First let me say I was never a big fan of mixed martial arts fighting. I've loved boxing since I was tiny, watching Sugar Ray and Marvelous Marvin pound each other with Howard Cossell going nuts down by the apron. I've also been a long-time martial arts fan – I got a black belt in Karate when I was a kid in Tennessee. Even taking all that into account, when MMA and Ultimate Fighting first came on the scene, it seemed like little more than barroom cage fights, and I carried that opinion with me until very recently.
The change was precipitated by The Ultimate Fighter on Spike. Don't get me wrong, this isn't great television. In fact, I usually describe it as "The Real World, except people settle their drama by punching each other in the face." Nevertheless, I got sucked into the show and developed affinity for some fighters and dislike for others. At that point it's a lot like professional wrestling: it's a lot easier to get into when there's a baby face fighting a heel.
Tonight was the big climax of the series' first season. Two finalists from each of the two weight classes on the show would fight for "six-figure contracts" with the UFC. After that, a UFC legend would take on a young rising star to cap off a triple-header for the first live UFC broadcast on cable television. The Spike production did a great job of building excitement for the show, I have to admit.
The first bout featured New Mexico's Diego Sanchez taking on Boston's Kenny Florian in a middleweight bout. Kenny belongs in a lower weight class and it showed. The fight started with the two men circling the octagon, very tentative. This went on long enough for the crowd to start booing. Once they eventually met, though Diego was too big, too powerful, and too mean for Kenny to handle. Diego effectively illustrated the technique referred to as "Ground & Pound" as he mounted Florian and pounded his head until they stopped the fight. Best moment of this fight: Sanchez's girlfriend in the crowd yelling "Fuck him up!" as Diego went to town on Kenny's face.
The second fight, a light-heavyweight contest between Georgian funny guy Forrest Griffin and Chicago's "American Psycho" Stephan Bonnar was a completely different story. These fellows came out swinging for the fences and never stopped. Both fighters got their bells rung several times, but they just kept swinging. I gave teh first round to Forrest based on his solid jab and right hook landing several times each, though Bonnar came on strong later in the round. The second round went to Stephan on my card. He had the advantage in the striking while Griffin had a slight edge in the grappling. My first note for the third round: "HOLY SHIT!" Both men took a pounding, with Griffin scoring more points early until Bonnar got his rythm and started countering well. Throughout the fight, Forrest faired better when they were in the Muy Thai clench. He scored a lot with his knees then. I gave the third to Forrest, but just barely. The judges gave the win to Griffin, too, but the UFC made an incredibly classy move by giving both fighters contracts. This was one of the most exciting fights of any kind I've seen in a long, long time.
The "real" fight was a bit of an anti-climax, with relative newcomer Rich Franklin taking out legend Ken Shamrock in short order after Shamrock slipped trying to kick Franklin in the head. Both fighters were very classy afterwards, though.
So, I guess I'm a fan of the UFC now. (I refuse to buy fights on PPV, though, so I doubt I'll become much of a follower. Oh, well.) I certainly look forward to the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.
I enjoyed this stuff so much, I've renamed my "Boxeo" category to a more general "Fight! Fight!"