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The New Main Event (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday May 22, 2007 9:11AM; Updated: Friday May 25, 2007 9:39PM
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By L. Jon Wertheim

Kendall Grove went from obscurity to one of UFC's bigger draws after winning the third reality-show competition.
Kendall Grove went from obscurity to one of UFC's bigger draws after winning the third reality-show competition.
Greg Nelson/SI
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Early on Saturday evening, UFC Nation left the Hilton en masse, crossed the street and entered the Toyota Center, where it was greeted by a predictable rotation of loud, aggressive "psych-up" music -- White Stripes, Slipknot, Linkin Park -- and an elaborate light show. The first fight pitted welterweights Luke (the Silent Assassin) Cummo against Josh (Bring the Pain) Haynes, both of whom were alums of The Ultimate Fighter show and, thus, were known quantities to the crowd. Cummo, 27, is a vegetarian from New Hyde Park, N.Y.; Haynes, a 29-year-old father of three from Oregon, weighed more than 300 pounds before discovering MMA and whittling himself to his present fighting weight of 170.

The fight (there are three five-minute rounds in UFC; five in title bouts) was competitive and fairly typical of any MMA competition, a marriage of the "striking" of boxing and kickboxing with the "ground game" of jujitsu and wrestling. Wearing the requisite trunks and four-ounce, open-fingered gloves, Cummo and Haynes spent part of the first round boxing toe-to-toe and the rest of it grappling on the ground. In Round 2 Cummo began dialing in his punches and finally clocked Haynes with a right hand. Kneeling on the canvas, Haynes lunged for his opponent's legs, the textbook MMA response of a downed fighter. Problem was, his neurological wiring having short-circuited, Haynes grabbed the legs not of Cummo but of the referee, who promptly waved off the fight.

So it went for the next four hours. The fights were awkward at worst, exhilarating at best. Two bouts were won by knockout, two others by submissions (one induced with a choke, the other with a pretzeling ankle lock), a few more by anticlimactic decision. Among the combatants were former NCAA wrestlers and professional boxers, plus black belts in martial arts, all of whom had picked up additional disciplines. But, unmistakably, each fighter was endowed with technical skills.

Admittedly, the Octagon -- with its medieval two-men-enter, one-man-leaves echoes -- can be a jarring sight. But the action in the ring was something beyond glorified street fighting. Violent? Unquestionably. There were whooomphs and craaaacks, as well as rivulets of blood running down fighters' faces. Two weeks later, at UFC 70: Nations Collide, Brazilian heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga would bloody the face of his opponent, Mirko Cro Cop, with elbow shots and then deliver a roundhouse kick to the head. Cro Cop (real name: Mirko Filipovic), a former Croatian antiterrorism officer and member of parliament when he's not fighting, was instantly knocked out, and as he collapsed, his right knee and ankle bent at such hideous angles that even hard-core UFC fans recoiled. A little.

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