Saturday night at the Garden.
The American Spectator watched live from the blood seats, more accurately described as the thud seats for the ghastly sounds heard feet from the cage, at TD Garden along with 16,015 other spectators at the UFC’s Saturday night pay-per-view event.
I entered a dimension as vast as Causeway Street, Interstate 93, and North Station permitted and as timeless as a schoolyard brawl. It lies between the pit of neck tattoos, Cookie Monster heavy metal, and the male-to-female ratio of an afterschool Dungeons & Dragons game and the summit of the unexpected, which came in the form of upsets and shocking knockouts and other sights best glimpsed in the Twilight Zone.
If this were literature, which Rod Serling’s show certainly was, instead of a more primal passion, we might describe the opening bout as foreshadowing.
Islam Makhachev made his first connected punch of UFC 220 count. The southpaw spoiled Gleison Tibau’s return with an overhand left that knocked out the Brazilian 57 seconds into Saturday night’s first fight. Later, Abdul Razak Alhassan relieved Sabah Homasi of consciousness by meeting a dropping jaw with a rising uppercut at 3:47 of a wild first round.
A true knockout, like true love, does not come along every day. For 16,015 lucky ducks on Saturday, a true knockout came along twice in one evening. Two ducks weren’t so lucky.
Two locals also contributed to the excitement. Rob Font punched Brazilian Thomas Almeida into a summersault before he clubbed and kicked him into a stoppage. Later, the Boston Finisher, as his name hinted, used an overhand right, an uppercut, and strikes on the ground to convince the referee to end Shane Burgos’s night 32 seconds into the third. Calvin Kattar, the five-foot-eleven featherweight from Methuen, Massachusetts, with a memorable nickname and alliteration, shared “fight of the night” honors with Burgos for their slugfest.
In the co-main event, former Olympian Daniel Cormier defended his light-heavyweight title by maneuvering Swiss challenger Volkan Oezdemir into a helpless crucifix position, from where the bowling-ball of a man pounded his opponent’s face until the referee intervened. The heavy-handed wrestler, not a fan favorite throughout most of his career, appeared to make fans out of the inhabitants of the Athens of America, who adopted him as one of their own, a sort of Bayou Bostonian.
In the main event, the crowd expected an “and new…” They heard “and still…” They also fully anticipated the fight to last about as long as last year’s free speech rally on Boston Common. But underdog heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic avoided most of massive Cameroonian Francis Ngannou’s wild, looping shots, and in doing so, he quickly drained the video-game-character-of-a-challenger’s power pellets. Big physique often means big shots but big physique often needs big oxygen. And Miocic dragging Ngannou into deep waters through takedowns and outstanding standup defense resulted in a mouth-agape, arms-dragging challenger merely surviving until the final horn. The Predator had become the prey.
The fickle and bandwagonish crowd, exuberantly cheering Ngannou at the outset, provided Miocic with the Malcolm Butler/Dave Roberts/Gerald Henderson treatment by the bout’s close. They were charter members of the Stipe Miocic fan club, really they were.
Miocic, who puts out fires when not putting men to sleep, seemed more than annoyed when I asked him last Wednesday whether his challenger’s split-second stardom from an uppercut near-decapitation of an opponent eclipsing his consistent résumé of beating the best left him feeling disrespected. “Wouldn’t you?” he asked sans smile.
“That’s what the sport’s all about,” a frustrated Miocic told The American Spectator. “It’s like a Jerry Springer Show. It’s all about the soap opera.”
One man’s Twilight Zone is another man’s trashy, talk TV, albeit a more violent, scary, and bloody talk TV, which features more action than words. And the words, such as they are, heard most on Saturday night in Boston include “ooh” and “aah” and “whoa” and other primal expressions of astonishment. Seeing grown men cold-cocked into unconsciousness tends to have that effect on otherwise articulate adults.
Photos: Daniel J. Flynn