If you are, like me, a big fan of sports in general, you know exactly what I am talking about here. It is referenced all the time in the stick and ball sports, but I can't ever recall it being discussed in MMA. For those of you reading that couldn't care less for the mainstream sports, the zone is an abstract term used to describe an athlete that is playing at a skill level far above his/her normal capabilities. You will never see it show up on a stat sheet, but its effect on sporting events can be felt all the time.
The zone can occur when a great player all of a sudden rises to a level that they didn't know they could attain, and it also can happen when a major underdog is temporarily able to compete with athletes that are far out of their league. The zone is not a long term improvement in skills, but rather a short term spike in abilities. Where is comes from is a complete mystery, but it is one of the greatest feelings in athletics, however fleeting it may be.
Sports history is littered with stories of athletes that have used the zone to achieve things even they thought impossible. One of the most iconic images of basketball is Michael Jordan jogging back down the court after making a long jumper (seen above), and shrugging his shoulders at his team's bench, as if to say "I don't know how I'm this good either." Any time a pitcher has thrown a no hitter in baseball, you can bet that they felt that same feeling at some point during the game.
Many NHL championships are won and lost because of goalies that have been able to stay in the zone for playoff series. All of a sudden they make saves they normally wouldn't, while every deflection hits the post instead of going into the goal. When golfers like Tiger Woods and Rory Mcilroy have absolutely blitzed fields of the best golfers in the world and run away with major championships, you know the zone played a part in heir history making feats.
Keep reading after the jump for what I think are some great examples of the zone in MMAThe greatest thing about the zone is that it is not something only elite athletes can experience, anyone who has ever competed can affirm that. It is that feeling of supreme confidence, and a secure knowledge that you cannot be stopped, at least not right then. It is a 100% mental thing, and yet it is something that can effect physical performance as much as anything.
As it pertains to MMA, I think it is a bit harder to see the zone in full effect. Often times fighters will cancel each other out, and many of the dominant performances we see are simply the result of one sided matchups. When a fighter wrecks an opponent they were expected to run through, it is almost impossible to determine if the zone was involved in any way. I still think, however, that there are some distinct examples, so here we go.
This fight was supposed to be another notch in the win column for Eddie Alvarez as his Bellator contract was winding down. What it turned to instead was one of the greatest MMA fights of the year, and a shocking upset for the LW title. Chandler hurt the champion early (like everyone does against Eddie), but in true Alvarez fashion he fought his way back into the fight. Chandler had never been known for his finishing prowess, but when he got his opportunity, he was all over the champion, finally finishing him in the 4th round with a rear naked choke. No matter what Alvarez hit Chandler with in that fight, he was simply not going to be denied. He was able to channel every bit of greatness within himself, which is really what the zone is all about.
Yushin Okami had just fought Anderson Silva for the MW title, and most fans (including myself) thought that Boetsch was being served up to get Okami back in the win column. For the first two rounds, it played out exactly as expected. Yushin dominated Boetsch on the ground for one round, and beat him up handily on the feet for the other. In the third round, everything changed, however. The Barbarian came out and earned his nickname, hulk smashing Okami with Jack Johnson style uppercuts until the Japanese star crumbled in an unconscious heap at the base of the cage. It was, in my humble opinion, the most drastic come from behind win in MMA history, and one of the clearest examples of the zone ever in MMA. There is no other explanation for the incredible turn of events that transpired in that fight.
This was the title fight that probably never should have happened at all, but it instead became a classic for being arguably the biggest upset ever in the Octagon. GSP is way better than Matt Serra. I don't think ever the biggest of Serra fans (and I would fall into that category) would ever think otherwise. This fight was supposed to be just a small nuisance for the dominant champion, granted because Serra has won a razor thin split decision to win TUF: The Comeback, which awarded title shots to the WW and MW winners. Serra was not in the same league as the champion, but the only problem was no one told him that. Instead of fighting tentatively like many of GSP's opponents, Serra came forward like a buzzsaw, throwing bombs at the head of the champion. St Pierre did not react well to the onslaught, and once Serra saw he was hurt, he pounced with everything he had, beating GSP's head into the mat until the champion involuntarily tapped out due to a lack of consciousness. It is the only UFC event I have ever attended live, and still the absolutely coolest, craziest thing I have ever seen at a live sporting event of any kind. It was also a performance Matt Serra has never been able to recreate, but he showed that in his big moment, he could rise to become a true champion.
Anderson Silva vs Forrest Griffin, UFC 101: full fight
I think that it is harder to find examples of the zone amongst the elite athletes of the sport, because the best of the best run through so many legit fighters that it becomes rather routine to see it happen. This fight is the clearest example of a dominant fighter in the zone ever in MMA. I'm sure if you are reading this article, then you have seen this fight at least once. If not, stop reading, go find this fight somewhere, and enjoy. I'll wait. And... now I assume you are back with me, and you have marveled at the greatness displayed in this glorious display of one sided violence.
This wasn't a great fighter crushing a proverbial can, but the MW champion destroying the former Light Heavyweight champion of the world. After this beating, Forrest Griffin has never been the same fighter. I can't say I blame him though. Silva utilized at attack that bordered somewhere between a Jedi and Neo while in the Matrix. It looked as though Forrest was stuck in quicksand, as the Spider clowned him before dropping him with quite possibly the best jab in MMA history. It forced Griffin to channel his inner Roberto Duran, putting his arms up while on his back, begging not to get hit any more. Griffin ran out of the ring immediately after the fight, and has never been the same fighter in the cage as he was prior to that fateful evening.
There you have it my friends. You can almost see the zone oozing out of Silva's pores in the above picture. The level of badass he established here cannot be attained but by the greatest of the great, which is the essence of the zone. Those are the beautiful moments in sports where an athlete operates with the touch and flourish of an artist, leaving their own beautiful mark on the world, giving fans the moments they will never forget. Most importantly, they remind us as fans why we really love these crazy things.
There are honestly too many honorable mentions to even list here (Machida/Evans and Weidman/Munoz being the most obvious IMO), so please, help grow this list in the comments (hint, with gifs!!!!). MMA has been a bit of a downer as of late, so reliving moments of greatness seems like a good way to lead into our first UFC event in a long time this weekend. Cheers, guys and gals, I hope you enjoy.