Continuing an ongoing "series" I began prior to my hiatus.
The "after word" for UFC Versus 4 - the theme, if it had to be boiled down to one word - was OPPORTUNITY.
Merriam-Webster defines opportunity as:
- A favorable juncture of circumstances
- A good chance for advancement or progress
If there was a theme to the main card of UFC Versus 4, it reduces itself to opportunity: in one case, a former title challenger apparently throwing away the opportunity career advancements of various kinds; in another, a fighter showing admirable restraint when faced with the opportunity to heap gratuitous violence on an adversary; in a third, a fighter snatching the opportunity to face and defeat a rising prospect on a big stage, and in a fourth, a fighter making a most improbable comeback, making the most of a second and even third opportunity provided by excellent officiating and netting himself a win bonus with a highlight-reel KO.
Right off the top has to be what became the story of the card before a punch was thrown: former middleweight title contender Nate Marquardt failing to pass medicals and getting released by the UFC, apparently for good.
As I argued in my Fanpost from yesterday, Marquardt's release and apparent lifetime ban from the UFC represents a cautionary tale for all Zuffa fighters in the [effectively] post-Strikeforce world. Strikeforce is still around in name only; they are no longer a fallback option for a fighter cut from the UFC roster. Whatever Nate Marquardt did or, as it appears, failed to do, we are likely to learn eventually; but, one thing is sure - in invoking the ire of UFC Dana White, who has a very long memory when he chooses to, Marquardt has potentially lost the opportunity to ever again compete in the far-and-away biggest MMA promotion in the world - a failure that carries with it numerous financial implications.
In a much more "feel-good" story, heavyweight Matt Mitrione chose not to go Dan Henderson on Christian Morecraft after dropping him to the canvas with a tight right hook-left straight-right straight combination late in round 2. Earlier, in round 1, Mitrione thought that he had finished Morecraft, only for the battle to continue; so it would have been not only within his rights but even understandable for Mitrione to have put the "icing on the cake", delivering some shots to the floored Morecraft; but instead Mitrione showed admirable restraint, simply turning and walking away from what he knew was a fight-ending flurry. In choosing to not take the opportunity to dish out gratuitous violence on an opponent with whom he had exchanged pre-fight words mere minutes earlier, Mitrione showed both his character, and the best of what MMA is about.
The co-main event was the setting for the seizing of another kind of opportunity. Just as one door closed on Nate Marquardt, who was to meet rising welterweight prospect Rick Story in the (scheduled) main event, another opened for little-heralded welterweight Charlie Brenneman, who stepped in on short notice to challenge "The Horror". Brenneman brought in a solid 13-2 record, but his 2-1 UFC record couldn't compare with the credentials of Story, riding a 6-fight win streak over increasingly better competition - the likes of Dustin Hazelett, Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves. Many pundits felt Story was only 1-2 fights away from a title shot in a weight class cleaned out by Georges St. Pierre; but, with most of the MMA-watching world, including all of our pundits, picking Story in the fight, Brenneman seized the opportunity presented to him in a big way, dominating Rick Story primarily from a grappling perspective to win a clearcut 29-28 decision victory. If Seth Petruzelli stepping in on late notice to fight Kimbo Slice in EliteXC was the bizarro world version of a Rocky story, Brenneman-Story was the real thing.
Finally, the fight whose move into main-event status was precipitated by "Marquardtgate", Pat Barry versus Cheick Kongo, delivered a main-event-worthy finish. In one of the wildest three minutes in recent memory, Barry threw a huge overhand right, dropping Kongo. The finish, and the referee stoppage, looked to be only a formality, with Joe Rogan saying matter of factly, "It's over." But Kongo was still in the fight, pushing back to his knees and then his feet. Barry stayed on him, dropping him again with a hook to the temple, prompting Mike Goldberg and Rogan to mutually declare "he is now - he's out". But like a zombie movie, the French striker utilized head movement on the ground to avoid more shots, then rose again, back-pedaling on roller skate feet. As Barry rushed in to finish, Kongo caught him flush with a right hook followed by a right uppercut, laying Barry unconscious on the mat and winning for Kongo the fight and the $50,000 Knockout of the Night bonus.
A fantastic night of fights - great finishes, great sportsmanship, fighters rising to the occasion on the big stage. Last night's event contained a little of everything that makes us love this sport.