There's a lot riding on UFC on Fox 1, the UFC's broadcast television debut this Saturday. Since the broadcast will feature only one live fight, a heavyweight championship bout between Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos, everything is riding on the quality of the bout.
As anyone who's watched more than one or two UFC's knows, Mixed Martial Arts bouts vary widely in character and quality. Since I'm an optimist I want to think about some of the types of fights that would make for really awesome television. Here are five classic MMA bout archetypes with a featured example:
- The One Round Thrill Ride
Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg 2
UFC 52, April 2005
It's fights like this that give MMA its reputation as the crack cocaine of combat sports. There's nothing really comparable in boxing because MMA's five minute rounds mean a great deal more can happen in one round and the variety of possible action means you can pack a standing brawl, a few complicated grappling exchanges and some dramatic throws and slams into a single back-and-forth explosion of action.
This legendary welterweight championship bout packed a roller coaster ride's worth of thrills into 4 minutes and 5 seconds. Trigg was more than happy to play the cocky villain to Hughes' Captain Heartland and when he caught Hughes with a groin strike the referee missed, Trigg poured it on, trying to finish the stunned champion. Hughes fended off a rear naked choke and got the reversal, sending the crowd into paroxysms of joy when he picked up Trigg, carried him across the cage and slammed him down hard. Hughes went on to to get the tap with a rear naked choke of his own.
Cain and dos Santos don't have the kind of red hot rivalry that Hughes and Trigg had, but there's no reason they couldn't put on a one-round barn burner with a big shift in momentum. Either fighter is capable of landing a stunning blow, escaping a submission, getting a big slam and locking in a choke.
- The Wild Brawl
Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin
The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale, April 2005
It's no coincidence that two of these fights occurred in April 2005, the very same month the UFC exploded into the popular consciousness. These two great fights capitalized on the interest built up by the smash success of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV. Griffin vs. Bonnar was incredibly thrilling if not quite as high-octane as Hughes-Trigg 2.
Griffin and Bonnar went out and laid it all on the line for three glorious rounds. They busted each other up with punches, kicks, knees and elbows and had a great time doing it. Both men were absolutely hell-bent on winning the "six figure contract" promised to the winner of the reality show tournament. They threw technical polish out the window and just threw down. Fans loved it and word of mouth made the fight card a sudden smash.
If Cain and JDS chose to throw down at a similar pace and with a similar lack of concern for technique, Fox and the UFC will be as thrilled as the fans. It seems unlikely that the two heavyweights could collide with such abandon without someone getting KO'd, but anything is possible.
The Surprise Come Back
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
UFC 117, August 2010
Because of the ever-present possibility of knock out or submission, no MMA bout is ever out of reach of a surprise come back. It's possible for a fighter to catch an utterly one-sided, even embarrassing beat down for 24 and 1/2 minutes and still come back to get the win.
The definitive example of the amazing come back came in last year's UFC 117 middleweight championship bout between Anderson Silva and outspoken challenger Chael Sonnen. For 4.5 rounds, Sonnen backed up his pre-fight torrent of trash talk by beating Silva to the punch standing up and then taking him down and beating him up. Unfortunately for Sonnen it was a five round fight and his career-long vulnerability to submissions reared its head when Silva locked on an arm bar from the triangle choke position and forced Sonnen to tap out.
Everyone would be thrilled if Velasquez or dos Santos were to come back from an utter drubbing -- much as lightweight champ Frankie Edgar did in back-to-back battles with Gray Maynard at UFC 125 and UFC 136 -- and win the fight with some last-second heroics. Nothing shows the heart of a champion like catching a sustained and brutal beating, surviving undaunted and coming back for the win.
The Beat Down
Fedor Emelianenko vs Tim Sylvia
Affliction: Banned, July 2008
Not every great bout has to showcase both fighters. Sometimes fight fans enjoy seeing a complete and utter ass-whipping handed out. Nothing builds a fighter's reputation like winning a viciously one-sided championship bout against a previously feared and highly touted opponent. Think Mike Tyson.
Fedor Emelianenko already had a huge reputation after five years atop the heavyweight rankings when he met former UFC champ Tim Sylvia at Affliction's first pay-per-view event. Sylvia had a reputation as a hard man to beat, someone who was likely to make every bout an ugly war of attrition. Not that day. Fedor blitzed him with a swarm of punches and finished Sylvia with a choke. Fight fans who'd never seen Fedor before immediately realized what the hype was all about.
The beauty of being a fight promoter is you don't care who crushes whom as long as someone comes out of the fight looking like an utter badass. If either Cain or JDS demolishes the other, you'll need a spatula to pick the collective jaws of MMA fandom off the floor.
The War Of Attrition
Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz
UFC 22, September 1999
This last type of classic MMA bout is the most subtle but possibly the most gripping. It's a variation of the last-minute come back but features a more gradual and more definitive come back. Unlike the miracle come back, the war of attrition leaves little doubt as to who the better man really is. Generally a big physical disadvantage of some kind is overcome by brains, will and strategy.
The classic bout of this style is Frank Shamrock's final defense of his UFC belt against the much much bigger Tito Ortiz. Ortiz brought weight cutting to MMA and walked into the bout with an estimated 25lb advantage over Shamrock despite both weighing in at 200lbs the day before. Shamrock used skillful defense to ride out Ortiz' early blitz. By the third round Ortiz was tiring and Shamrock began to pour it on. After spending most of the fight on his back, holding on for dear life, Shamrock sprung to his feet several times in the late rounds and attacked Ortiz like a pit bull tearing into a beagle. He finally finished Tito late in the fourth round.
Cain and JDS are very well matched physically, unlike Ortiz and Shamrock, but Velasquez' big wrestling advantage creates the possibility of a bout like this occurring. If Cain puts JDS down over and over in the early rounds but doesn't do enough damage to really hurt dos Santos, it's quite possible that Junior could come back to his feet and beat Velasquez down. It's also possible that JDS' boxing advantage could force the champ to play rope-a-dope, cover up and ride out the onslaught before turning the tables. A long, drawn out, but fast paced bout coming to a definitive conclusion would be a nearly ideal scenario for Fox and the UFC.