July 04, 2010

Champions Don't Quit

Few of you probably know this, but long before I ever though about politics or blogging I was a sports writer. I don't follow sports as often as I once did and hardly ever write about them anymore, but every once in a while I'll witness the greatness and grit that sports can show in individuals.

UFC 116 showed that in spades, and particularly in the two most important matches of the night.

I know that many people find mixed martial arts to be too violent for their tastes, but I'm utterly captivated by it. The brutal physicality of it, the strategic ebb and flow, contrasting styles and raw heart on display is simply impossible to turn away from, and the backstories and larger-than-life personalities of some of the sports stars keep you coming back for more.

Last night, my brother-in-law and I watched a beaten and battered Chris Leben refuse to admit defeat to Yoshihiro Akiyama, a fighter who had not lost since 2005. Akiyama punished Leben and was winning the fight on points, but Leben refused to quit and kept coming forward pressing a tiring Akiyama, who just couldn't seem to understand why his opponent still stood. Leben absorbed everything Akiyama had to throw, and then caught him in a triangle choke that ended the fight. After the fight, Leben looked the worse for wear, but there was no doubt that he was the victor. His sheer tenacity broke Akiyama's will and defeated him before he was able to crank down on the choke. It was Leben's second victory in two weeks, in a sport where athletes train for months between fights.

MMA fans didn't buy the UFC pay-per-view to watch Leben gut out another win, however. They came to see two of the biggest, fastest, most imposing fighters on the planet collide.

Brock Lesnar's outsized WWE-crafted heel personality suits him well for the role of the champion people love to hate, as the 6'3" 265 lb monster defended his UFC heavyweight champion against Shane Carwin, another massive 265-lb fighter that put all 12 of his previous opponents out within the first round.

Many people watched the fight to see how Lesnar would cope when he finally ran into someone as big, fast, and strong as he was. Many hoped he would lose in a flurry of punches from Carwin.

They nearly got their wish.

Carwin toppled Lesnar early in the first round and pounced on him against the cage, connecting on strike after strike. For tense moments it looked as though the referee might stop the fight. If it was any fight other than the heavyweight championship, he probably would have. But to be the champion you have to beat the champion, and the unwritten rule is that champions get little more wiggle room than journeymen grinding it out in the lower ranks. Truthfully, they've earn that right along with their championship belts.

And so while Carwin through powerful bombs and Lesnar covered up to protect himself from a clean knockout punch, it became apparent that the ref would not easily stop this fight. Carwin kept up a relentless pace, but each punch cost him power and strength. Incredibly, near the end of the round, a bloodied Lesnar fought to his feet. As the round ended and both men staggered to their corners, the audience and viewers at home were amazed. No challenger had so throughly dominated a champion in the first round without finishing the fight, but Lesnar absorbed everything Carwin had to offer. And Carwin had punched himself out.

It was in the Lesnar-dominated second round that the South Dakotan really earned my respect as a fan.

Lesnar had Carwin on his back, and was able to slip free and take a full mount position. Everyone, and I do mean everyone expected Lesnar to draw up and start dropping hammerfists and elbows on Carwin's face. It's simply what you do when you're a ground-and-pound fighter.

But Lesnar saw an opening few (if any of us) saw, and slipped off to his right as quickly as he took the mount, trapping Carwin's arm in the process and connecting in a loose choke. Lesnar turned, tightened, and suddenly it was over.

It was an awesome display for fortitude and adaptability from a fighter that almost had his career ended by illness after his last victory. He is the heavyweight champion of the world, and last night he proved he deserved it.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at July 4, 2010 11:10 AM