American Robbie Lawler defended his welterweight title with a resounding 5th round TKO victory of Canadian Rory MacDonald capping a bloody, energy charged Fight of the Year at this point. It would have never happened in the Olympics.
It would have been stopped long before as a precaution denying fans to savor the true combatant spirit shown by both men. And let’s say for the sake of hypothetical debate it could happen, there is no way Lawler, split lip and all, would’ve been allowed to continue in a three week Olympic style tournament.
But who needs Olympics to showcase MMA? The fans already have it via the UFC, never more on display in bringing together an international cast of fighters and impassioned fans than last Saturday at 189.
Country pride, top world class fighters, a jammed packed MGM Grand Garden Arena and the gamut of emotions filled the night. As I sat with friend and colleague Ron Kruck we discussed the amazing outpouring of Irish fans for Conor McGregor as he was defeating Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight title. Perhaps, we pondered the showing a tie with the feverish Brazilian faithful who regularly back their fighters en mass, though maybe an edge in vociferousness to the Irish who made Las Vegas sound and feel like Dublin. We questioned if Mendes from Sacramento had any home court advantage, or any other fighter from the U.S. that night. In this melting pot gathering MacDonald was cheered at least as frequently as Lawler during their captivating slugfest.
From Irish music legend, as bold and controversial as McGregor himself, Sinead O’Connor literally rising from the crowd on a smoke surrounded platform singing as he made his walkout to the post fight exuberance spilling out into the MGM casino with a circle of hundreds waving flags chanting “Ole, Ole, Ole,” that national pride was as poetic as James Joyce and celebratory as a U2 concert. It was their Gold Medal performance that thousands had traveled thousands of miles to see.
Isn’t that what the Olympics are all about? Our country won, our person did better than anyone else. It is on display at almost every UFC event with a spectrum of champs almost equally divided from the United States and the rest of the world in the ten divisions with an interim winner in one of them.
There are six American title holders: Daniel Cormier (Light heavyweight), Chris Weidman (Middleweight), Lawler (welterweight), T.J. Dillashaw (bantamweight), Demetrious Johnson (flyweight) and Ronda Rousey (Women’s bantamweight). There are five foreign born champs: Fabricio Werdum from Brazil (heavyweight), Rafael dos Anjos of Brazil (lightweight), Brazilian Joe Aldo (featherweight), Ireland’s McGregor (interim featherweight) and Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland (Women’s strawweight).
Former heavyweight champ, our great friend and AXS TV colleague, Bas Rutten was the initial inductee into the Pioneer wing of the UFC Hall of Fame becoming the first European fighter chosen for the Hall. Another statement as to the growth and reach the UFC has around the globe.
As we get nearer to the 2016 Games in Brazil, talk will increase as it did when that country was announced as host, that MMA should be included, at least as an exhibition sport given the rich heritage of influence and fighters that country has provided. Again, why? The regulations would be so strict with somewhere around four or more fights to medal; the judging even more convoluted in an attempt to provide safety from potential pummeling that what fans have come to know about MMA as delivered by the UFC would be a shell of itself and a disappointment. Look at the declining interest in Olympic boxing in the U.S. with similar restrictions in the tourney format. Headgear is scheduled to go away in a move to generate excitement in 2016, but the limited time of the Games themselves are always the biggest obstacle for combative sports.
When Aldo fights McGregor to unify the title, the decibel level will be off the charts. Brazil versus Ireland, all on the line, no concern for the next time in a tournament, here it is. Maybe the UFC will even put up those five famous entwined rings around the octagon.
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