Heavy on foreplay, but little in the way of prolonged action, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's debut on Fox lasted all of 64 seconds. That was all it took for Brazilian threshing machine Junior Dos Santos to cuff Cain Velasquez around the ear and rip his UFC heavyweight title from his grasp. For the five million people watching for the first time on network television, it was undoubtedly a case of premature evacuation.
Of course, anybody with even an entry level grasp of mixed martial arts and, indeed, the heavyweights, could have told you that the meeting of Dos Santos and Velasquez was always likely to be short and sharp. Both hit like jackhammers, and are brutes accustomed to getting out of the gate quickly. Fox's opening introduction to the UFC was never likely to be sustained or an all-encompassing display of the various arts.
To begin with, I was disappointed with the way Saturday's fight unfolded beneath the spotlight of the watching world. It was no fault of Dos Santos that the fight ended so quickly, but the proud mixed martial arts advocate in me wanted the skeptical frowns of America to witness more of what this great sport is all about. Instead, they watched a large Brazilian with wonky ears club a smaller wrestler with a killer's scowl to the ground in a little over a minute.
The fight was primarily a stand-up battle for as long as it lasted, with Velasquez chopping at Dos Santos' legs with kicks and the Brazilian returning the favor in the form of punches. One takedown attempt came and went with the shrug of a Dos Santos shoulder, and UFC virgins were ultimately robbed of witnessing the ground game and grappling element to the sport, which often thrills and bemuses newcomers in equal measure. A sample of that would have been nice, for sure, but Velasquez and Dos Santos have never been the type to pull guard in the midst of toe-to-toe warfare.
Thankfully, moments before Dos Santos and Velasquez threw punches for one minute, lightweight scrappers Benson Henderson and Clay Guida thrilled the live crowd in Anaheim with three rounds of up-and-down mixed martial arts action. The two 155-pound fighters went here, there and everywhere in pursuit of victory and, in total, spent fifteen minutes showcasing just how endearing the sport of mixed martial arts can be. They swapped punches in range, secured takedowns, sought submissions and went tit-for-tat in frantic scrambles for the duration of the fight. There was something for everyone. As it turned out, of course, Henderson and Guida also happened to be unfortunate victims of the Fox blackout. Their fifteen minute fight took place before the Fox broadcast kicked in, something which peeved hardcore fans of the sport, yet meant little to the millions of fresh eyes interested only in watching two larger specimens wail away.
The priority order made sense, there can be no doubt about that. As unlikely as it sounds, had Velasquez and Dos Santos gone the full five rounds their championship bout was scheduled for, there would be little time for Henderson and Guida to complete their respective ring-walks, let alone finish a three round fight. Sure, it would have been advantageous to have seen both fights showcased on Saturday night, but, if there's one thing MMA fans will tell you it's that the sport they love is nothing if not unpredictable.
The same can be said for professional boxing, another personal love of mine. While I momentarily and perhaps childishly cursed the lack of 'action' in the UFC main event Saturday night, my attention swiftly turned to the looming battle between pumped up midgets masquerading as welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Having followed both the Filipino and Mexican for the much of their pro careers, I knew we'd be spared any premature conclusion or sense of anti-climax in that one. These boys would throw hard and often and would continue doing so until the final bell tolled.
With that in mind, I prepared myself for 36 minutes of assured pugilist perfection. I wasn't exactly wrong, either, at least not as far as Marquez was concerned. Sticking to his end of the bargain, the nimble Mexican served Pacquiao up round after round, shutting down the Filipino's offense and counter-punching his target area with embarrassing ease. Some would say it was the third time Marquez had showed such dominance over his arch nemesis, but, whatever the running total, Saturday's demonstration appeared to be the cleanest and clearest yet.
Marquez raised his hand at the bout's conclusion, and I too mimicked his overt display of happiness, despite the fact the bout finished at a shade before 6 a.m. on a dark Sunday morning in England. My delight at seeing this honest, overlooked craftsman have his way with Pacquiao and silence the surrounding circus reanimated my flagging body and weary eyes. Although the inevitable result crushed any chance of Pacquiao ever fighting Floyd 'Money' Mayweather, I was content to see Marquez get his just desserts after all these years.
Pacquiao knew the game was up, too. He never once thought to raise an arm, nor crack a hopeful smile. Conversely, he bowed his head in the nearest corner, thankful to still be upright in good health after thirty-six minutes in Marquez' presence. Just like the t-shirt said, Manny knew.
Then the time came for Michael Buffer to read a white lie from a white card and stun the thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world. Pacquiao received a majority decision verdict in his favor, retained his WBO world welterweight crown and replaced his shocked face with one of a more confident and relieved variety. Inbuilt bravado and pride then conspired to force Pacquiao to cover up the cracks and proclaim his dominance in the post-fight interviews, as boos rained down on the popular champion. Boxer, politician, singer and now actor, Pacquiao added another string to his considerable bow.
Marquez, meanwhile, left the ring at precisely the same time I left my living room, disgusted, violated, embarrassed, yet all the while not particularly surprised by the charade. Money Mayweather waited in the wings for Pacquiao and, let's be frank, without Money and Manny, boxing is scrapping around for loose change in the back pockets of other emerging combat sports in 2011.
You see, while the UFC main event between Dos Santos and Velasquez left me somewhat deflated on Saturday night, context - and three partially sighted judges - allowed me to better appreciate and cherish exactly what was delivered to mainstream America. No, it wasn't pretty, prolonged or substantial, but, if nothing else, that heavyweight title clash was most certainly clear, clinical and decisive. As fans we were left in no doubt as to who was the better man. Everything about the night was conclusive, from the action and knockout, to the crowning of a new singular champion and announcement that he will next fight the winner of December's match between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem. It all made sense.
Boxing, on the other hand, has probably never confused me more than it did on Saturday night. Not only was the verdict so, so wrong, but the presumed reason for it - that cynical meeting of Manny and Money - will likely never come to fruition anyway.
A lot can be done and decided in 64 seconds - learn to love it.