Johny Hendricks' booming left cross gave him one heck of a career boost, as he dispatched longtime welterweight contender Jon Fitch in just 12 seconds at UFC 141 this past Fri., Dec. 30, 2011, in Las Vegas. The win elevates "Big Rig" into the elite of the 170-pound weight class, a division suddenly in flux with champion Georges St. Pierre's knee injury and the Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit bout for the interim title.
It was a stunning end, given Fitch's hard-earned reputation for durability. And it left the same taste in my mouth as Jake Ellenberger stopping Jake Shields did: we saw an elite welterweight get starched so quickly that we really didn't learn a lot about the victor in what was expected to be a hard-knocks-style test of his overall game.
Quick knockouts happen in MMA, with a frequency I've roughly estimated at 10-15 percent. They are the kind of fights where you merely find out one guy can strike hard, but you don't learn anything else regarding how the winner's overall game matched up in any other phases.
That's not to take anything away from Hendricks or Ellenberger, both of whom delivered the goods in a manner no one predicted. But I've always had a special place for the "step-up" fight like this, where a guy takes on a proven commodity to show if he's got the goods to compete at the next level.
Quick endings leave me feeling like we were served dessert first, got stuffed, and were kicked out of the joint without getting a taste of the main course.
As a long time Jon Fitch admirer, I've enjoyed watching him grind his way through opponents, despite the legion of critics that dismiss his style (few of whom could identify a wrestling mat in a photo line up). He's the very definition of the Calvinistic work ethic, driving from the Midwest to San Jose to train full-time, with a handful of dirty shirts rotated between workouts while he slept on random floors and chased the beginnings of a dream. He is not a supremely gifted athlete, just an insanely hard worker with an unshakeable belief in the merits of that approach.
He's soldiered through a UFC career that's often seen him on the outs with the organization, yet up to this point had gone 13-1-1. I could accept seeing him get steamrolled, outwrestled, stopped late, whatever. But this was like seeing a football team score an 80-yard touchdown on the opening drive with the game getting called immediately after.
Chalk it up to sour grapes, thinly disguised as journalism.
Perhaps the real problem is most MMA fans love the fight prediction element almost as much as the bouts themselves. Quick knockouts like Hendricks' leave me drawing a blank on how they'd matched up if it had gone longer, with nothing to base future predictions on that we didn't already know. It's part of the game, of course, but often a frustratingly inconclusive one. Kudos to Hendricks, who will soon enough be back in the deep waters.
With that left hand of his, he'll be a dangerous assignment for anyone in the division. And he deserves style points for an epic beard.
That stands on its own merits.