Tom 'Kong' Watson.
As I watched the Bamma 6 event late on saturday night, it was hard not to be slightly awed by the brutal efficiency of the Kong stand up game, allied with a ninja proof take down defence. Kong appeared light years ahead of Ninja's game, denying him access to the areas of a fight where he may have prospered and inflincting a savage lesson through the 'openings' (to quote Michael Schiavello) which were apparent in Ninja's stand up.
Rua took a real beating, demonstrating an impeccable will to continue fighting through a vicious and clinical attack, sustaining damage exponentially as his capacity to defend became further and further mitigated.
At the conclusion of the fight, wherein Kong had once again shown a chilling level of patience and control, choosing the moment to attack from behind his stance only when the power of each blow would be most effectively felt by Rua, until Kong sent him over the edge and into the abyss midway through the third (of five) rounds, ending matters conclusively.
A prolonged period of inertia followed on the canvas for Rua, Watson hovered by with concern until Rua returned to a basic level of operation, bringing a sense of real relief to those watching, Rua's time in the fire had been prolonged.
What was left in the mind following on from the fight was the dazzling achievement of Watson in utterly dominating an experienced and highly skilled fighter whose endurance and fighting spririt was demonstrated to be on an almost existential level in terms of sheer toughness. Watson's display stole the mind's eye of how I was thinking about the fight - just as performances by many of the best fighters inevitably do. After some one sided fights, the losing fighter can end up reduced in the mind to a name and a remembered series of inabilities to stop one barrage of attacks or another on the night of that fight.
And so that's how it went, aside from a footnote on the monumental toughness of Rua, what shone through was a near-virtuoso display from a fighter obviously in the form of his life.
Then as I was half asleep later in the night, I couldn't help thinking...
...What about Rua?
It was playing around in my head, all those fighters and fighter interviews where you hear the same words about losing being where they 'learn' the most, a space in which there is no pity, just the hardest brutality that will be applied against any tendency they may demonstrate toward weakness. So it occurred to me that by the harsh lessons of fighting, Rua must have learned an enormous amount from this fight. It suddenly meant that his toughness, this paleolithic thing of Brazillian granite was allowing him to stay in against someone systematically destroying his defense with precision strike after strike, replete with combinations, new angles and distances. For example, half way through the second round, Rua's capacity to stay in the fight had crushed the English commentator's nerve as he kept offering Rua the respect of everyone in the room were he to quit at that point... But on fought Rua, through to the end of the round, on a leg like a balloon animal and into the third...
...and as I was half sleeping, now my focus on Rua I had the strangest thought, that its fighters who lose in this capacity who are really out there in the starkest depths of experience, learning about life, seeing far beyond the shoreline of daily existence. I thought to myself, but its so risky to stay in there, in the fight when you are being schooled in this way, the risks of damage that will incapacitate your capacities from then or into the future is so high it is tragic and yet there they go, propelled I imagine by a whole pantheon of weird desires and ideas that they say to themselves and definitely, definitely, to win and almost certainly not to get beaten into a jar by your opponent, much like Murilo Ninja Rua was against Tom Kong Watson on Saturday... but definitely never to go there... after all, the lessons that fighters say they learn is what mistakes not to make again, to avoid those very situations.
So does a fighter choose the degree of damage they take before they quit? Is it choosen for them by something inside them? Or is is such an adrenalinised experience that the added resistance to pain takes the edge off the damage and free's the fighters to match their will, an even more baroque level of seeing the contest of a fight.
Somehow though what stuck in my mind was the name of a film, taken originally from a line by William Burroughs and applied to the story by PKD; 'blade runner' that is exactly how I saw fighters at that point, those who dare to run along the edge of a blade...
Murilo 'Ninja' Rua announces his retirement from fighting today 22nd May, 2011.