UFC 87: Seek and Destroy.
Text by Bradley Campbell Photos by Daniel Corrigan
The Jack Links Beef jerky truck with a built-in flat screen television on its flanks greeted thousands of fight fans walking across 1st Avenue and into the Target Center for UFC 87, “Seek and Destroy.” Around the truck were girls in tight black, passing out packets of jerky, providing extra protein for the muscled-up crowd. Men rocked fight t-shirts with TAPOUT across their chests in every screen print color imaginable. Next to them were their girls, wearing halter-tops, high heels and hot pants. Most of them could give the scorecard girls a challenge for looks alone.
Inside, a sell-out crowd 15,082 that included Adrian Peterson and Jesse Ventura set their eyes upon the Octagon, a cage where men walk into battle with only a thin pad over their knuckles. Detractors can call the battles whatever they want, but even a cursory understanding is enough to realize MMA is really a game of chess, though far more entertaining. Instead of a reclusive Russian battling an Orwellian computer, the masters here are men with such a detailed kinetic understanding of the human body that they know how to systematically tear it apart.
To see such moves close-up, all one needed to do was look up. In addition to the Jumbotron were giant TV screens hanging from the rafters. While awesome for replay, at times you found yourself watching the TV instead of the men inside the cage. Not that it was bad … watching UFC live is more intimate than seeing it on pay-per-view. One could hear the sharp pops of a leg kick echo through the area. Each punch connected sent a dull thud across the room, followed by cheers, or cringes of pain. They were visceral sounds, causing men to squirm before shouting a "fuck yeah."
Before the main event started fans were treated to some unexpectedly good undercard action. The men fighting in these events were getting their shot for a main draw, and it provided an opportunity to see a variety of fighting styles.
Among the most entertaining of the undercard fights was Tamden McCroy vs. Luke Cummo. Just days before the fight, McCroy separated cartilage from the ribs of his training partner, a man 70 lbs. heavier than the lightweight fighter. It gave an indication what was to come a few days later, as McCroy dominated Cummo. He showed a mastery of jiu-jitsu, controlling his opponent, alumni of the Ultimate Fighter reality show, with side mounts and various submission holds that almost tore Cummo’s arm ligaments in half. When the men began to tire in the late rounds, McCroy traded precision for fist and elbow pounds against Cummo’s head.
For sheer physical spectacle, the best undercard match was Cheick Kongo and Dan Eversen. Kongo came in at a ripped 235, his pecs spreading across his chest like two big shields. Eversen was just a big raw man. Kongo ripped the man apart, overpowering him with punches and leg kicks before dropping him, then pounded away at Eversen’s head until the referee called it off at 4:55 in the first round. Kongo let up and raised his fists in the air.
By the time the main fights took place, the entire place was boozed-up and ready to scream. When local boy Roger Huerta made his appearance, you’d think it was Bono walking out through the tunnel. When he left, it felt like Kenny Florian sucker punched some happiness out of the crowd.
A blink and miss fight followed, with Rob Emerson brutally knocking out Manvel Gamburyan in 12 seconds. While it was awesome, one had to feel a bit of remorse for Gamburyan. These fighters train for months to prepare for each fight. Most spend around six hours a day in the gym and another few hours watching tape. Add the mental fatigue associated with a micro-managed diet and it hurts to know everything can end with a quick left hand to the face. Gamburyan probably doesn’t even remember the fight.
Next came the two main events for the night. The first featured hometown boy and former University of Minnesota NCAA heavyweight wresting champion Brock Lesnar. Many commenters on the various MMA blogs thought Lesnar was a bit of a circus act. Sure, he could suplex the likes of Hardcore Holly, but could he actually win a real fight? In his UFC debut he showed he could do damage on his opponent, but also that he could be beat with a white-belt level heel hook. After Frank Mir took numerous blows to the head, he found Lesnar out of place and forced him to submit. So no one knew quite what to expect when he went up against Heath Herring, the “Texas Crazyhorse,” a fighter with more than 40 professional fights under his belt. Lesnar quickly showed-up his doubters with a cannon ball of a right hand that hit Herring directly in his eye cavity and sent him sprawling to the floor in a somersault. What happened next should haunt Herring in dreams for years: Lesnar charged him at full speed across the ring, crashing into his body with a body-crunching tackle. Things got worse from there; Lesnar was in such control he nodded along to the crowd chanting his name. When the third period began, Herring’s eyes were so swollen that he was peering out from little slits. As UFC president Dana White said of Lesnar later on that evening at the post-fight press conference: "One of our guys said it looks like he's hitting with lunch boxes out there, that's how big his hands are."
The third round was the proverbial insult to injury. Lesnar laughed at the sight of Herring as the round began and after taking the Texas Crazyhorse down once more, kneed him in the kidneys for extra measure. Chances are pretty good Herring will be pissing blood for the next week. But aside from the raw power, Lesnar showed composure and control that made him a formidable wrestler. He was careful to avoid submissions and regularly put himself into dominant positions, showing he can get himself into a powerful mount … not a good thing for anyone he draws next. Lesnar is a quick learner to the sport and just humiliated a veteran, post-celebration lasso dance and all.
Later, at the press conference someone asked if Brock would get a shot at the title soon. "No, this is his first win," White said. "He's only got a couple fights. He's got a lot to learn."
When someone asked Brock Lesnar about the celebration routine where he pretended to ride and rope Herring, Lesnar said: "That was for Heath's camp 'cause on the way out to the Octagon there was some words before the fight. I got the last laugh." Lesnar continued, "If I offended anybody I'm sorry," then, after a pause he said, "Ahh, not really."
So the question --though it seems rhetorical-- is if Lesnar can now officially be considered a mixed martial artist, considering he beat a guy with an impressive record and has fought all over the world. White had the answer: "Brock Lesnar is a mixed martial artist--no doubt about it."
By the time the headline title fight got underway, one may have thought they’d been transferred to Ottawa. Packed into the Target Center were several hundred Canadians, many wrapped in their flag (apparently there is feverish Canuck pride… even if the guy they are cheering for is George St. Pierre, from the province of Quebec, a land that still wants to become a separate entity…)
St. Pierre treated his challenger, Jon Fitch, like a man who owed him money. It was frightening to watch St. Pierre’s jab surgically tear apart Fitch’s left eye. But Fitch stuck around in the fight for all five rounds , and actually held his own in the second round despite limited vision. His boxing got tighter and he managed to stay on his feet, even if his legs occasionally looked wobbly.
In the words of Dana White, Fitch showed that maybe he was too tough for his own good. He even tossed aside a medical visit to attend the post fight press conference. He showed up looking like Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw movies--puffy lip, lumpy face, contusions all over his face and an eye that looked like undercooked hamburger. The audience of several dozen reporters actually applauded when he entered. One asked Fitch what he was doing at the press conference, since White had said the UFC was making him go to the hospital instead. "They ain't taking me to the hospital," he said. "It's just a couple cuts. I'm fine."
Someone asked Jon, "Do you think you hurt him at all?"
"I hope," he said laughing. "God, I hope. You'll have to ask him."
When Georges St. Pierre came in, looking dapper in a pinstriped suit, someone did indeed ask if Fitch hurt him.
"He did, but I don't want to show weakness," St. Pierre said. "It's between me and Jon. We'll talk and have a drink together."
Ticket sales for the event amounted to $2.2 million, the “the highest gate ever in the history of the Target Center," White was proud to announce, crowing that the event beat a Billie Joel/Elton John concert.
And as for any detractors that say it’s too brutal… they need to wake up. Life is brutal. Yet within that brutality is a different example of how one should live. And to watch it up close is beautiful and exciting. In the middle of the cage, life is both worthless and priceless. And that makes you envious for the fighters, even as they are taking a vicious beating, for they truly know what it is like to live.
Official scorecard for St. Pierre vs. Fitch:
Judge Doug Crosby Round 1: 10-8 St. Pierre Round 2: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 3: 10-8 St. Pierre Round 4: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 5: 10-9 St. Pierre Final: 50-43 St. Pierre
Judge Nelson Hamilton Round 1: 10-8 St. Pierre Round 2: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 3: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 4: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 5: 10-9 St. Pierre Final: 50-44 St. Pierre
Judge Jeff Mullen Round 1: 10-8 St. Pierre Round 2: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 3: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 4: 10-9 St. Pierre Round 5: 10-9 St. Pierre Final: 50-44 St. Pierre
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