In something that seems to be a bit of a habit for the UFC, an event that looked terribly weak on paper and likely did not do great business on pay-per-view actually ended up being one of the more entertaining shows of the year.
I was so cynical about the card’s prospects that initially I didn’t even set out to watch it. I only caught it with a group of friends due to circumstance and other plans for the evening falling through. That said, I’m glad I did as it contained only one stinker of a fight, two potential fight of the year candidates, and a great moment for those who were fans of Mirko Cro Cop during his glory days.
In a Fight of the Year candidate, former WEC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit defeated 20-year-old Vancouver native Rory MacDonald with literally seconds remaining in the fight. Condit, who had been less than impressive in the UFC after a WEC Welterweight Championship run that had many (including myself) putting him in the upper echelon of the division, looked like he had finally returned to his old form. MacDonald, meanwhile, showed great resilience and toughness for such a young fighter. Condit seems to have shaken whatever cage jitters he may have acquired in his move up in competition, and it looks like he could meet the high expectations fans had upon his arrival in the organization after all.
The less said about the Ben Rothwell/Gilbert Yvel fight the better. As good as the opener was, this had to go down as one of the most disastrous bouts in recent memory. As expected, Rothwell took it to the ground. Unexpectedly, Yvel actually gave him trouble on the ground. If you missed it, let’s just say that it’s not because Yvel became a high-level wrestler overnight. Rothwell himself apologized to the fans after the fight, and did not – physically or emotionally – resemble a man who had just won a fight on pay-per-view. Although he came out with a win, the former IFL standout’s UFC run thus far has been nothing to write home about.
In another bout of potential Welterweight contenders, Martin Kampmann finally showed what everyone else has been trying to tell me about him by completely and thoroughly dominating Paulo Thiago. Coming into this fight, my feeling was that Kampmann wasn’t anything but a middle of the road Welterweight at best, while Thiago was on the brink of breaking through to the next level and a potential title shot at Georges St. Pierre. The fight proved the opposite to be the case, with Kampmann thoroughly dominating Thiago while exhibiting improvement in nearly every area of his game.
In another great fight, Mirko Cro Cop survived an early onslaught by Pat Barry to win in the third with a rear choke. As a fan of Cro Cop’s run in Pride, to say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. The excitement of the fight was increased exponentially by a great Vancouver crowd that included a large and vocal Croatian contingent. It wasn’t always pretty and Barry may have handed the fight to Cro Cop in the first by showing a bit too much respect and hesitation, but it was still a great moment.
Speaking of fond memories, it appears that’s all that’s left for the fight career of Chuck Liddell. Although he looked to be in great shape and exhibited a greater range of offense than he’s shown in recent years, he still took the slow wide open swings that have been his undoing. This time it was exacerbated by the fact that the overhand right Rich Franklin hit him with could hardly be considered a bomb, and yet Liddell was knocked out cold by the punch. After the fight, it was revealed Franklin had his left arm broken by a kick from Liddell early in the fight, which speaks volumes to his physical toughness.
It was a memorable and potentially historic evening. We saw what was most likely the final fight for both Liddell and Cro Cop, who despite his win told a Croatian newspaper he’s probably done fighting. Myself, I’m a bit skeptical, since we’ve heard this talk from Cro Cop before. If it is his final fight, though, he went down like a warrior. And so did Chuck Liddell, who despite being on the wrong end of another knockout loss, went out swinging. It was a fitting end for a man who has been the face of the UFC both in and out of the Octagon.