Mixed Martial Arts is an odd duck of the sporting world. It seems to be the case often that people who watch (or watched) pro wrestling have a tendency in this day and age to make the switch over to enjoying Mixed Martial Arts. One would assume that this is because the nature and kind of action found in MMA is similar to that of pro wrestling, in that you’re basically looking at amateur wrestling combined with stand-up striking. It’s obviously a hell of a lot more complicated than that, and is really one of the most intricate combat sports (and sports in general, really) on the planet. But it’s real, and it has the strong possibility of being really exciting, thanks to the way that these fights can end, taking anywhere from 8 seconds to 25 minutes (both of which were seen on the same show at World Extreme Cagefighting’s Faber vs. Brown II card Sunday night).
I have a tendency, when I begin to enjoy a new hobby, to learn every possible thing I could ever know about whatever it is in the shortest time possible. This happened when I got into baseball in the early 2000’s, and comics in 2006. And it’s starting to happen with MMA in 2009. A lot of the things you need to learn about MMA lie in the ground grapple game and the different types of guards, transitions, mounts and so on. Once you understand the differences between full guard, half guard, side control, north/south, full mount and so on, and what it means to pass guard or posture up, and what submissions can be attempted from what positions, you get a much better idea about the way these fights flow (or don’t flow in some painfully slow ways) on the ground. Oddly enough, what helped me the most in understanding how these grappling parts of the fight work was the X-Box 360 game UFC 2009 Undisputed, which has fantastic dynamic commentary during the matches from Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg who explain exactly what’s happening and what positions the fighters are going for. I’ve seen a couple of MMA cards now; I caught a recent Spike TV Fight Night, as well as UFC 91 on DVD and some WEC and Strikeforce shows. I’ll be ordering UFC 100, and I am quite excited about the prospect of seeing the Brock Lesnar Frank Mir world heavyweight title unification (re)match, as well as Georges St. Pierre’s next defense and the Dan Henderson Michael Bisping match.
What I really want to talk about is the hell of a night of fights that World Extreme Cagefighting put on Sunday night. WEC is the sister promotion of UFC that focuses on smaller weight classes. The main event was the big rematch between former featherweight champ Urijah Faber and the man that took the title from him, Mike Brown at 145 pounds. The show was on VS, and I’ve been watching a lot of VS recently because of the NHL playoffs, and they’ve been hyping this fight up like crazy as the greatest featherweight fight in the history of the sport. And you know what? There’s a good chance that they were right. The crowd was so insanely behind Faber, which isn’t really shocking considering that the show was in Sacramento and his nickname is “The California Kid.” Even better, the guy’s entrance music is “California Love,” which just made the entire place come unglued cheering their hometown hero trying to regain his belt. And then Mike Brown comes out to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” being booed out of the building and not having nearly the cockiness of his challenger, because like the song says, he’s a simple kind of man. And I’m not trying to say that Faber was overly cocky or a dickish person; it’s quite the opposite, really. It’s just when you compare the two entrances specifically and think of things in pro wrestling terms, Mike Brown would be a lot closer to the babyface and Faber closer to the heel.
And I haven’t even discussed the match itself, which was a five round war of attrition that had so many great moments and storylines that it beats just about anything pro wrestling has done in years. You’ve got the quicker man with the unique striking in Faber compared to the stronger and more traditional Brown, and Faber wins the first round with some great strikes and the crowd’s going crazy. And then the fight keeps going, and you start to notice that Faber is throwing these lunging right elbows instead of jabs and hooks, and he’s shaking his hand from time to time and not holding it up, and then during the third round you realize that he broke his hand in the first round on a straight right that hit Brown on the top of his head, and after the third round ends they show a replay of Faber walking to his corner after the first round, pointing to his right hand and making a small cutting gesture against his neck as if to say “my right hand’s gone, man.” And yet this man, broken hand and all, just keeps fighting all five rounds. Hell, he even hurt his left hand (though not nearly as severely) later on in the fight, to the point that in the fifth and final round, all he’s got left are kicks, right elbows, and open hand slaps with his left, and he’s still hanging in there and getting some nice shots in periodically. And he’s getting taken down but he’s valiantly trying to grab submissions that he can’t finish because his hand is broken and he can’t get his chokes locked in deep enough. And he comes the closest to getting a guillotine with about a minute thirty left in the final round and Brown drops to the ground and you think he’s managed to lock it in and the crowd’s going nuts, but then Brown slips out of it and you can tell that Faber’s just not going to get it done no matter how hard he tries.
Then the fight ends and Brown wins unanimously with two 49-46’s and one 48-47, and Brown puts over Faber as a warrior and Faber puts Brown over as the best. Faber adds that he couldn’t do much with two ruined hands, but he tried his darndest and he will be back and he will get another shot and make good on it and so on, and this whole time his cornermen are icing his gigantic swelled right hand, and he’s obviously in a ton of pain, but it doesn’t matter because the belt wasn’t around his waist. And that’s what’s beautiful about Mixed Martial Arts. It’s really at its core the fusion of boxing and pro wrestling, so you have this real sport where anything can happen at any time, and you’ve also got the personalities and the pre and post fight promos and characters of folks like Brock Lesnar and Kenny Florian and Urijah Faber. You see the pure fun and joy in the eyes of Jose Aldo after he popped Cub Swanson in the head with a flying double knee strike and knocked him out in eight seconds. This is a guy who’s doing a victory dance ten seconds after he shook hands with his opponent to start the match. And I mean that literally. The guy did a victory dance. And it was awesome. It’ll be interesting to see how I react to actually paying for a UFC event, and even though the UFC 100 card is stacked and should be a full night of good fights, there always remains the chance that unscripted real fighting can be really damned boring in quick fashion. Luckily, the entire card for WEC 41 was not boring at all, and I enjoyed every second of it.
This post was written to the tune of The Talking Heads’ Fear of Music