I owe a lot to Amir Sadollah and C.B. Dollaway. Between gathering a posse every three weeks or so for the big PPV events, my obsessive BElitism, and taking the occasional Jiu-jitsu or Muay Thai class, MMA has become a very important part of my life. Occasionally I go overboard and spend hours watching old PRIDE fights hosted on friendly Chinese and Russian websites, which some might call obsessive. This obsession was, however, born of an innocuous spark in the grand scheme of MMA.
I didn’t get sucked in by an epic showdown like Fedor v. CroCop. It wasn’t a hugely hyped fight, years in the making, that hooked me (I heard the results of Liddell vs. Silva on the radio weeks afterward by happenstance). Truthfully, I remember being more impressed hearing Chuck tell Opie and Anthony that he landed a spinning back fist than hearing that he had beaten a man I would eventually learn was an MMA deity. No, it was Clarence Byron Dollaway’s snarly lip-curl that did it. It made me hate him the way Rob Riggle’s character hates Brennan Huff in Step Brothers. His face just made me angry.
I wanted to see C.B. Dollaway lose, so I kept watching episode after episode of TUF7. It being my last semester of college, I had time on my hands. Naturally, during the occasional Spike marathon, I watched all the episodes I had missed. And I rewatched all the episodes I had seen (for better context, of course). And I watched all the episodes of Unleashed. All of them.
Predictably, I got involved in some of the other narratives of TUF7. Before tuning in, the only thing I knew about either coach was that Rampage beat Chuck and took his belt. By the time it was over, I knew I would be rooting for Griffin. It was partially because he netgunned Rampage, but mostly because Griffin vs. Bonnar I is a pretty amazing watch, especially for the uninitiated.
If you can pick any fight as your baptism into MMA PPVs, allow me to suggest going back in time and selecting Rampage vs. Forrest. It was an exciting five round back-and-forth battle in the vein of great boxing fights that many MMA fans long for in our sport. Even better, it had an exciting finish. With my limited knowledge, I believed Rampage had won the fight; when Forrest's arm was raised, I understood how little I understood.
With a whole universe in front of me, I began to delve deeper. Historical perspective offers context to any fight, which in turn offers a better feel for the dramatic tension between fighters. September to December 2008, the UFC's light-heavyweight division had oodles.
Rashad Evans' head kick knockout of Sean Salmon was the example I used to explain how awesome MMA was to anyone who would listen. That being said, by this point I had seen every one of Chuck Liddell's fights I could find online and read his book. I wanted badly for Chuck to regain the aura of invincibility lost to Rampage. Looking back, what I got instead was even better.
In knocking out Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans became my heel. For the first time since early 90's pro-wrestling (think Yokozuna) I had a fighter to root against. Better yet, with an undefeated record, Evans created his own aura, and he carried that into the final card of 2008.
Minotauro had never been stopped in his career. Wandy had beat Rampage twice in PRIDE. Because I liked Forrest and hated Rashad for beating Chuck, I refused to analyze that fight from a logical perspective. I think you can imagine how I fared that night gambling-wise.
Nevertheless, UFC 92 is the perfect example of why I am an MMA fan. The card offered sensational fights with exciting finishes. It offered a bout between TUF coaches, a bout between two fighters with history in PRIDE, and it offered a light-heavyweight championship. Best of all, it ended unpredictably. Minotauro was stopped. Rampage got his revenge. Rashad grabbed his balls, winked at Forrest, and proceeded to lay a complete beatdown on him, capping off six months of whirlwind change in the light-heavyweight rankings. And it had a great poster.
In retrospect, I probably owe more gratitude to some of the light-heavyweights. Chuck Liddell, however, is too obvious a choice. I knew who he was more than a year before TUF 7. I learned about Forrest and Rampage through my experience with that same season, but that does not fully explain my fervor for all things MMA in the closing months of 2008.
Perhaps most credit for my fanhood belongs to Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva. Clearly to Rashad Evans for giving me someone to root against, which can be as important as having someone to root for. And though Wanderlei's performance at UFC 92 was not his finest, the context of his presence that night meant a great deal more. I learned a lot about the PRIDE years and Wandy's reign atop the division because he agreed to fight Rampage a third time. Add to that an element of redemption for Rampage for his prior losses in PRIDE, and you've got enough to satiate the most grizzled MMA addict.
Mostly, I am thankful to them both for being exciting to watch. Specifically, I am thankful that none of my early PPV purchases turned into Mir v. Cro Cop- or Anderson v. Maia-calibur events. One bad purchase early on could have killed it for me; I could easily have been stuck in the unenviable category we BElitists refer to as "casual fans." If that were the case, I would have never witnessed or appreciated hidden gems in cards lacking mass appeal (e.g., Sherk v. Dunham).
Witnessing the upheaval in the light-heavyweight division from July to December 2008 literally changed my life. It was a great time in MMA history to become a fan.