What do you see when you sit down and take in a mixed martial arts event?
Do you suspend reality and project your mind into the cage with your favorite fighter? Do you sit back and enjoy the show? Do you break into mad scientist mode and start taking notes for your article the next day?
Whatever MMA is to you, you are not alone, yet you are individually unique. Every one watches for their own reason, every one takes their own perception into and away from a fight, every one bleeds red but we see in the spectrum of a rainbow.
What is it about MMA that appeals to the individual? Every answer is unique and indicative of the personality of who is answering. Is it the combat, the honor, the competition, the brutality, or is it the poetry?
There is no right or wrong answer, but they all hold their weight.
Not unlike the fan looking on, it is very different for every competitor as well. They fight because the fight means something to them. What it means no fan really knows, but the meaning behind the battle is what motivates the competitor to do what they do.
It could be honor, competition, money, machismo, fear, or pride that drive a fighter into the gym every day with the one goal of taking their fight to another athlete. It could be much more, it may even be much simpler, but the motivation for all is still very different.
So when the world of MMA leans back and drinks in a mega event like UFC 112, which just passed in Abu Dhabi, the lines can become blurred when assessing what happened and how it should be perceived. All fans and all fighters are there competing or watching for their own reasons.
Rest assured, UFC 112 carried with it enormous expectations from both the fan and the fighter, and in a round about way it shocked more so than anyone might have imagined. The event itself is perceived as a bit of a bomb at the top layers of the MMA community.
A deeper look reveals more than the immediate knee jerk reaction will allow.
When the fan looks on in expectations of glory and destruction, they have a general criteria in mind based on prior outcomes with certain fighters. They know what they should expect, and damn it, they expect an on time delivery.
Sometimes, even though it is not acknowledged, it turns out exactly as it should have and the fan forgets that this sport is fluid. Was Edgar's upset that surprising? Were Anderson Silva's antics that much of a let down? Could fans not see either aspect of UFC 112 coming?
Sometimes, as fate would have it, as this writer has said many times before, the odds are only an indication of how the past has unfolded. History has always been an indicator of the future, and is bound to repeat itself to an extent.
Yet every historian knows, history brings with it many forks in the road that can not be determined by past outcomes.
The Penn vs Edgar fight is the most glaring example of this to come out of Abu Dhabi. The idea that Frankie Edgar was the man to dethrone B.J. Penn was only bought into by a minuscule platoon of believers.
The fact that Frankie Edgar is your UFC LW Champion is all the proof necessary that this game will never adhere to expectations, that anything can and often will happen. It was the human factor that was overlooked when the MMA lab technicians told the world how this one was going to go.
Those analysts forgot to take into consideration the heart and drive of a hungry, capable, underestimated fighter like Edgar. All they saw was the destruction Penn had handed out with reckless abandon while ruling the division for so long. Alas, it is a mathematical equation made up of two variables, not one.
This was not just Penn's fight, it was Edgar's too, yet the focus remained on the champ and his abilities thus far. The story that wasn't told, or believed in was that of a champion tired and more than likely bored with is current status in a circle that had to date yet to provide a challenge in the slightest form.
Also untold and disregarded was the story of a fighter who had all the talent in the world, a fighter that went to bed every night and woke up every morning with the fear of god in his heart, a fighter motivated by the idea that Penn was all that history says he is.
The point is, this is quite a contrast in motivational factors. One man, a proven, dominant, invincible, restless champion who had not been tested since his latest move to challenge Georges St. Pierre.
The other man, a man with no public credibility, a man with nothing to lose, a man with all the talent necessary, a man motivated by fear of greatness, or perhaps motivated by his own greatness, that was another story.
That human factor does not play into odds, it does not effect outcomes on paper, it does not resonate in the mind of the believer until Frankie Edgar raises his hand and tells Joe Rogan how great it feels to be the new UFC LW champion.
Then it hits home like a Brock Lesnar take down.
Another example of the human factor is the MMA world's assessment of the Silva vs Maia match up. What was going on in that cage, and what was seen and reacted to by the community were really two different things.
At face value it could be chalked up to a weak performance by a champion complimented by a non existent challenge by a challenger. All in all, a bad recipe for a headlining match that happened to showcase one of the best pound for pound fighters on the planet.
Face value though has a way of depreciating. That match can be bought and sold at face value, and discussed to angle on the emotion and frustration of anyone who has an opinion about it. But what was really going on in there?
Is the MMA community to believe that Anderson Silva was in there to showcase his eccentric nature, to humiliate and taunt Maia? Is the MMA community to believe that Maia was in there to last as long as possible with Silva and go home?
The writing on the wall told fans that Silva would make short work of the BJJ expert Maia. Maia would have his underdog's chance of bringing a limb home with him, but the bottom line was Silva would smash the contender. It was a forgone conclusion.
Funny thing about those foregone conclusions is they aren't written in stone, they aren't forged in steel, they are built like a house of cards just waiting for a gust to blow them over.
That gust appeared to be Silva's frustration over lack of being challenged.
Silva did not walk through Maia or stop him as it appeared he could have, Maia did not challenge Silva, and the in between that took place was enough to make an enthusiast sick to their stomach.
Fans did not see the typical dominating champion challenged by the ever popular underdog here. They saw a man, who again has been left to showcase his skills against less than compelling competition for much longer then he should have.
They saw a man frustrated in his own right that he is as great as he is but yet can not find someone to really prove it to. They saw a man who has wasted a good portion of his elite MMA career competing with fighters who quite frankly had no business in a cage with him.
And this was not the first time fight fans had seen this, lest we forget.
What fans saw was not just the pound for pound champ they have grown to know, they saw a human being that was clearly frustrated with is circumstances and allowed it to show by dropping his pants and showing the entire MMA world his ass.
Blame be damned, every one has been there before.
Maia, on the other hand, obviously was not prepared for this fight and had no answer for the questions Silva was asking in that fight. Maia was just a man in the cage with a legend, and his human side showed in his inability to impose any type of game, or muster any type of threat to the champ.
As a human being, he receded into a comfort zone that allowed him to finish out the fight and take his lumps along the way virtually accepting that he was a beaten fighter.
So as history would have it, two utterly unstoppable champions were expected to walk through their opponents and wash their hands of any thought of there being event a hint of a challenge.
Let history remember moving forward, that for all the odds and previous outcomes, that the human factor holds every bit as much weight as any prior event would lead us to believe.
That human factor is what kept Penn from remaining a champion, it allowed Edgar to prevail, it kept Maia from doing what he thought he could do, and it showed us all once again just how easily swayed Anderson Silva can be from a monster to a clown.
Let that be a lesson to us all the next time the invincible take center stage in our glorious sport.
The expectations of the masses do not dictate what will come to pass. It is pertinent to understand the door is always open for the unexpected, there for it should not surprise us when it happens.