Crane kicks, boorish jeers and one huge hematoma: one fan’s night at UFC 129

Crane kicks, boorish jeers and one huge hematoma: one fan’s night at UFC 129

(Image: Jef Catapang) 

As fan favourite Georges St-Pierre walked out to the cage at UFC 129 last Saturday, I seriously thought I had lost my voice. Instead, I was astonished to realize that I just couldn’t hear myself yelling over the 55,000-plus spectators at the Rogers Centre, all releasing the pent-up excitement and national pride that had been building in the lead-up to a night of brutal, and often beautiful, violence.

If attending Toronto’s first Ultimate Fighting Championship event was anyone’s first foray into mixed martial arts, I’d say it made a pretty good entry point. Pick any talking point from the UFC’s detractors—it’s too violent, the presentation is gaudy as hell, the fans can get a little out of hand—and there it was. Choose any of the reasons fans says MMA is the best thing going—athleticism, skill, the excitement and honour of pure competition—and that was there too.

The night began with Pablo Garza leaping into the air and wrapping his legs around the neck of Canadian Yves Jabouin. On any other night, a successful flying triangle choke would have been impossible to outdo. But every match on Saturday brought something new, creating a surreal succession of performances you’d think were choreographed. There was a perfectly cinematic spinning backfist knockout, a match full of Olympic-level suplexes and back-and-forth wars that stopped my heart cold.

Not to imply everything was comely. The threatening boos for nearly every fighter who wasn’t Canadian disaccorded with the polite Wimbledon claps for any given bout’s technical subtleties (Nate Diaz inspired a boorish chant of “Fuck you Diaz!”).

Thamesford, Ontario’s Mark Hominick was the night’s surprise star. For four straight rounds, featherweight champ Jose Aldo got the better of him, whipping up a frightening hematoma on Hominick’s forehead (I’m not usually squeamish, but the sight of a head growing another head was a bit much). Somehow, Hominick rallied in the final round and dominated Aldo to a moral (if not official) victory. Absent this comeback, if Hominick had been allowed to continue with such a gnarly injury it would likely have stirred debate about fighter safety even among MMA supporters. Brutality? Check. Magic? I felt the applause in my guts.

If Hominick’s bout mirrored a Rocky arc, Lyoto Machida was channelling another action classic when he unleashed a fantastical Karate Kid crane kick to five-time former champion Randy Couture’s jaw. As if that weren’t surreal enough, Machida then thanked Steven Segal, who was in the house, for helping him hone his secret finishing move.

Main-event draws GSP and Jake Shields were following the toughest of opening acts. Despite their powerful entrances, they couldn’t keep the lightening in the bottle. The sport has its highs (drama, martial artistry) and its lows (bloody tissue damage, ugly aggression). But sometimes there’s also this: a boring fight. No matter how you feel about MMA, that’s the one thing that spells death for everyone. Even before the judges’ decision was announced (GSP won, again), once-boisterous fans were quietly vacating their seats and heading home.

I’m not sure whether UFC 129 made any fans out of critics or turned any supporters sick with the realities of a live beatdown, but it did manage to showcase everything the sport has to offer. Violence and blood, absolutely—but Saturday’s UFC event showed what’s possible when the sport of mixed martial arts lives up to its name.