Could've been better
Couture's pummeling Gonzaga's nose ruined the fight
Posted: Monday September 17, 2007 4:36PM; Updated: Monday September 17, 2007 4:36PM
So last column I wrote Gabriel Gonzaga's nickname "Napao" means "big nose" in Portuguese. I didn't say it means "titanium nose." But that's what Gonzaga could have used Saturday night in his UFC 74 heavyweight title fight against Randy Couture.
Two minutes into the first round, Couture, who had Gonzaga pressed up against the cage, lifted the Brazilian up and brought him crashing down on his back. In textbook takedown fashion, Couture drove Gonzaga into the ground, like a linebacker running through a tackle and drilling a halfback into the turf. When the whole tangled mess hit the canvas, the crown of Couture's head slammed into the bridge of Gonzaga's nose, shattering it, along with Gonzaga's title hopes. The ever gracious 44-year-old champ later acknowledged the accidental head bash. "I heard his nose Crush," Couture said. "I knew it was broken, and then I saw the blood."
Ah the blood. The blood. The blood and more blood. Running down Gonzaga's face, running into Gonzaga's throat, dripping onto Couture's shoulders as he held his opponent in a clinch up against the cage for most of the next nine-and-a-half minutes before Herb Dean mercifully stopped the fight as Couture pummeled a helpless Gonzaga.
It's hard to heap enough praise on Couture; for coming back at the age of 44 to reclaim the title, for representing himself the way a professional athlete should, for the supreme conditioning that has allowed him to keep chugging long after his younger adversaries have emptied their tanks. "It's hard not to love the guy," fight commentator Joe Rogan said in summation. Still, I cannot help but feel that the real losers in Saturday night's fight were not in Gonzaga's camp, but in the audience.
Don't get me wrong, UFC 74 was a great card. Great fights from top to bottom, the triumphant return of an upset champ (Georges St. Pierre), and another win on the resume of a budding star (Roger Huerta). But we did not get to see the best Gonzaga has to offer versus the best "The Natural" has to offer. Not that fighters haven't won fights with shattered schnozes, but has a fighter ever won a fight with a break as bad and as early in the fight as the one Gonzaga suffered? You know it's bad when the corner can do nothing to stem the flow of blood, and their man comes off his stool still gushing.
Right after the head clash, Gonzaga popped up, but in minutes his mouth was wide open and he was spitting blood and looking for air. He was never again the aggressor in the fight. The fight was nearly stopped in the second round when Gonzaga told Dean that he could not see because of the blood in his eyes. Dean asked Gonzaga whether he could continue, and it is a testament to his will, not his better judgment, that he shook his head yes.
Couture fans, as most UFC enthusiasts are, will note that Randy was probably winning the fight even before the slam at two minutes. Ten seconds into the bout, Couture stunned Gonzaga with a straight left, and then scored a takedown and clambered to Gonzaga's back. But Gonzaga landed some hefty shots and a head kick of his own in that first two minutes. Couture certainly looked good, but I have no idea how the fight would have played out in the absence of the head clash. And neither does anybody else.