Three straight nights in the fight capital of Las Vegas, 35 bouts in all, one of them each night with a championship on the line. (Plus one for an interim belt that might not be as faux as usual, with the division’s real champion off on bigger pursuits, perhaps never to return.) Two of those title bouts ended with a new champion being crowned.
But the week’s real drama took place outside the octagon. Jon Jones tearfully faced a failed a drug test and headed home. Daniel Cormier, who was to defend his light heavyweight championship against “Bones” in the milestone fight card’s main event, was left without an opponent. Briefly. Then Anderson Silva, of all people, stepped in. One all-time great replaces another all-time great.
Amid all of this, there were fights and more fights. After putting on bouts across the Strip at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Thursday and Friday, the UFC made its debut at shiny new T-Mobile Arena with a UFC 200 card that, from top to bottom, was as stacked with big names as any in the promotion’s two-decade history. In all, two reigning and seven former UFC champions stepped in the cage in one starry night.
A spectacular anticlimax
Miesha Tate walked out for the main event with Katy Perry’s singing of “…because I am a champion” ringing through the arena. Minutes later, that was Amanda Nunes’s song.
The 28-year-old Brazilian blasted Tate right a right hand two minutes into the fight and picked apart the stunned champ before sinking in a rear-naked choke and eliciting the tapout at 3:16 of the first round to grab away the belt Tate had won back in March.
The dominant performance drew a roar from the crowd, to be sure, but it seemed as though the fans were a bit sapped of energy by then. It had been a long night.
Nunes (13-4), in winning her fourth straight, becomes the first Brazilian woman to capture a UFC title and the first out LGBT athlete of either gender to reign.
“Oh, my God, 10 years of my life, working for this moment in my life,” said Nunes. “And now I feel amazing.”
For a long time, only one woman got to feel amazing after women’s bantamweight title fights. But that era ended abruptly last November when Ronda Rousey was knocked out by Holly Holm. Then Holm fell to Tate in her first title defense. And now Tate (18-6) hands over the belt as well.
A healthy return
The return of Brock Lesnar from a 4½-year absence was all about a man seeking to redefine what he is. The former UFC heavyweight champ had his career sidetracked and ultimately halted by a bout with the intestinal illness diverticulitis that twice put him under the knife.
Right before he left the game, he lost his last two fights by first-round TKOs. But Lesnar said repeatedly in recent days that the man who lost those fights wasn’t the real Lesnar.
On Saturday, the real Lesnar showed up. He turns 39 years old on Tuesday and he looked the part, but competing against a 42-year-old who’s as one-dimensional as he is—Lesnar’s all wrestling, Hunt all punching—Lesnar did what he had to do to face up to the challenge he put in front of himself.
He took Hunt to the canvas four times, kept him down there for extended periods—thereby making Hunt’s big fists a non-factor and won a three-round unanimous decision.
What does it mean, going forward? Was this a one-and-done self-redefining challenge? Will Lesnar remain in the UFC, or is it back to the WWE for him? When asked about the future, he would only say, “Aw, one day at a time.”
He owes MMA nothing. He proved his point. And it only gets tougher as you move up the ranks of the Top 10. Then again, the UFC heavyweight division is filled with older fighters, and no one in the promotion’s history—not even prime-of-career Lesnar has held the heavyweight belt for more than two defenses.
So who knows?
Squash the GOAT
On Thursday, Anderson Silva was a savior. On Saturday night, he was a survivor.
The 41-year-old former king of the sport stepped up on two days’ notice to provide light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier with an opponent after Jon Jones was pulled from what was to be the main event. It was a brave act for a man who underwent gall bladder surgery less than two months ago, had not been training, and was giving up much size. But it was sad to see.
At moments, Silva actually showed the kind of spark that was absent from long stretches of the performances in his dazzling yet often puzzling heyday. But this is not his heyday. Cormier took him down at will and beat him up for the better part of three rounds. The fight lasted till the final horn only because the champ willfully seemed to keep the fight on the feet at times just to please the crowd.
Cormier won by unanimous decision. Silva won the applause of the crowd for his gritty survival. But UFC 200 was not a winner, the golden event tarnished by a squash match.