It brought a beautiful and cathartic close to a strange night of fights. As Lyoto Machida's left shin swept through Mark Munoz's ever-so-slightly lowered right arm, the mood of the crowd was washed clean.
English crowds are vocal. They are like that friend you have who is too blunt to ever be introduced to your family, but who is so brutally honest that you could never distrust them. If a fight stinks, the British crowd will let you know about it.
I was cage side for UFC Fight Night 30: Machida vs. Munoz, and the night had delivered some cracking moments in its early going. Earlier in the evening, Cole Miller had hit the Roleta sweep on Andy Ogle, John Lineker had delivered a good knockout with body shots, and crowd favorite Stormin' Norman Parke had won a convincing but competitive victory over Jon Tuck.
Luke Barnatt had even picked up an impressive submission victory in which he made two attempts at a Mark Hunt style walkaway knockout, both of which left his opponent conscious enough to make a grab at him. The shouts of "What're you doin', ya f**kin' spaz?!" from his fans were a laugh.
The mood heading into the main event, however, had soured.
Sexton vs. Andrade
On the undercard, the crowd had endured perhaps the worst unanswered beating in WMMA since Jan Finney was decimated by Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. Jessica Andrade simply brutalized Rosi Sexton on the feet.
It hurt as a fan because Sexton is such an endearing character and her doing so much for women's MMA, particularly in England. It was more upsetting because of her clear will to continue in the face of such a drubbing. But what hurt the most was the clear ineptitude of the referee and the lack of responsibility from Sexton's corner.
Sexton was actually landing counter blows as Andrade came in, swinging wild. In fact Andrade was proving pretty predictable in leaning straight back in defense each time. The problem was that Sexton had not had her legs under her since the opening minute and showed none of the power that would be needed to turn a fight around.
It is the duty of the referee to protect the fighter. That is also the duty of the fighter's corner, but the corner will normally allow themselves to get caught up in the fight. They feel for their fighter, and they can kid themselves that their fighter can land a big punch down the line and pick up the comeback of the year.
It is the referee's job to prevent the fight from getting that far when the fighter is clearly taking so much damage.
Frankly, referees need to learn that it is completely justifiable to stop an MMA fight while a fighter is still standing. Sexton showed no ability to get away from the punches and was on wobbly legs for much of the bout. Even if she had pulled off a last second knockout, it would not have been worth the damage that the referee and her corner allowed her to go through.
This was not the fight to show your friends if you want to get them in to the MMA scene.
Manuwa vs. Jimmo
Jimmi Manuwa and Ryan Jimmo slowed the show down in their bout. Both are gifted fighters, but both repeatedly swung into clinches in which all they were willing or able to do was hold on. It was less a battle of pummeling for position than it was a case of refusing to budge grips until the referee confirmed that it was safe to.
Jimmo attempted to use the karate game popularized by Machida out in the open, bouncing and retreating before stepping in to meet his pursuer with a hard strike. But more often than not, he did little and ended up back in the clinch.
The fight was brought to an abrupt end through a literal misstep by Ryan Jimmo. Jimmo injured himself and was unable to continue, leaving the crowd underwhelmed. Both men are great fighters, but stylistically it is probably worth avoiding a rematch in terms of entertainment value.
Parke vs. Tuck and Lineker vs. Harris
Of course there were also plenty of enjoyable fights on the card. Cole Miller's bout with Andy Ogle was stellar. John Tuck and Norman Parke also provided a good scrap which illustrated a couple of good principles which we are always discussing.
This was vintage puncher vs. kicker stuff. Tuck looked to land long kicks against Parke from the outside. Through the first round this looked to be working decently, but Parke's commitment to keep backing Tuck up worked a treat.
It is exhausting to keep backing up and moving and kicking. The classic example is of Fedor Emelianenko versus Mirko Filipovic, but there have been plenty of fights to illustrate the point.
Both fighters were looking for their rear hand all fight as they attempted to rock away or slip and come back with their own.
The main factor which was absent from Parke's still developing game was a good right-handed strike. Tuck was looking outclassed by round three, but survived because he circled away from Parke's left hand. If Parke could find a good right hook on Tuck he could have held Tuck in place for the left.
It is not necessary to have a hugely powerful right hook or right low kick, but something to form a barrier and hold the opponent in place as he attempts to circle away from the left hand.
In fact Parke's wheel kick, probably thrown for the fun of it, actually came dangerously close to a good connection because of Tuck's constant movement to Parke's right side.
John Lineker demonstrated this cutting off of the cage with punches when he picked up an easy knockout earlier in the night because his opponent, Phil Harris, was circling exclusively into Lineker's right hand. The long, telegraphed right hook to the body looked to be an obvious set up, and I was fully expecting Lineker to catch his man with a left hook as he returned to his upright stance.
What happened instead was that Harris refused to move to Lineker's left. In avoiding Lineker's highly touted left hand, Harris stood and took the right hands that Lineker was trying to convince him to move away from.
Pearson vs. Guillard
The final bizarre let down of the night was Ross Pearson versus Melvin Guillard. Pearson showed his usual great head movement (some of the best in MMA), while Guillard showed his usual speed and offense. Unfortunately, an illegal knee caused a cut which had the fight deemed a no contest.
By this point the crowd were getting pretty annoyed.
Machida vs. Munoz
Machida's bout was something remarkable though. The crowd had been vocal through any moment of inactivity in the past two hours of fights ("stand 'em up!" when Cole Miller had Andy Ogle's back). Yet two minutes into the Machida vs. Munoz bout, an eerie hush was taking over the crowd.
Machida did much less backpedaling than usual and didn't seem to want to draw Munoz onto his left straight. Instead, Machida took the centre of the octagon and used his feints to keep Munoz guessing.
Machida threw three meaningful strikes in the entire contest: two middle kicks and a high kick.
This fight illustrated two great points.
The first is that it is not enough to use the wrist or glove to block a powerful kick in mixed martial arts. Gloves are too small and the closer to the end of the arm you take a kick, the less stable the block is, turning moments into action.
The second point was that U.K. MMA fans are a committed and educated bunch. For all the terrible Tapout t-shirts on display and the booing of anyone who was fighting against a U.K. fighter, the Manchester crowd sat in a quiet anticipation as Lyoto Machida, a Brazilian, feinted and moved for three minutes without a meaningful connection.
They were rewarded with the knockout of the night, and the misfortune of the co-main event was almost forgotten.
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