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It was supposed to be a night for the ages.
Few left UFC 200 thinking it lived up to the hype, but that’s to be expected; when you build up an event as the best thing ever, there’s very little room for error, since it has to be better than, well, everything else before it. The headlining fight falling apart just days prior to the event is too big of a hiccup to qualify any event as the best ever, but even in spite of Jon Jones’ United States Anti-Doping Agency scandal, UFC 200 was still a night for the ages. Actually, it might be more accurate to say it was a night of the ages. Indeed, UFC 200 was a strange time-warp of an event.
The entire night had one foot in the past. The presence of Brock Lesnar immediately evoked feelings of the age-old kissing cousins relationship between MMA and professional wrestling. The carnival-esque slant for entertainment and spectacle truly makes MMA unique in the world of professional sports, a realm that otherwise holds competition as its sole guiding virtue. Both the Lesnar-Mark Hunt fight and the Daniel Cormier-Anderson Silva fight were clear homages to the undergirding principle that an exciting fight is often better than a competitive one -- or in the case of Cormier-Silva, that any fight is better than no fight.
It was appropriate that UFC 200 started with the Jim Miller-Takanori Gomi match, since it pitted an old-school veteran against an old old-school veteran. It’s hard to believe that Miller, a well-traveled grinder who entered the night with 22 Ultimate Fighting Championship fights to his name, would ever have less experience than his opponent in this day and age, but by the time he made his professional debut in 2005, Gomi had already amassed a 23-2 record and authored one of the finest lightweight runs the sport has ever seen. That Gomi was ignominiously dismissed in under half a round was oddly fitting; if you still needed one, it was a reminder that the Pride Fighting Championships-era fighters are either extinct or close to it and that the promotional rivalry that once defined the sport was definitively won.
Gomi wasn’t the only former champion who failed to live up to his former glory. If anything, Gomi pretty much went out like he was expected to. Johny Hendricks, on the other hand, validated what many hoped was only over-speculation. After loss to Stephen Thompson in February, I wrote that it felt like Hendricks was done. Then, I wasn’t so sure -- maybe “Wonderboy” was that good as opposed to Hendricks being that shot -- but now it seems undeniable. “Bigg Rigg” looked like a shell of himself on the scale when he missed weight, and then verified that he was also functionally a shell of himself when it came time to the fight. That’s to take nothing away from Kelvin Gastelum, who was sharper than ever, but in a sport as volatile as ours, the peak of one’s career may come and go without so much as a note on the table.
Yet the past also blurred into the present in several instances, enhancing the temporally oneiric experience of UFC 200. Former Dream and Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi put together the finest performance of his UFC career thus far by dusting the streaking Thiago Santos, proving he is still a force to be reckoned with at 185 pounds. Similarly, Jose Aldo and Cain Velasquez both rebounded from devastating losses and showed up in vintage form. Aldo frustrated the always-game Frankie Edgar en route to an easy unanimous decision, while Velasquez once again looked like the world-beater he was always meant to be. If nothing else, UFC 200 proved there is no loss too embarrassing to come back from. Former glory can be battered, but it is not so easily buried.
The night no doubt had its toes dipped in the future, as well. It was a night of firsts. It was the first event ever held in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and the first time the Reebok shorts looked almost cool; and in honor of the one-year anniversary with USADA, it was the first time the color of the mat paid respect to the unsung heroes of the UFC who handle fighter urine day in and day out.
Beyond the cosmetics, there was plenty of young blood on the docket. I have to touch on the indefatigable Sage Northcutt, whose immediate future appears to be indefinitely booked at the bottom of the barrel. For someone who seems to have all the necessary tools to develop into a great fighter, there’s an abundantly evident awkwardness to his game. True, I’m being harsh on the boy; being 3-1 as a professional fighter at the highest level is impressive for someone too young to remember life without the Internet. At the same time, though, he has been given the matchmaking equivalent of underhand pitches and has been consistently bunting. In order for “Super Sage” to reach his undeniable potential, something will have to start clicking, and since he’s in the shark-infested lightweight waters, it will have to do so sooner than later.
Still, there is much on the horizon about which to be optimistic, particularly in the women’s bantamweight division. Julianna Pena scored her biggest win to date by controlling former title challenger Cat Zingano. The 26-year-old “Ultimate Fighter” winner has now won four straight in the Octagon -- seven straight if you’re counting her reality-show wins -- and looks like she’ll be in the title picture sooner than later. Of course, the obvious matchup now is to pit her against new champion Amanda Nunes in what would surely be a thrilling firefight.
Nunes was as impressive as she has ever been. She blitzed Miesha Tate from the sound of the opening ding and did not let up until referee Herb Dean interfered. She is currently the second youngest of all the UFC champions and the fourth champion in the division in the last eight months. However, Nunes didn’t just continue the women’s bantamweight championship round-robin. In doing so, she became the first openly gay UFC champion. If you’re wondering why that’s a big deal, then you’re part of the reason why it’s a big deal. Despite MMA existing on the outskirts of sport society, a wellspring of weird from which it draws most of its fans, traditional combat machismo has been no less ubiquitous amongst its fanbase. To have a fighter that is exciting in the cage and likable outside of it become champion -- in a subculture that traditionally has not been terribly welcoming to LGBTQ folk -- is an important sign of how MMA is progressing.
It was indeed a night for the ages, albeit not in the way it was built up to be. At UFC 200, fighters ranging from 20 to 42 years old tipped their hats to yesteryear, re-emerged in the now and stepped forward into tomorrow. It was a night where pasts caught up to the present and futures slowed down. The only thing missing was a name for the event, like how it used to be: “Rapid Fire,” “Victory” or “Ultimate Bad Boyz.” Let’s retroactively call it, oh I don’t know, UFC 200 “A Bit of a Letdown.” Or better yet, UFC 200 “It Is What It Is.” What it was may not have been the best card ever, but it was weird in all the right, oh-so-MMA ways, and it was pretty damn good because of it.
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.