Spitting Bullets

All sport is war by another name. But there are few arenas like the UFC, where the reality comes so close to the metaphor. UFC 267 was the most blood-soaked and violent I’ve seen for a long time; a card so stacked with talent and so rich in mayhem it’s difficult to know where to begin. Shall we talk about the referee who was sacked on the spot after “taking years off a fighter’s life”? The dominance of the Russians? Or the jaw-dropping, heart-warming main event upset?

Let’s start with spitting bullets. In the prelims, which almost overshadowed the main event in drama last night, Lerone Murphy stepped up to fight. The undefeated Mancunian has blazed through all opposition with the exception of one split-decision draw, but has garnered attention for his path into MMA. Murphy, who had been tipped for success in football before suffering a serious knee injury, fell into gang culture in Manchester, and by his own admission was goalless and adrift in life. Then in May 2013, as he was leaving a barber’s, an unknown gunman shot him in the head. Miraculously, Murphy survived – the shots hit in the side of the face, and bystanders witnessed him spit out bullets before being rushed to hospital. This event served as a catalyst to Murphy to put his energy into mixed martial arts.It was an energy that took him all the way to the United Arab Emirates Etihad arena last night, where he was dominated and shut out of round 1 by Makwan Amirkhani’s superior grappling. In the second, Murphy feinted to provoke the takedown shot he knew would come, and timed a blistering knee to the face as Amirkhani shot for the legs. The fight was over, the commentary team stunned, and Amirkhani lay still for minutes afterwards.

From there the prelims continued to shock, as a referee Vyacheslav Kiselev inexplicably allowed Benoit St Denis to be beaten senseless while offering nothing back for minutes, his face a mess of blood, and even forced the fight to continue after an eye poke that left St Denis unable to see. The referee was immediately pulled from the entire event and replaced by veteran Marc Goddard. While the refereeing was dire, the fight also raised the question of when a corner should throw in the towel – why the team of a fighter would want to see their man take potentially life altering damage for no reason is an uncomfortable puzzle to solve.

In the main event, Khamzat “ratlip” Chimaev argubaly stole the entire show. This was a fighter who nearly died from Covid not so long ago, then appeared to retire, and has now come back to continue a winning streak that barely seems real. Chinaev has absorbed one significant strike in four fights, where he has crushed and finished every opponent. One. What can you even say about numbers like that? Li Jingliang, fresh off an impressive first round KO of his own, looked like an overwhelmed child. Khamzat arrived in the ring whooping and bouncing like he always does. He ran towards Jingliang, grabbed him, picked him up and carried him over to cage, screaming at Dana White to get off his phone and shrieking lunatic demands to fight Brock Lesnar. He choked out Jingliang without absorbing a single strike, got on the microphone and screamed that he would kill everyone in his division. At this point I want to see him against a top 5 opponent, largely because he scares me and I’d like to see him appear human. Gilbert Burns, as an excellent grappler and all round fighter, would make sense, but the UFC will probably give him Nate Diaz as a money-spinner, and Chimaev is understandably keen on the match.

The fight between Islam Makhachev (widely tipped as the next Khabib) and fan favourite Dan Hooker had a lot of hype behind it. As one of many memes had it, “Sex is intimate and sacred. Your body is a temple. You shouldn’t share it with someone who wants Islam Makhachev to beat Dan Hooker”. Annoyingly, Makhachev played his role as the Dagestani bogeyman – making light work of Hooker with a nasty looking Kimura in the first couple of minutes, and in his own words not even needing to shower afterwards. He will surely be in line for a title shot after Poirier takes on Oliveira in December.

The co-main event was a fascinating chess match between Petr Yan and my own favourite fighter, Cory Sandhagen. Both are highly cerebral fighters, Yan with an impressive mastery of boxing fundamentals, and Sandhagen with a bewildering creativity and array of weapons. Cory started the fight beautifully, moving in and out in a way that reminded me of old Lord of the Bantamweights, Dominick Cruz. Yan was getting pieced up from every possible direction, as Cory weaved and coiled around him like a snake, sticking and moving with jabs, leg kicks, teeps, knees, elbows, and even takedown attempts. Yan was left bamboozled, and barely touched his opponent in the early fight. As the fight progressed, though, Yan somehow managed to get a read on him, and combined with his power, this gave him an edge in the striking. Although Sandhagen had him throwing bombs and hitting nothing but air for large parts of the middle rounds, Yan connected enough and powerfully enough to hurt Cory, dropping him in round 3 with a spinning back fist. The commentators felt the fight was on an inexorable path to a Yan victory from there, but Cory fought back strong in an even final round after staring at Yan from his corner and yelling “look at me”. War by another name.

It might been a case of saving the best till last, though, as Jan Blachowicz, 38, defended his light heavyweight belt against Glover Texeira. 42. Both men have seen against-the-odds late blooms in their careers, to come back to the top of the sport when everyone had counted them out. In Glover’s case especially this defies belief – he had been the underdog in nearly all of his fights on this title run, and every time found a way to get it done. Surely being a crafty veteran can only get you so far? MMA is a young man’s game. But Texeira left everyone speechless with a dominant victory over “Polish Power”, controlling him on the mat and landing damage for all of round 1. Blachowicz adjusted and sensibly mixed in the uppercuts to discourage the takedown, but Texeira responded with a hook that rocked the Polish giant, before securing another takedown and sinking in a deep rear-naked choke. The post-fight interview showed the older man’s class, where he gave his full respect to Blachowicz, and was too shocked that he had won to remember his speech. After 20 years in the sport, by way of devastating defeat to Jon Jones, he somehow staggered to the mountain-top. After his loss to Jones, you’d have been hard pressed to find a soul on the earth that would have predicted this. But he spat the bullets, and carried on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *