What you may have missed from last night
The Diamond. Showtime. The Immortal. Lionheart, erstwhile “The Nightmare”. The Carpenter. Joe Lauzon. UFC Fight Night 120 in Norfolk featured a lot of old-school action fighters at different stages of their careers. In many ways, you could take freeze frames from different fights on the card and pinpoint the stages on the career arc each man illustrated.
Matt Brown hellbowed Diego Sanchez straight into the Upside Down in the co-main event, then waffled on his pre-fight retirement plans.
Clay Guida got his first TKO win since 2008 against Samy Shiavo; that was the same fight card on which Kenny Florian TKOed Joe Lauzon, Nate Diaz submitted Kurt Pellegrino, and Gray Maynard fought Frankie Edgar the first time. It was Lauzon on the receiving end again tonight, eating an overhand, then a running uppercut from “The Carpenter” that put him down. Guida looked like had almost forgotten how to finish a fight from top position, but eventually strung together long enough combinations on a dazed Lauzon for the referee to call off the bout.
In the main event, Poirier and Pettis showed us just how brutally fun this sport can get; Pettis quite literally wearing a mask of blood, fighting blind.
Pettis lasted three highly competitive rounds before tapping to what seemed to be a rib injury. Describing the fight live was like trying to narrate the car chase scene from Bullit; so much was happening such high speed at one point I just wrote “holy shit” and tried to work that in later. Poirier was taking no prisoners, either in the fight or afterwards, when he said that the tap came from a broken man, not a broken rib.
— Josh Sánchez (@jnsanchez) November 12, 2017
The Diamond. Showtime. The Immortal. Lionheart, erstwhile “The Nightmare”. The Carpenter. Joe Lauzon. Action fighters, all of them, each with their own brand of high-risk violence. What can they tell us about that career path?
The Diamond- Dustin Poirier represents the action fighter at the peak of his powers. Poirier has come through the fire many, many times. As he said afterwards in interview, he has staying power. That’s one thing with action fighters- they stick around as long as their bodies let them. They rarely get cut, because why would you cut someone who gives you nothing but classic fights in an unbroken chain from The Korean Zombie to Anthony Pettis? Seriously- look at Poirier’s record stretching back to 2012. He doesn’t know how to have a boring fight. Win or lose, his fights are always exciting. Poirier wins a whole lot more often than he loses, but this is as close as he has come to a title shot. Unless you have a superhuman chin, it is an incredible feat to string together enough wins in all-action style to get you to a title. Action fighters live on a razor’s edge; one mistake and they lose all the progress they have built.
Showtime- Anthony Pettis has fallen from grace in mixed martial arts, but he still comes to fight. He is the action fighter just past his peak but still in his prime. Pettis has been in a number of extraordinary battles. His style is flashier than some; he was never a brawler by trade, but an action fighter nonetheless, relying on his spectacular flying kicks and knees to catch fighters out. If that doesn’t work, he has his tricky submissions and slick grappling chops. No matter what, though, Pettis is always looking for that fight-ending moment. That’s what makes him an action fighter. All of his tricks were on display tonight, against a backdrop of sheer toughness and durability. Despite Poirier’s “broken man” comments, no one who watched this fight could have anything but respect for Anthony Pettis.
The Immortal- Matt Brown’s gigantic elbow was the perfect capstone to his career, even though it won’t be. He represents the action fighter’s conundrum- this is in their DNA. Just like any fighter, their razors-edge, high-octane fighting style is more a reflection of their personality than their training. Brown has had fights where he reigns in his ferocious nature, but he is at his best when he unleashes all-out hell on his opponents. Brown has said a liberating moment came at the lowest point of his career, when he realized his identity wasn’t solely as a fighter- he could provide for his family any number of different ways, if he had to. That was when he carved a burning path straight up through the belly of welterweight to the very top, seven fights straight, six finishes, culminating in a hometown comeback bloodbath over Erick Silva. Since then, he has gone 2 and 5; it would be a logical choice to hang up the gloves. But the battle always sounds in the distance for men like Brown; a win like this whisper seductively in his ear that he has one last title run.
Lionheart, ersthile The Dream, erstwhile The Nightmare- Diego Sanchez had on his customary snarling face when the bell sounded. He raced across the cage to punch Matt Brown in the face- and also try to take him down, because Diego knows. He knows his legendary chin, battle-proven for 34 fights, had finally given way. That was against none other than Joe Lauzon, back at UFC 200. It was a heart-breaking thing to watch Diego get hit, utter his war cry as of old, then promptly get folded like a lawnchair. It was like watching the Biblical Samson try to fight without his powers, or Batman get broken by Bane. Action fighters live on their chins, and when that goes, it usually spells out the end. Sanchez isn’t about to give up this life, though. He’s given too much of himself, his body, and his brain to walk away easily.
The Carpenter- Clay Guida hasn’t changed, even though he has. Guida has a reputation as an action fighter, but recently his fights have been more grinding decision than blinding action. This finish was was a new look for Clay. He represents the fighter who tries to adjust his style to suit his strengths, even though his high work rate, mane of hair, and personality led to his reputation for slugfests early in his career. Guida says he wants to end his career in the UFC, and got the crowd to chant his name so Dana White will (hopefully) extend his contract.
Joe Lauzon- the only fighter on this list without a nickname, Lauzon doesn’t need one. He is a brand of violence all on his own. I remember his first fight with Jim Miller as one of the bloodiest fights in memory. It looked as if Miller had killed a deer and was gutting it in the Octagon. Lauzon didn’t win that night, but he had all our respect. Tied with Nate Diaz, he has the most post-fight bonuses ever, at 15. His chin was never pure titanium, so he never got close to a title shot, but he was as game as they come, and as an action fighter, one cannot but respect his career.
Nate Diaz- Diaz is the action fighter not on this list; not on this card; in fact, conspicuously absent from any and all lightweight and welterweight fighting as of late. Diaz is the rare exception to action fighters, the guy who made it out; the guy who made it, period. That’s the dirty secret behind action fighters; they give up a lot for the sport- recent research on CTE suggests all our favorite fighters have it, much earlier than we hoped or expected. But almost none of them will retire with health insurance, a pension, or enough saved up to, well, retire. That, on top of their innate desire to fight, is what keeps them here, long after they should have moved on with their memories and intellect intact.
So when you see an instant classic like Poirier-Pettis, appreciate it. The cost is hidden, but it is enormous. Appreciate the fighters for being the toughest men alive, the guys who can’t help leaving it all inside an 8-sided cage for our enjoyment.