Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC on ESPN+ live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
The allure of violence is undeniable. It taps into something primal and evolutionary resonant. In the same way my harmless, domesticated wiener dog still has the hunting instincts to dig and follow scents, we still have the physical drive for survival encoded in our DNA despite almost never needing to act on it. As we’ve strived to rinse violence out of polite society, one of the many ways that drive manifests itself is through combat sports -- both the doing and the watching.
Yet, there is more to its allure than its visceral thrill. Our collective and enduring fascination with violence is a prism through which numerous interpretations are refracted. The fights last weekend -- in the Octagon and the boxing ring -- prompted different responses to the allure of violence.
There was genuine magnitude to the heavyweight boxing match between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, to a degree that is rare for either boxing or MMA. Two undefeated heavyweight champions – one moves like a lightweight, the other punches like a truck – in a rematch of a dramatic fight that ended in a draw. What was rightfully seen as the definitive heavyweight fight of a generation ended up a sensational one-way drubbing.
Fury walked down the previously undefeated Wilder, suffocated him with pressure, frustrated him with traps and counters and sapped his decapitating power with body shots and clinch work. It was a fine-tuned beating. Fury’s choppy, elusive movement stood in stark contrast to Wilder’s big-stepped whiffs, and “The Bronze Bomber” paid the price whenever he overcommitted. It’s hard not to appreciate Fury’s technical brilliance, just as it’s hard not to respect Wilder’s toughness.
Given the gravity of the event, it was only right that it concluded the way it did, with one man rising to the occasion in legacy-defining fashion. Fury’s tactical efficiency and cold execution was an against-the-odds masterclass, not in the sense that he was the betting underdog or never had a shot in the fight – personally I thought he won the first bout – but because he came in heavier than usual after preparing with a different trainer and looked even better than he did before. It was the kind of violence that was awe-inspiring, like watching a tornado touch down directly atop a brick house.
Then there was the main event from UFC Fight Night 168 in Auckland, New Zealand. As opposed to the lopsided heavyweight boxing match, lightweights Paul Felder and Dan Hooker went back and forth in a brutal display of heart and toughness. It was excellent in a distinctly lightweight fashion, too. They both threw crisp, powerful shots throughout the entire fight while maintaining a punishing pace. In Round 1, Felder connected three times per minute, while Hooker landed nearly five. Both increased their output in Round 2 – both landed a strike every 12 seconds while getting hit once every 12 seconds – and again in Round 3. It’s a level of energy that seems to disappear somewhere around middleweight, and when it’s as mutually technical and offense-minded as it was in the case of Felder and Hooker, it’s rare.
There’s something about seeing two talented, hungry and in-their-prime contenders – both still unproven against the division’s elite but definitely ready to prove themselves – that feels righteously exhausting. They undoubtedly left a chunk of themselves in the cage, and they have a piece of the cage imprinted on them in exchange. When you watch that transaction take place, you feel it. It was also the kind of fight that, at first, felt like neither fighter really lost. Their “stocks went up” or whatever way we commodify their sacrifices to the violence gods, and it will guaranteed be on the Fight of the Year shortlist come December. But watching Felder tearfully sway on the edge of retirement after the decision was announced dashed that notion. He was so close. One of them will have to work his way back to the cusp of the toughest division in the sport, and the other will be a fight away from the title. There was a real loser, and a real winner, and the judges may have very well mixed them up.
Nevertheless, it was violence we all know and love but only catch in real time every now and then. It was violence that felt virtuous. The picture of them in the hospital, lying next to each other on stretchers with their hands up, wearing each other’s craftsmanship, is one of the truest forms of violence you can experience.
Violence is a strange and contradictory sensation. Those who enjoy it can’t seem to admit how inherently awful it is, while those who denounce it would never dare to admit that it feels good. It’s kind of like the fight between Xiaonan Yan and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. It was great seeing Yan take another critical step forward in the division by absolutely smashing a former title challenger, but it was also unsettling to see Kowalkiewicz so helplessly brutalized, a bit sad and a bit pathetic. Maybe if her corner did what Wilder’s did it wouldn’t have been so bad, and maybe it would feel a little better if she were to do what Felder almost did. The call of violence always evokes one response or another, and we’ll probably always respond from a deep and ancient place within us.