After a weekend that was perhaps the biggest in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) with its network television debut on FOX, the promotion followed it up tonight (Nov. 19, 2011) with one of its most thrilling main events ever.
Let's not limit it to just the UFC, either, because two former Pride FC powerhouses -- Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua -- stepped inside the Octagon at the HP Pavilion in san Jose, Calif., and delivered a mixed martial arts (MMA) masterpiece that will surely stand the test of time.
I'm not even sure where to begin.
Let's start in the first round, where it was "H-Bombs" away with Henderson landing vicious right hands that had the Brazilian hurt bad and bleeding early. Believe it or not, but it seemed as though the end was close -- Rua was ridiculously rocked.
But, it was just the start of an epic back-and-forth brawl.
Rua was down (several times), but not out. He eventually recovered and even appeared to hurt Henderson before the round expired. Regardless, it was not enough to erase the previous four minutes, which favored Henderson significantly.
It was more of the same in the second stanza, with Henderson hurting Rua along the cage before the pair got stuck in a battle of position along the fence. The referee split them apart, which seemingly brought the warriors back to life, exchanging wild blows as the round came to a close.
The third round was all Henderson. In fact, Rua -- and MMA fans -- were fortunate that Josh Rosenthal let the 205-pound war continue because Henderson had him hurt so terribly. He hit him with everything he had, including the sledgehammer right hands that so often turn out the lights on most mortal men.
Amazingly, despite being thoroughly beaten and battered, Rua actually put together some offense to close the round, including a heel-hook submission attempt, as well as a takedown with a small helping of ground and pound, before the "championship" rounds began.
And round four and five are where Rua somehow, someway turned the tide.
Henderson, who at this point had expended so much energy punching Rua into oblivion, was dead tired. He was so close, yet so far away from winning his fourth consecutive fight. Perhaps sensing his fatigue (it was impossible to miss), Rua came out for the fourth frame with takedowns on his mind.
He got them against the Olympic-level wrestler, too. But Henderson was able to reverse position into a crucifix and then briefly threaten with a rear naked choke. Shortly thereafter in the scramble, Henderson was clinging to a guillotine choke that also was eventually thwarted.
Suddenly, we're in the midst of a jiu-jitsu match.
As the pair made it to their feet, Rua landed a clean uppercut that wobbled Henderson. Rua swarmed, landing several more strikes before Henderson responded with another right of his own. But, Henderson could barely lift his arms to protect himself at the point, which Rua use to his advantage, scoring another takedown and eventually securing full mount.
Henderson would survive, but barely.
Rua picked up right where he left off on the final round, in full mount, and stayed there literally for nearly five full minutes. Henderson simply could not get off his back. But, luckily for him, Rua was so tired at this point that he couldn't close the deal.
That inability to finish Henderson ultimately came back to haunt the Brazilian when Bruce Buffer read the final scorecards. Henderson won unanimously (48-47) in the eyes of the three judges based on his early success and heavy damage.
It was a case of too little, too late.
However, there is absolutely no shame in losing an incredible fight like that -- the heart, grit and sheer determination that both men displayed last night was insane. And had it not been a five-round, non-title fight, it would have been a one-sided beatdown with which Henderson would have walked away the clear winner.
Brilliant idea, which spawned a legendary fight between two legends. Impossible to script them much better than that.
When's the rematch?
In the co-featured fight of the night, another Pride FC superstar, Wanderlei Silva, was once again attempting to beat-back Father Time, while also avoiding the creative kicks of his dynamic counterpart, Cung Le.
Vale Tudo vs. Sanshou, baby.
Their contrasting styles were evident immediately, with Le spinning and twirling across the cage with elegant -- albeit powerful -- kicks and punches. Silva, for some reason, refused to close the distance and get out of Le's lethal striking range.
And it almost resulted in another (technical) knockout loss when Le landed a spinning backfist and several kicks that had the "Axe Murderer" perilously close to staring up at the lights, supine, once again.
He endured, perhaps proving that his jaw isn't entirely made of glass.
Then, between rounds one and two, Silva made several adjustments that proved pivotal. He side-stepped the kicks and got face-to-face with the former Strikeforce champion, clasping his hands behing his neck and delivering vintage Muay Thai knees to the face and body.
Silva then transitioned immediately into old school kill mode, swarming Le with punches in bunches that had him completely dazed and confused. When he made a last ditch effort to avoid the abuse by going for a leg, which Silva punished him with repeated hammer fists, the referee intervened and mercifully stopped it.
War Wand! Re-hitch your wagons, fight fans.
Confident, quick and cocky.
That would be one way to describe former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) posterboy, Urijah Faber, as he strutted into the Octagon -- classic championship cornrows and all -- to take on Brian Bowles in a number one bantamweight contender eliminator match.
One devastating uppercut, followed up with brutal ground and pound, sealed the deal for the "California Kid" moments into the second stanza. Bowles, himself a former champion, didn't seem comfortable at all with Faber's frenetic, herky-jerky style from the outset.
It was clear from the start of the fight that Faber was going to dictate its pace, even landing a huge crowd-pleasing slam as the first round winded down. And it was going to be up to Bowles to counter and catch Faber in an overzealous mistake if he wanted to emerge victories.
He never got the chance.
Once Faber had him hurt, he continued the onslaught and eventually finished the fight with a tight guillotine choke, handing Bowles his first "real" loss of his professional career.
In the process, Faber once again finds himself in another title fight -- a trilogy match against UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz -- in the very near future.
Whether you like it or not.
Rick Story came out pistols pumping, slinging a wild barrage of powerful punches that were designed to snuff out the technically-superior "Hitman" early. "The Horror," it seemed, was intent on making Kampmann relive the Paul Daley first round knockout nightmare.
Not this time.
Kampmann weathered the violent storm, created distance and began to implement his calculated attack. He soon landed a skin-splitting left hand, which opened a cut above Story's right eye. Not to be outdone, Story gave Kampmann a matching mark before the bleeding pair headed into their corners after five minutes of aggressive action.
In the second round, Kampmann hit his stride, landing accurate strikes that had Story backpedaling shortly after it started. Kampmann dialed up the pressure and soon got the 170-pound scrap to the ground, where he began to angle for submissions and soften up the tough kid from Tacoma.
Unfortunately, what began as a welterweight war ended with a battle for position along the fence, with both fighters attempting and scoring their own takedowns in round three. It was Kampmann, however, who got the better of the exchanges, including a solid rear naked choke attempt as the final seconds ticked off the fight clock.
And it was likely that final last-minute effort that earned Kampmann the split decision nod from the judges sitting ringside, steering himself out of an uncharacteristic two-fight losing skid and sending Story into one of his own.
Talk about divisional parity.
School was in session in the opening fight of the pay-per-view (PPV) main card. The experienced teacher was Stephan Bonnar and his lone, green student was Kyle Kingsbury. After 15 minutes of instruction, "Kingsbu" failed miserably, but hopefully he learned or thing or two from the three-round encounter with The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) legend.
At the very least, Kingsbury needs to cobble together a ground game, a gaping hole that was exposed for the MMA world to see this evening.
Bonnar, returning from nearly a year-long layoff because of knee surgery, used the better part of the first round to get the 205-pound contest horizontal. And that's where it remained, predominantly, for the final 10 minutes of action.
"The American Psycho" was relentless, leveraging his Carlson Gracie-inspired Brazilian jiu-jitsu to control the massive American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) prospect, who was enjoying an impressive four-fight win streak prior to tonight's setback, to earn a lopsided unanimous decision.
In doing so, Bonnar quietly extended his win streak to three. And with another win or two, may be able to return to light heavyweight relevance in 2012.
He just needs to stay healthy.
That's enough from us. Now it's your turn to discuss UFC 139: "Shogun vs. Hendo" in the comments section below. Was the main event one of the best fights ever? Is Wanderlei Silva still a legitimate middleweight threat? Does Faber have a chance in his trilogy fight with Cruz?
Let's hear it, Maniacs.
Be sure to also check out our complete UFC 139 blow-by-blow coverage of the entire "Shogun vs. Hendo" right here. While you're at it, check out our fight-by-fight recaps and immediate reactions for the UFC 139 PPV and SpikeTV action:
Last, and certainly not least, check out our complete UFC 139 results recap of the Facebook "Prelims" right here.