Through the Past Darkly: Reflections on UFC on FUEL TV 8


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brian-stann-22.jpgNo one ever strives to be a good loser.

The whole dignified in defeat thing? It’s better than being a jerk about it, but ours is not a culture that puts a premium on losing well, even if we’re quick to mock its opposite. Complain and cry and make excuses after a loss, and sure, we will make fun of you. Lose like a gentleman and we’ll give you your golf clap on the way out, then talk about you after you’re gone.

That’s why it feels important to take just a moment to appreciate the example provided by Brian Stann following the UFC on FUEL TV 8 main event on Saturday night. I’m still not sure how he managed it, but just minutes after getting coldcocked by Wanderlei Silva, Stann managed to give a post-fight interview that was articulate, gracious and painfully honest, all in only a few words.

“Wanderlei’s always been one of my favorite fighters ever,” Stann said shortly after waking up on his back in Saitama Super Arena. “He’s one of the fighters who inspired me to start this sport, and I’m very proud to have been a part of his career — as much as this hurts right now. My heart’s broken, but I’m still proud that I put my name on the line and I fought him.”

See? That’s how you do it. The fact that Stann did it with a likely concussion and a mangled nose is only more impressive. As much as it must hurt to get up there and admit that you lost, that it hurt badly, and that you’re glad you did it anyway, it’s still the best way you can play it. In part that’s because, well, what other options do you have? You can complain about a cracked skull or a bad stoppage or a training camp that didn’t go the way you planned (when do they ever?), but that’s the quickest path from pity to scorn in the eyes of the fans.

Fighters are never more sympathetic or vulnerable or relatable than in the moments immediately following a loss. When they first step into the cage they’re like giants towering over the crowd. Even on TV, the cameras all seem to angle up at them. Then they get knocked out or submitted and it’s like they shrink right in front of our eyes. They’re mortal again. They’re one of us, just some guy, and suddenly we feel like we know them. That’s because we all know failure and disappointment. Success on that big a stage is hard for most of us to imagine. We enjoy that vicariously, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we understand it. Defeat? Now that we understand. What we need – and secretly want – is someone to show us how to do it well.

In Saitama this weekend, Stann did that. It wouldn’t hurt us to take a moment to appreciate him for it before our gaze drifts off to the winner’s circle once again.

Wanderlei gonna Wanderlei

Talking to Stann a few days before the fight, I asked him if he thought being back in Japan would make Silva revert to the free-swinging, hyper-aggressive style he employed in his PRIDE days. Stann doubted it, he said, but noted that “if he does that, I would certainly feel comfortable doing that with him and feel like the odds were in my favor.”

Right up until the leather started flying, that seemed like sound reasoning. After all, we all knew that Stann had a chin like Gibraltar while Silva’s had begun to look more like a rapidly melting glacier. If it came down to who could take more punishment, you had to favor the younger, more resilient Stann. That is, right up until he got knocked unconscious for the first time in nearly five years. So much for all those things we thought we knew for sure.

Speed and power and conditioning and technique are all things that can fluctuate over a fighter’s career, but his ability to take a punch usually only gets worse with age. And once it starts to go, it rarely comes back. Somehow, Silva seems to have found at least a temporary fix. He took some massive blows from Stann and was still clear-headed enough to fire back. He was wobbled but never woozy, and with his flesh as willing as his spirit (for a change), he managed to look like the old Wanderlei, the head-hunting madman who didn’t mind taking some punishment in order to give some back. So now what?

As I wrote in my Sunday column, it’d be great to see Silva ride off into the sunset after a triumph in vintage form, but I have little hope for that. A fighter who’s winning becomes convinced that he’s reborn in the game. One who’s losing tells himself that he just needs to get one more win. So it goes. The day might come (and it might be soon) when UFC President Dana White will have to sit Silva down and give him the Chuck Liddell speech, but the win over Stann tells us that day hasn’t arrived just yet. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing for Silva, we can only guess.

You really want to stand with Mark Hunt? Are you sure?

There were times when it seemed like Hunt was doing everything in his power to give Stefan Struve the win in their co-main event heavyweight bout, but Struve tried even harder to give it right back to him. Watching their fighter try to pass the lanky Dutchman’s dangerous guard must have given Hunt’s cornermen heart palpitations. Between rounds, they begged him to stand back up and “put [his] hand on [Struve’s] face.” Struve could have used his height and reach in order to make that very difficult, but instead he opted to stand still and cover up while Hunt closed the vast distance between them in search of an exposed bit of flesh to pound with his fists.

It was a baffling game plan from Struve. Had he not heard that this Hunt guy hits pretty hard? Did he not realize that he was better off fighting him either from a great distance on the feet or up close on the mat? The one thing you can’t do if you’re Struve is stand still and let Hunt pick his target, and of course that’s the one thing he did. It cost him the fight and put a painful new crack in his jaw, too. Let’s hope it finally taught him an important lesson he has thus far refused to learn.

Diego Sanchez is (technically) victorious in a (sort of) return to lightweight

Sanchez’s split-decision win over Takanori Gomi was close enough that, with the way MMA judging works, it’s hard to complain. Any time you call it 29-28 for one fighter, and if you acknowledge that even one of the three rounds was close enough to have gone either way, you’re basically flipping a coin when you get to the scorecards. That said, this wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to lightweight for Sanchez. It wasn’t even a return at all, since he failed to make 155 pounds in his first trip to the division since his 2009 lightweight title loss to B.J. Penn.

Now Sanchez says he wants Nate Diaz next, because apparently he thinks it would be cool to have wins over both Diaz brothers. And, sure, I guess it would. But only if you can really get down to the weight class where you intend to fight them, and only if you really, truly beat them.

Beware the wrath of the “Stun Gun”

In a pre-fight tweet, Siyar Bahadurzada promised to take Dong Hyun Kim’s soul when they met in Japan, adding “YOU’LL NEVER BE THE SAME.” Bahadurzada was almost right. I’ve never seen Kim trash talk an opponent while pummeling him from full mount, so at least that was different. Everything else, though? Yeah, same old “Stun Gun.” He takes you down, suffocates you with top control, and 15 minutes later he’s getting his hand raised while you’re hanging your head and silently vowing to go home and work on your escapes from mount.

I’m not sure where the win leaves Kim, who seems guaranteed to squeeze the excitement out of any welterweight up-and-comer who isn’t in possession of a great ground game or exquisite takedown defense, but I think it’s safe to say that Bahadurzada was exposed. If you can’t grapple with the best of them, the UFC’s welterweight division is an especially tough place to make a living.

In close fights, some questionable approaches down the stretch

This past weekend brought us a couple of cautionary tales for those who think they know what the judges are scribbling on those inscrutable scorecards of theirs. In prelim action, Brian Caraway’s corner assured him he was up two rounds to none before the third and final frame of his fight with Takeya Mizugaki. Turns out they were wrong, as two of the three judges scored it 29-28 for Mizugaki, making it seem like Caraway’s corner did him a disservice by making him believe that his lead was more comfortable or obvious than it really was. Even if you think you’re up 2-0, when you know that at least one of the rounds was close (and when you know how MMA judges can be), it’s probably better to treat the third more like a must-win than a mere formality. In a three-round fight, coasting is always a dangerous idea.

Meanwhile, on the main card, Hector Lombard found himself in a great position to come from behind and steal one from Yushin Okami after clearly losing the first two rounds. The only trouble is, Lombard didn’t seem to realize just how clearly he’d lost those two. In fairness, one of the judges somehow scored it in his favor, but that’s the kind of ineptitude you can’t afford to count on if you’re Lombard. He should have known that Okami was ahead after two rounds of superior grappling, just like he should have known that he’d be better off forcing the wrestler to his feet and trying to finish him off with punches. Had Lombard gone that route, he might have done to Okami what Tim Boetsch did just last year. Instead he decided to finish out the round in Okami’s guard, betting that it would be enough to seal a decision victory. Like Caraway’s corner, it turned out that Lombard’s math was off.

What does this tell us? For starters, that you never know what judges are thinking, and that you’re better off not finding out. You could argue that anyone who’s watched even a little MMA in the past couple years ought to know that already, but still. It’s easy to tell fighters that they shouldn’t leave it up to the judges, though that’s not always realistic. Really, they should make sure that if they do have to rely on the judges, they do everything in their power to make that job ridiculously easy. Anything else and they leave a difficult task in the hands of people who have enough trouble with simple ones.

For complete coverage of UFC on FUEL TV 8, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

(Pictured: Brian Stann)

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