It's Christmas Eve. I'm in Montreal, perched on a barstool in one of the only open bars in the center of the city. There are exactly six people in here, and a very pretty bartender lady. So what am I gonna do? Write about MMA, of course. That's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?
I've written about my favorite fight of the year on the last two Christmas Eves, so continuing the tradition seems prudent. You can check those out via Google cuz I can't link them on my phone. As usual, I'm going a bit off the board with my pick for 2014. Partly because I'm strange, and partly because of Stella (shut up, it's what they have).
So here we go. The date was February 22nd, and the octagon was in Sin City. The main event was meant to capitalize on the Olympics. The co-main ended up as a Grand Prix winner against a coffee boy. I didn't really care about either of those fights though - I paid for the third fight on the card. That was my main event.
On one side of the cage you had Canada (and BC's) great nerd hope - The Canadian Psycho himself, Rory MacDonald. Across from him was the most feared submission fighter in the UFC, the man that squeezed Rick Story's face so hard that his nose started to bleed just before he was forced to quit - Demian Maia.
I could only think of one thing to say during the intros - GAME ON. How Canadian. At the time, this fight was came across as a bit of a mismatch, but had some potential. Rory Mac didn't exactly have Metamoris aspirations back then, and Maia was still living off his rep from the Story fight as a welterweight strangler (he had fought Fitch and Shields since then in bouts I loved but no one else did).
The intros are nothing special. We don't even get a nose-to-nose since the bout isn't at the top of the card. But Maia doesn't care about any of that - he's here to end Rory's night as quickly as possible. And early on, that looked like a distinct possibility.
Rory managed to stuff the first Maia shot, but it didn't take much longer for him to end up staring at the lights. And being underneath Demian Maia in a cage is not a very appealing prospect. Holy understatements, Batman.
Rory had never really been in this spot before in the UFC, so the fascination level was pretty high. And when the grappling great melted his guard and moved to mount like only he can, it was a HOLY SHIT moment for me. Sorry about the language, it's the beer talking.
Maia showed off a true MMA game when he got there too, trying to soften him up with punches while hunting for sub opportunities. But Rory showed that he's no amateur himself, getting back to guard and actually attacking an arm. It worked well enough to get to his feet, which is a major victory for anyone. Even then though, Maia traded with him on the feet for the rest of the round. Rory had a bloody nose and Maia was up.
But Maia was tired.
He pressed hard early in the middle stanza, looking to get the fight to the floor. It wasn't to be though - Rory could see his shots coming and Maia had slowed down. MacDonald used effective front kicks and jabs to keep him at bay and beat up his exhausted opponent for five minutes. It looked for all the world like Maia blew his proverbial wad and it was all downhill for him. But Demian Maia doesn't give up that easily.
The early part of the third looked just like the second - Rory clubbering Maia with jabs and easily dodging his half-assed takedown attempts. But just when you thought the rest of the fight was easy to call, MacDonald ended up on his back. And it was wholly due to Maia's tenacity. He simply got a decent hold on one leg and made something out of nothing.
It was a fight again! For a little while at least.
Rory's underrated grappling (and Maia being exhausted) meant that it didn't stay there for long. Maia didn't back down for a single second down the stretch, but Rory was the younger, fresher fighter and he was in control. Maia landed one big shot late that made it interesting, but Rory was the better man that night.
He took a unanimous 29-28 decision, and the cards were 100% correct. But the fight encompassed everything MMA is about to me - styles clashing; technical brilliance; and above all - the unknown. Rory opened as a small favorite and closed as a big favorite, but the fight didn't reflect the odds at any point. Maia gave him everything he could handle, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
What else can you ask for from a cage fight?