UFC 172 reminded fight fans what makes the sport of mixed martial arts so special.
This event had it all, and the crowd at the Baltimore Arena delighted in its perfection, cheering wildly with an unbridled passion and a keen understanding of the fight game.
The crowd, put simply, was incredible, and the fights were somehow even better. The two played off each other in a symbiotic relationship of violence, and the results were stellar.
To call the crowd of nearly 14,000 "loud" doesn't accurately capture its fervor. The expressions of enjoyment were relentless, as the crowd blew up at every punch, kick, transition, knockout and submission.
Oh, and Jon Jones' entrance?
Yeah, they liked that, too.
As Jones cartwheeled into the Octagon to face his challenger Glover Teixeira, the enormity of the event rippled from the cage and across press row, slamming me in the chest and leaving behind an anticipatory tingle.
"You're not the one fighting, dude," I had to remind myself.
Most of this—the excitement, the noise, the atmosphere—you can gather from home. With a great sound system, you might even be able to match the decibel levels.
However, like watching a DVD of your favorite band versus being front row at a concert, the at-home experience just isn't the same. You miss out on the little details, and the event's full impact is lost somewhere along the transmission process.
You miss UFC lightweight Michael Johnson and UFC bantamweight Mike Easton verbally sparring during the night's co-main event of the evening between Phil Davis and Anthony "Rumble" Johnson.
From his front-row seat directly behind the press, Johnson, a training partner of Rumble's, boisterously called out commands and applauded his teammate's successes, elements that irked Easton, a training partner of Davis.
"Throw the left high kick, Rumble. Oh my God! It's right there!" Johnson would yell as Easton begged Davis for a counter.
Of course, Johnson enjoyed the upper hand in this lighthearted cheering session, as Rumble thoroughly dismantled "Mr. Wonderful" from bell to bell. By the end, Johnson and Easton laughed it off and went their separate ways, leaving the paying patrons surrounding them with a cool story to take home.
You miss Donald Cerrone's traveling star power, which is evident as he is swarmed by fans—some just cheering, some asking for a picture or an autograph—while making his way Octagon-side for the fights.
The same can be said for former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, a man who carried an entourage of adoring followers—some too young to have possibly seen his fights live—around with him as he traversed the Baltimore Arena, obligating media and fan requests at every turn.
You miss national superstar Anthony Bourdain walking calmly down a hallway, flanked by his wife Ottavia and some security guards.
"Ask for a quick picture; mom loves him," raced through my head. "Yeah, but I'm working. I can't do that," came the reply. By the time the gears were done churning and my verdict was made, the lanky chef and author was long gone anyway.
Maybe next time, Mr. Bourdain.
You miss Jon Jones, the main attraction, ducking into a bathroom during Ultimate Media Day to fix his hair and to adjust his sunglasses to achieve the perfect tilt.
(Note: No, I didn't follow him into the bathroom. I was there first. He legitimately came in to check himself out, though.)
These behind-the-scenes details add depth to the event; they create the full package that is UFC 172. You realize you're at a legitimate, professionally operated, brilliantly organized sporting event, and this is understood before the fighters even step into the cage.
Speaking of that...
Chris Beal set the tone for the evening early. His second-round flying knee in the opening bout collided with Patrick Williams' chin, creating a deafening crack that was easily heard from my vantage point. Heck, you could probably hear that one from the nosebleeds. It was absolutely vicious.
After that, Team Alpha Male lightweight Danny Castillo blasted Charlie Brenneman with a right hand from Hades, securing what was, by far, the finest knockout of his career.
Baltimore fight fans instantly became the most spoiled observers in the world, and the night was only two fights deep into a stacked, 10-fight card.
From the time Castillo connected with his flush right hand until Jones connected with what felt like his 1,000th left elbow of the evening, the event maintained its hold of the audience's attention. That's not easy to do when we're talking about a four-hour stretch that is heavily injected with alcohol, adrenaline and testosterone.
Yet the crowd maintained its enthusiasm, and some particularly dedicated fans held out until after 2:30 a.m. ET, about the time media members trickled out of the venue (Are all of these doors chained? How do I get out of here?) and made their way home.
"Oh, man, it's Glover Teixeira!" One fan told his two friends as a bald-headed man wearing a track suit and standing roughly 5'6" emerged from the exit behind me.
"I told you he wouldn't look too busted up after that!"
I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't Teixeira.
What it means moving forward
Jon Jones painted his masterpiece in blood at UFC 172.
While perfect one-shot knockouts from Beal and Castillo, a late guillotine victory by Max Holloway and Tim Elliott's tap-dancing routine while being choked out by Joseph Benavidez set an impossibly high standard of fun and excitement for the night's main event, the UFC champion made sure all the talk remained pointed his direction post-fight.
For five rounds, his brilliance was at an all-time high. Veteran savvy combined with an inherent athleticism and creativity left Teixeira a bloodied, broken mess, and the Brazilian was whisked out of the arena to a hospital without attending the post-fight presser (but an apparent lookalike lingered).
This after Teixeira fought arguably the best fight of his life, mind you.
MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas pointed out during Dana White's scrum after the event that Teixeira fought up to his ceiling in this fight, adding that even that just wasn't good enough, and the UFC president wholeheartedly agreed. Jones is simply a different level of great, and his victory was not earned through his opponent's deficiencies but rather through his own superiority.
Now, as we move forward in 2014, Jones will face Swedish light heavyweight standout Alexander Gustafsson for a second time, potentially in Gustafsson's home country, according to White.
Against Teixeira, Jones capably set the stage for this imminent matchup, effectively showing the world that he is still growing, still developing and still adding tools to his kit of destruction.
Maybe that phrase "dress for success" isn't so crazy after all.
I'll be right back. I need to go adjust my glasses...