I spent much of Saturday night looking silly. Silly when my first three picks went horribly awry, including the crushing of my Maia mancrush (although I DID manage to scratch back to 2-3, even hitting the outcomes of the last two fights. Go, me.) Silly when I walked into a taxi covered in Jack Daniels after some idiot dropped $16 worth of liquor on my jeans at the stool at bar’s end.
Mostly, though, I felt silly for writing the other day that I would have much rather seen Randy Couture and Minotauro Nogueira fight in their prime. That’s because the battle they put on Saturday night was not just a prime-level encounter; it was maybe the fight of the year.
If Philadelphia had an inferiority complex before, the events of the last month could not have helped. While the UFC’s first visit to the City of Brotherly Love yielded a night of pugilistic somnambulism, the UFC’s first visit to Portland produced a card that I’d put among the best of 2009. Seriously, have you been to Portland? It’s delightful there. It doesn’t NEED this, and yet, in spite of ticket sales that were reported to be relatively lackluster, they got a real gem.
You know it’s going to be a good night when even the preliminaries deliver something to remember. In this case, it was a UFC-record seven second KO by Todd Duffee over Tim Hague. I heard about that one before I wandered out for the night, so it’s always fun to turn to the guy next to you at the bar and start counting backwards from seven when the fight starts. You look like a wizard when you do that.
The trainwreck fans also got their money’s worth when Ed Herman’s knee exploded against Aaron Simpson. Simpson dominated the fight, though, and I’m pretty sure that Herman had it coming after five solid minutes of “he keeps knocking me down so I keep bicycle kicking.”
I must admit, I was a little worried about the card when the first fight televised was a snoozer between Brandon “Wasted Great Nickname” Vera and Sozzy Bear. Vera controlled the action for three rounds, and I have no desire to watch him do it again. It was one of those fights that was a net negative for both careers. Hate to see that.
Business picked up with the next match, though, so long as that business wasn’t my sideline: collecting Demian Maia rookie cards. Maia remains one of the best BJJ practitioners in the sport. Sadly for him, this is mixed martial arts, and Nate Marquardt mixed his brainpan with a beautifully-timed one punch KO after Maia was silly enough to try to come in for a big shot. I don’t want to see a Silva/Marquardt rematch, but it’s hard to say Nate shouldn’t get some sort of reward for that gorgeous stoppage of a guy who some supporters (okay, me again) said should be next in line at middleweight. Sigh. On the plus side, my Shane Shrine (“Shrine Carwin?”) stays intact until at least UFC 106.
Jake Rosholt took three rounds to realize that trading strikes with Chris Leben wasn’t a bright idea. That’s the thing about superior wrestling, though: so long as you realize you have it, you can control the fight venue. Rosholt hung in there through two with good takedowns and great ground defense but missed at least two great opportunities for a choke finish. The third was a charm, however, and it’s probably about time for UFC to do a cost-benefit analysis for keeping the volatile Leben on board.
In the night’s penultimate match, it was Thiago Silva finally convincing the people around me that I’m brighter than I look. I had a feeling his beating at Machida’s hands was just a blip against an incredible fighter, and he proved it against Jardine with a great KO that should assuage doubters. Jardine’s best when he’s able to work the angles against a fighter and trip him up with his weird spider-goat movements, but Silva simply came at him and finished with a strike that put him down and a finishing blow to send the Dean to dream street.
Frankly, the card could have stopped there and I’d have been okay with the money’s worth, but the main event produced a showstopper.
The two gladiators were winners before the fight even started. Nogueira, for picking “Gimme Shelter” as his walk song. A man with capital-T Taste, right there. And Couture wins at life for being that ripped in his mid forties! Seriously, the dude was cut like an emo kid’s wrists while my lazy ass, twenty years younger, was shoveling guacamole into my face.
Guacamole and shame, friends. Guacamole and shame.
Then, it began.
A takedown by Couture… and the veteran’s smarts to let the dangerous black belt back to his feet. A knockdown by Nogueira, followed by a side choke with minimal leverage that only a master like Nog could cinch in deep enough to threaten, and yet he did. And Couture, never having tapped, wouldn’t there, struggling for what seemed like ages before making the improbable escape. Lefts and rights, sick five-punch combos by Nog, hammering shots, both looping and down the pipe, from the Natural.
And that was just the first round!
They produced two more excellent ones. In the second, Couture was working that all-world ground and pound from the guard, and before you could blink Nogueira flips him over and mounts. Minotauro takes back control in the third, it looks all but over with another choke, but Couture fights out again. Two things stood out in this match: Nogueira showing he could still bang as well as he makes them tap, and Couture showing just mythical toughness, an utter refusal to surrender in the face of rapidly worsening odds.
And the odds did get worse; Nog took the second round closely and asserted dominance in the third… but he could not finish the Natural before the cards. If it had gone to the championship rounds, I think Minotauro might have won it there. But the mere fact that both men, at a combined 79 years of age, could undisputedly have fought a fourth and fifth… well, that’s a testament to dedication, my friends.
If this was Couture’s swan song – and there is no reason to believe it need be, even though his championship days are gone – he went out to an ear-filling round of applause that stretched from Portland to the dive bar on the East Coast where I heard it all around me. It may have only gone three rounds, but that fight was championship worthy.
We’ll be hard-pressed to find another one as good in 2009.
Photo by Tracy Lee, from yahoo.com.