It's hard to describe a fighter with the heart of a champion before you really see one. A gritty performance from a man defeated is never given due justice in the form of words.
What makes a fight a 'fight to remember' is not only offense from one party, but how the other reacts. Be it folding up immediately to give the attacker a new addition to their highlight reel or coming back and winning the fight themselves, there are many things that make a fight exciting.
Rarely, however, do we see what we saw for three straight fights as UFC 155 came to a close. Three of the six men involved in those bouts have seen far better nights, but they hung in there, nearly to the end of all their contests, clinging to what little will they could find in themselves that could bring them the Hail Mary win.
That is what the heart of a champion is -- the will to keep striving for a win when defeat is all but certain.
Dec. 29, 2012, was simply not Tim Boetsch's night. After bringing the fight to Constantinos Philippou for the first round, he broke his right hand and then subsequently suffered a blinding cut (see it here) and an eye poke in the second round. With all these piled up, Tim continued to press the action, moving forward more often than not, looking for some way to win.
"The Barbarian" simply should not have gone out for the third round of his fight.
He is not accountable for this and it is admirable that he had the fighting spirit to continue to put forth his best effort, but his coach should have realized the third round was already decided. Tim was horribly fatigued, nearly blind in one eye and had a badly broken hand.
All things considered, Matt Hume let him go out for the third round, and it was hard to watch.
Tim's face was battered, and it was clear that he was having trouble seeing his opponent. The former Light Heavyweight continued to press forward, looking for takedowns and punches when he could, but it was all for naught.
It came to a point where he wasn't even comfortable standing on his two feet and resorted to butt scooting towards Costa in a futile attempt to pull guard. This fight reached its end as Philippou threw a volley of arm punches from the top position, causing referee Kim Winslow to mercifully stop the fight.
Despite his losing effort, Boetsch pushed through to the bitter end, showing all the fans watching that he's capable of going for a win with everything stacked against him. On a night that clearly wasn't his, he still managed to impress with this gutty performance.
As the fight moved on to the co-main and main event, most fans watching were hoping for some improvement from the previous main card fights. Despite the excitement and finish in Philippou vs. Boetsch, it was still a rather odd fight due to its circumstances, and it was preceded by two stinkers of fights.
When Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller looked across the Octagon at one another, it was pretty obvious this fight would be better than those immediately before it. Both men were on offense from the opening bell, with Jim clearly getting the better of Joe in the standing exchanges. Lauzon left the first round with a gruesome cut over his right eye (see it here), pouring blood all over himself, his opponent, and the canvas they were fighting on.
As the first round came to a close and both men went to their corners, I was all but sure this scrap was over. The cut over Joe's eye was bleeding profusely, but the cageside doctor had nothing to say, and the fight continued. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this was the most serious cut to not warrant a doctor stoppage in recent memory.
With all this considered, Lauzon continued to go at it with Jim Miller, despite Miller getting the best of every area of the fight. Joe was tenacious as always, continually looking for whatever offense he could mount, regardless of the futility of his efforts. In the third round, it was more of the same, as Jim put Joe on the brink of defeat over and over again, continually attacking with reckless abandon.
The heart of "J-Lau" in this fight was epitomized in its closing seconds, as he jumped into a flying leg lock, which he ultimately failed to finish, before switching to a front choke he didn't have time to secure. That's what this fight was -- Lauzon repeatedly looking for offense in the face of crushing defeat, despite it slipping away on every occasion.
It was as admirable a losing effort as I'd seen in a long time.
We then headed into the main event of the evening, a bout scheduled for five unnecessary rounds for the heavyweight championship of the world, as Junior Dos Santos defended his belt against the man he took it from, Cain Velasquez.
This fight was supposed to go one of two ways: either Dos Santos brought home another highlight reel knockout victory, or it would be a competitive fight with either man's hand raised. Not too many expected the drubbing Cain put on from rounds one to five (see it here).
The fight started with Cain going for laughable takedown attempts, with Dos Santos stopping each with ease. The tide quickly turned, however, as Junior tired within about two minutes, ultimately wilting under the tenacity Cain was attacking with. He took heavy shots to the chin over and over, and at times he looked like he could've been put away by another few shots. Regardless, he stood strong, fighting the clinch work of Velasquez with the occasional strike or reversal of positions.
As the fight dragged on, it was clear Dos Santos was running on empty. He was against the cage for most of the fight after the first round, and he had few successful attempts to get off of it. That said, he still made a pretty strong wrestler look downright bad at times, completely stuffing many of Cain's takedown attempts even with the little energy he had in him.
Junior, despite being constantly attacked, started to show signs of life in the later rounds of his fight. He was able to separate from Cain more often, and had a little more bounce in his step as he stood at distance with Cain. His punches clearly lost their pop, but he was still swinging heavy leather at Cain, regardless of how unlikely he was to hit that late home run. When Cain clinched with him, he went for elbows, and he constantly looked for any opportunity he had.
Ultimately, this ended with "Cigano" being soundly beaten by the man he viciously knocked out just over a year ago.
Regardless of Cain's dominance in the fight (which I'm starting to question somewhat, but that's a different story) I am excited to see Junior come back from this fight. The narrative behind their two fights is already building up to create a classic heavyweight rivalry, and it is one we'll likely enjoy for a long time.
If Junior didn't show such a will to win in this fight, a rubber match between the two would seem far less intriguing. But with the fighting spirit he showed, Junior showed that he'll step up to whatever challenge may face him next en route to getting his title back.
These three men really impressed me last Saturday night. Though none of them came away with their hand raised, they fought like animals just to stay competitive and it proved just how tough they are. I doubt that many other fighters put in the same positions would've been able to fight on as valiantly as Junior dos Santos, Joe Lauzon, and Tim Boetsch did last night, and that is truly impressive.
In fights nobody would've blamed them for quitting in, these three men fought tooth and nail until they were separated from their opposition. Battered, bruised, and bloodied, they persevered to keep their respective fights very interesting to watch. It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming to see them fight in this manner, but they all showed that a will to win is what really makes MMA so exciting. Refusal to be put away is perhaps the most exciting aspect in MMA, and these men showed it last weekend.
For all the results, play-by-play and highlights from UFC 155 click here.