. On the contrary, Velasquez puts on a brutal grind in a manner never before seen in the championship ranks.
The extra weight adds a certain dynamic to his wrestling that fellow champion Georges St. Pierre can't hope to match. With Velasquez, it isn't about a squeaky-clean performance.
His 14 fights feature a single hiccup: a lost round and lost bout to Junior dos Santos via knockout.
But is that even relevant anymore?
He unleashed a demonic fury on Antonio Silva en route to a rematch against dos Santos. When the opportunity materialized, he took the belt back after forcing the Brazilian into waters so deep he nearly drowned.
At UFC 166, dos Santos couldn't even make it the full distance—Velasquez rearranged his face with enough ferocity to end the fight in the final frame.
Fabricio Werdum is supposedly next in line to suffer the agony of a heavyweight title shot, according to Dana White (h/t Mike Whitman of Sherdog).
For his sake, I hope he's fine-tuning the mechanics of his submission game to the extent that he might be able to tap the champ from any and all positions.
Anything short of that would likely signify an even further developed, experienced and engineered Velasquez doing what he does best.
And that is a frightening proposition.
Bonuses ($60,000 each)
Fight of the Night: Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
Knockout of the Night: John Dodson
Submission of the Night: Tony Ferguson
Kyoji Horiguchi def. Dustin Pague via TKO (punches) at 3:51 of Round 2
Andre Fili def. Jeremy Larsen via TKO (punches) at 0:53 of Round 2
Tony Ferguson def. Mike Rio via submission (D'arce choke) at 1:52 of Round 1
Adlan Amagov def. T.J. Waldburger via knockout (punches) at 3:45 of Round 1
KJ Noons def. George Sotiropoulos via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Jessica Eye def. Sarah Kaufman via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Hector Lombard def. Nate Marquardt via knockout (punches) at 1:48 of Round 1
Tim Boetsch def. CB Dollaway via split decision (30-26, 27-29, 30-26)
John Dodson def. Darrell Montague via knockout (punches) at 4:15 of Round 1
Gabriel Gonzaga def. Shawn Jordan via TKO (punches) at 1:33 of Round 1
Gilbert Melendez def. Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)
Daniel Cormier def. Roy Nelson via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Cain Velasquez def. Junior dos Santos via TKO (strikes) at 3:09 of Round 5