Ever since the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) first arrived on the scene in 1993, I have always been a very big fan. Then again, at the time I was also a big fan of the movie ‘Bloodsport’ (1988) starring the ‘actor’ Jean-Claude Van Damme, and back then, the UFC was about as close to that movie as anything that anyone had ever seen before.
The UFC was fought in an elimination-style tournament without weight divisions, gloves, or very few rules, which was what made those Royce Gracie victories all that more impressive and amazing. The term ‘mixed-martial arts’ did not really exist back then either (and for the record, Bruce Lee is the original mixed-martial artist).
Back then, I could look at a fighter much like a person might evaluate a racehorse, and determine with near perfect accuracy who the winner of that contest might be based on a combination of determining factors such as; conditioning, style of fighting, and demeanor in the ring.
Compare that to now, and predicting fights has become a real challenge for any true fan. A perfect example of this would have been last night’s main event fight at UFC 102 between Randy “The Natural” Couture and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira.
Both men exemplify what it means to be a true mixed martial artist in the much evolved and improved UFC. At the age of 46, Randy Couture appears to defy time. He looks as good or better than any other fighter (or athlete) in the world. Nogueira also came into the fight in amazing shape and certainly looked as good as he has probably looked in a very long time (I love that at the age of 33, Nogueira has been described as ‘young’).
Without giving you a minute-by-minute play-by-play of the entire fight, let me just say that I knew that this fight was going to be something very special as soon as I laid eyes on both fighters as they were accompanied towards the ring. Both men looked cool, relaxed, focused, and ready to fight. Couture’s slight grin also gave the indication of extreme confidence, and it would be hard to imagine someone enjoying their ‘job’ any more than these two fighters.
My initial prediction for the fight was that Couture, the consummate ‘Ironman’ of the sport, would win by TKO in the third and final round. I based my prediction on the fact that both men would presumably have incredible physical conditioning, and that Couture is known as a very smart fighter.
I just couldn’t imagine Nogueira out striking or out wrestling Couture. I also couldn’t imagine Couture allowing himself to be put into a vulnerable position against a well-known submissions expert such as Nogueira.
Round One was amazing! The crowd went insane as the fighters squared off in the centre of the ring and the two giants wasted absolutely no time in exchanging heavy punches. You could tell right away that both of the fighters had developed very specific game plans for each other very early on in the fight.
The guy sitting next to me yelled out at the television screen “Everyone loves Randy!” Without a doubt, Randy Couture is one of the most beloved men in all of mixed martial arts. At one point during the round, Nogueira managed to knock Couture down to the mat and lock in a very deadly choke, but through tremendous heart and courage, Couture managed to survive.
My adrenaline was pumping as the two legendary fighters met each other in the centre of the ring for Round Two. Something told me that I was about to see fireworks. Nogueira attempted a takedown, but unfortunately for him, Couture was just too slippery and fell into a top position on the ground. Then, with tremendous explosive power, Nogueira quickly spun out from the bottom and locked Couture into some sort of headlocking triangle submission hold.
It looked like lights out for the ‘Natural’, but Couture refused to quit and once again showed amazing heart as he never gave up. Couture then somehow managed to find his feet once again, and the two warriors exchanged more jaw-shattering punches. To me, it looked as though Nogueira was starting to slow down a little. The round ended and I felt very confident that my fight prediction was about to come true – Couture was going to knock out Nogueira in the third round.
In the Third and final Round, Couture got rocked early on by the heavy hands of Nogueira and wobbled his way back onto the mat. Nogueira then wasted no time in mounting Couture and raining down on his face with a barrage of hammer punches. Couture did his best to fend off the aggressive Nogueira, which was enough to prevent the referee from stopping the fight.
“GET UP!!!”, I yelled.
In an effort to get up off of the ground, Couture inadvertently gave his back to Nogueira, who didn’t waste the opportunity to attempt a choke, which was perfectly defended by Couture. I wanted the referee to stand the men up again. I wanted to see them slug it out in the final seconds. The bell rang and the fight was over, but I wanted more. I needed to see these men fight to the finish – only then would the true master be revealed.
By my count, Nogueira had won the fight by decision. The judges all agreed.
Overall, this was an excellent fight and a prime example of two incredible athletes and martial artists doing themselves and their fans proud. This fight was definitely ‘history in the making’ if only because it truly demonstrated just how far the UFC has come in its evolution to be recognized as one of the most skillful and difficult sports on this planet.
Both men are major class acts and represent their sport as true ambassadors. Both of these men deserve to be champions.
See you at the next fight.
Check out: http://mrjamesryan.com/2009/07/30/zen-in-the-martial-arts/