I am off to a Memorial Day bash, and I elatedly anticipate a terrific evening. I collect three delectable platters, some alcohol, and five additional bodies along the way.
This could potentially turn into a horrific night, comsidering whom and what I just picked up. I am cautiously optimistic and elect to remain sober.
The superb showing from the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the way, I am ready to move on to some professional fighting—in an octagon, without helmets. UFC 98 is on.
There are 10 spectators. On second thought there are eight inebriated, blood thirsty hooligans and two mixed martial arts connoisseurs. I am convinced I am part of the latter few.
Frank Edgar and Sean Sherk enter the arena. This fight seems fairly easy to predict. Sherk will undoubtedly win. “The smaller guy takes it,” proclaims Darin. I can’t help but wonder what a payday this will turn out to be.
Darin has never watched an MMA fight, nor has he practiced any fighting art.
He knows as much about the fighters as I know quantum mechanics.
His reasoning: “Edgar is better groomed.”
The fight unfolds, and Sherk is on the losing end of a deliberate boxing bout. He somehow believes he is a terrific counter striker. Sherk is caught in a deep guillotine choke. He is saved by the bell, but has clearly lost the fight.
Darin has beginner’s luck, and I am down $20. I have four more chances to get it right, as Dan Miller and Chael Sonnen get in the octagon. I boldly bet on the former, and Darin opts to cheer for Sonnen.
His rationale: “Dan has too hairy of a chest.”
Dan is on his back and resorts to being a contortionist, but his aggressor is unyielding.
“Chael is not trying to improve his position,” says Joe Rogan. I count on him attempting to do just that. It is Miller’s only aspiration to an escape or a submission victory.
Twenty seconds left until the final bell. “Unless Chael suffers a stroke, he wins the fight,” proclaims Rogan. I am thinking a triangle choke will suffice, but I am not that lucky, and neither is Miller.
I am down $40, and through parting ways with my disposable income. However, I firmly believe that “Professor X” will get the job done.
Drew McFedries quickly reminds me of the unpredictability of this sport. A powerful right hand and a flurry of punches later, Xavier Foupa-Pokam is dropped just as fast as the $60 I have now lost.
I am astounded, and Darin is in a drunken euphoria. Our host is proudly boasting a Team Hughes Army T-shirt, and Darin bets on Matt Hughes. I am confident in Matt Serra’s fists.
They clash and Hughes appears to be hurt, though Serra is unable to make the most of it. Serra ends up on his back and Hughes attempts a failed rear naked choke. This is a great first round.
Serra is taken down in the second round. The fight grows stale and they are stood up…and again. “This expletive is content just laying on you” screams Serra’s corner.
I could not agree more.
The third round begins and Serra is wrestled to the mat. Hughes is not improving his position and Serra is happy to be back on his feet.
Hughes goes for another takedown but finds himself on his back. The fight ends and Hughes is proclaimed the victor. Serra is down only one point across the board, though the same can’t be said for my bank account.
We are set for the main event and my last chance at redemption.
Machida walks toward the octagon. He exudes a quiet confidence, as usual. Evans walks in, bouncing and grinning. He is not as calm as he normally is. He might be extremely nervous, or just very excited to defend his belt.
“Ma…chida, Ma…chida,” scream Julie and Jenny. I am amused and inquire about the chant. They answer with “his name just sounds so cool.” Darin takes to Machida.
His explanation: “Rashad’s shorts are too tight.”
The first round begins and Evans circles to his left for what seems to be an eternity. Machida is the aggressor; he keeps Evans at bay with left kicks. They are both wary of each other’s abilities.
Machida’s strikes seem unpredictable. Suddenly, a body kick and a well-timed punch connect, and Evans is down. Machida swarms in, though Evans quickly recovers and gets to his feet. Evans is behind on the scorecards—nothing new there.
“You are doing well” says a corner man. “Do this in the second round, he is going to come into your game,” they add. I understand some Portuguese, but I am glad they are translating.
I am thinking Evans will remain patient.
Round two commences and Machida grows confident. He launches four strikes and Evans counters with three, all in about two seconds. There’s a tense atmosphere. This fight could be over in the blink of an eye.
The two strategists inspire me to be evasive. I can’t stick around if I am wrong on five predictions, so I am already planning an exit strategy just in case.
They are now within striking range of each other. Evans is busier with his body movement, and Machida tries to adjust his stance accordingly. This is a true chess match, and I am savoring every bit of it.
Evans steps in, and Machida connects. Two strikes later, Evans is down.
I am waiting for him to bounce back, but he doesn’t seem to recover. He is pinned against the cage. “The Dragon” furiously punches away, and he connects on most attempts.
I am hoping Machida pulls a “Forrest Griffin” and backs away. He doesn’t. Evans is barely standing. He attempts to move forward. What a display of heart! He suddenly collapses, and the fight is over.
My stupefaction is punctuated by the drop of my jaw. I am still unclear as to what exactly just occurred. I am observing the replay. Evans leans in with disregard to Machida’s striking range, and Machida explodes with his lethal left hand.
A closer look suggests Evans may have been trying to lure Machida into standing exchanges, so he could take his unsuspecting foe to the mat. Evans fell right into a trap and that minute mistake at the summit of MMA prompted a swift and decisive finish.
It turns out “The Dragon” had a sweet tooth. Machida’s timing was impeccable, and his strikes were some of the sharpest I have seen from him. His technique was flawless, and only the Machida Karate practitioners could tell me otherwise.
I notice that Dana White looks relieved. He just dodged a main event snooze.
Machida delivers an impassioned, yet comical speech. He is a great champion. Evans is just as graceful in defeat. He is a proud fighter, and displayed the heart of a champion.
The dust settles. I have just witnessed the best tactical battle in years, for a championship bout in the Light Heavyweight division.
I have also been dealt a healthy dose of humility at a costly $100 (I wish they were pesos). It is a stiff reminder of my usual stance on gambling.
Above all, I have gained a valuable insight on the art of PUI: Predicting Under the Influence.