Having followed this sport very closely over the past few years it goes without saying that I really love watching two mixed marital artists climb into the cage and slug it out. However, I have to admit that getting my friends into it the way I am has been a little difficult. Most of them enjoy watching it but won’t go out of their way to watch a pay-per-view or UFC Fight Night. They will catch bits and pieces but to get them glued to the television the way I am has been something that I have yet to accomplish. That is until last night and the UFC 98 card.
I invited a few people over and the usual suspects found excuses as the time approached to not be able to make it but I was able to get two people to stick to the invite and give the card a shot. I preached long and hard about the potential blockbuster main event and how I believed the critics would be wrong and it would produce fireworks. I sold them on the exciting potential of the lightweight clash between Frankie Edgar and Sean Sherk. Being from Long Island I didn’t have to sell long and hard about the animosity between NY native Matt Serra and future UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes.
Before the show started I scored some points by putting on UFC Undisputed 2009 and allowing my four year old son to school my two 30 something year old friends inside the virtual octagon. I have to say the realistic nature of the game got everyone instantly pumped for some hard hitting mixed martial arts action. Even my wife was asking questions.
At 9:30 the UFC showed why they are the leader in the industry by previewing the fights, specifically the light heavyweight title bout between Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida and the grudge match two years in the making between Matt Serra and Matt Hughes. They do a fantastic job of getting you excited.
I must tell you that the two people I had over aren’t noobs to the sport. In fact one of them even attended UFC 94, but they aren’t normally the type to sit for three hours thoroughly involved in what’s going on. They find reasons to get distracted and take way too many smoke breaks. They know who the combatants are but they needed some refresher courses on what each fighter has been up to and who they last fought. Of course I don’t mind telling them in explicit detail as I feel as though that is my job. As the card is about to start we score again as both my children have fallen asleep.
The Edgar vs. Sherk bout was a good choice for openers. I went over each fighter’s qualities focusing on their wrestling backgrounds. I explained that while Sherk was the more experienced and the stronger of the two he has shown a penchant for keeping his fights standing recently and was content on turning his fights into a kickboxing match. I further explained that I felt that Edgar was at a severe disadvantage in size and would be better suited at 145 pounds in the WEC. Boy was I wrong and I am more than happy to admit that as Edgar fought a perfect fight and made the fight look easy. Now these two are excited as the underdog won and did so in outstanding fashion.
Up next was Chael Sonnen vs. Dan Miller and I explained to them the virtues of both fighters. Miller, the New Jersey native who possesses outstanding submission skills who had won his last ten decisions against Sonnen, the uncrowned WEC middleweight champion who was a strong Greco-Roman wrestler. Neither one of them was familiar with either fighter and I told them that Miller would come out on top due to Sonnen’s inability to stay out of danger when it comes to being submitted. While Miller was able to put a scare into Sonnen on a few occasions Sonnen stuck to a solid plan and ground and pounded his way to a win. There were some ooh’s and aah’s whenever Sonnen landed some of those vicious elbows and punches to the fallen Miller.
Drew McFedries vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam was over before it started and one of my friends based upon the highlight reel shown before ths start of the bout correctly proclaimed that McFedries would deliver a devastating 1st round knockout. Although both men were impressed with Foupa-Pokam’s knees shown in his highlights neither man thought he had enough to stand a chance against McFedries and they both were right. The Miletich student showed why the UFC keeps him around due to his put it all on the line go for broke style.
Fast forward to Hughes vs. Serra as we took a break during the Soszynski-Gusmao bout but we came back in just in time to see the devastating finish. Even after the knockout delivered by The Polish Experiment I was unable to sell either man on his abilities even though I was more than clear that he was not going to ever be a championship contender. The pre-fight hype leading up to the Hughes-Serra bout was fantastic and once again had us sitting on the edge of the couches waiting in anticipation for the bout to begin. I can’t say that we were disappointed in the fight but we were less than enthused watching Hughes lay on top of Serra for the majority of the second round while inflicting little damage. The first round and third rounds had some exciting moments but the fight fell short of the fireworks we were waiting for.
At last it’s main event time and thankfully one of my friends knew a lot about both Machida and Evans. The three of us were in agreement that Machida was the favorite and that Evans was in for a long night. I explained to them that based upon the way Evans came out on his walk to the cage and his ridiculous dancing once inside the octagon that he looked to be nervous and was trying to hide that fact. Meanwhile Machida was looking strong, confident and stoic. The first two minutes left a lot to be desired as both men were waiting for the other to engage. Then like a bat out of hell the fireworks began as Machida did what no one else has been able to do and figured out the Rashad Evans puzzle. He was landing his shots at will and was not wasting any unnecessary energy all the while never putting himself in danger.
Watching Machida work was just what I needed to turn two more than casual fans into what I believe to be hardcore dedicated fans last night. By the time Evans was sent crashing to the canvas Machida and the UFC had two more fans that asked me if there were any spots left in the suite that I was going to be in at UFC 101.
What a night, knockouts, some strong submissions and a couple of upsets. Yes there were two undercard fights left but by that time we were heavily involved in conversation about who would give Machida his toughest test. I also explained to them that we would now get to see Machida and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 leading to a bout between the two after the show was completed.
So spending $49.95 last night not only meant that I could share the joy that is the UFC not just for this particular card but for future shows as well. Most of my friends are stubborn and content with baseball, football or whatever sport they are watching in a particular season. I have tried to convert a few of them but they are set in their ways and too lazy to invest the time to get to know these great athletes. They obviously do not know what they are missing. Last night the two friends that took the time to watch and ask questions went home in awe and eagerly anticipating next month’s UFC 99. I can mark down two more for that show and all other shows from here on in beginning with Strikeforce card featuring Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Shields in June.