Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
I don't often write things like this, but it's Christmas and I feel like it. I'm currently sitting in a bar in Munich, Germany, enjoying a Helles or eight and have been mentally replaying the year of MMA in my head. 2012 has seen its highs and lows in and out of the cage, and I'll be letting people vote on their favorites when I kick off the 2012 Bloody Elbow Awards on New Years Day. But today, I'm just going to write about my favorite MMA fight of the year. And it's a little off the wall.
Think back to October 13th. The location was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the HSBC Center. 16,844 fans settled into their seats, ready to watch Anderson Silva feast on Stephan Bonnar. After Demian Maia slithered all over Rick Story and submitted him faster than I finished my first beer here (it was close though), Phil Davis finally got Wagner Prado out of his life with a sick anaconda choke. It was then that I truly began to sit on the edge of my seat. Next up was a bout that was both anticipated and reviled. Brazilian prospect Erick Silva seemed well on his way to stardom, but he had to get through a man my friend kindly referred to as "the black hole of entertainment". The AKA grinder himself. Jon Fitch.
It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that Jon Fitch wasn't very popular at that point. Despite racking up more UFC wins than just about anyone on the active roster, he had shown approximately zero finish. And he was entering the bout looking to rebound from a 12-second knockout at the hands of Johny Hendricks. The anti-Fitch brigade (ie. almost everyone except myself) was happily calling that his most exciting fight ever. Fitch promised change in the leadup to the bout - he knew he had to sacrifice safety to entertain, even if it meant losing.
And he lived up to his word.
He certainly looked Fitch-like early, getting a takedown. But it was quickly evident that a different ex-Purdue wrestler was in the house. He looked for hooks and a choke from the back immediately. Silva was a gamer though, and got back up. Fitch looked for a cool-looking standing arm triangle. After Silva escaped, he landed a massive front kick square in the kisser. But Fitch just shook it off and looked for the takedown again and again until he got it. He took the first round.
The second was a whole different story, and a testament to Fitch's toughness and unchokeability (totally not a real word, luckily this is a blog). Silva fought off a Fitch takedown and hit a sick foot sweep to get one of his own. A crucifix setup was foiled by Fitch's constant sweep attempts from underneath. They got up, but Fitch got caught trying a mistaken hip toss and had his back taken. And then it was his neck that was taken. He was dead to rights in a fully sunk rear naked choke on the ground. With 90 seconds to go. That's pretty much nighty night time for anyone else short of Ben Henderson.
But it wasn't this time.
Apparently Fitch's arteries don't work like the rest of us, because he just laid there and took it for a while. Then peeled Silva's arms off and rolled over on top of him, like the whole thing was a night with the white belts (and Silva definitely ain't no white belt). Fitch then took over and pounded away until Silva does what he always does when he wants to get up - give up his back. The old Fitch might have been content with riding out the round. But this one didn't. He grabbed an armbar, looking for the super-late finish. It wasn't perfect though, and the round ended in high drama.
The last stanza was notable for two things - it was obvious that Silva was out of gas, and that Fitch desperately wanted the finish. Fitch immediately took it down and got the back. A choke and armbar weren't there, but Silva showed his resilience by escaping and locking up a beautiful guillotine. Unfortunately for Indio, we've already learned by now that Fitch isn't human. And Silva was gassed, so he gave it up. And then it was all Fitch. He absolutely beat the tar out of Silva down the stretch, but it was not to be. Silva ate 112 strikes in the round (58 significant), but he survived to the final bell.
Fitch took a unanimous decision. As usual. But this bout was nothing like a regular Jon Fitch fight. The two men earned $70,000 each for the fight of the night (only the second performance bonus of Fitch's career, the other was for getting his ass kicked by Georges St. Pierre for five rounds at UFC 87). Fitch proved that he could be a different, exciting fighter and still be extremely effective. Silva proved that he could take everything a top-five welterweight had to offer, and almost finished the fight himself. Both men came out looking like stars. And I was completely captivated for every single second.
That, my friends, was my favorite fight of 2012. And my favorite fight of 2013 might just be Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia at UFC 156. Or it might be Erick Silva vs. Jay Hieron on that same night. Because both of these guys are awesome.