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As “Game of Thrones” winds down its television run with only one episode remaining, there is a feeling among many of its most ardent fans that the final season isn’t doing justice to its characters. After years of building up these characters, those fans feel like there should be more fitting payoffs. This is a common trend in beloved television shows, from “Lost” and “Dexter” to “Roseanne” and “Seinfeld.” In many instances the showrunners and writers have dropped the ball, but there is also an inherent challenge in satisfyingly concluding a show that means a lot to its viewers.
Likewise in MMA, the conclusions to great runs can often be dispiriting. Pride Fighting Championships ended not with one last supershow but rather a lackluster Pride 34 card that was almost immediately forgotten despite it representing the end of an era. Strikeforce turned out a little better, but rather than concluding in San Jose, California, with Cung Le, Frank Shamrock or Gilbert Melendez, it ended in Oklahoma City with Tarec Saffiedine in the main event.
Great runs also tend to end in ways that don’t feel fitting. After years of dominance, Fedor Emelianenko finally lost because he wasn’t cautious enough while diving into Fabricio Werdum’s guard for a finish. Wanderlei Silva’s winning streak in Pride concluded not against one of his many rivals like Quinton Jackson, Ricardo Arona or Kazushi Sakuraba but in a last-minute freakshow fight against Mark Hunt that ended via split decision. It feels as though fighters who dominated for years should fall in a way that befits the success they had.
Michael Page is a special talent. It’s not that he has established himself as an elite fighter yet but that he possesses attributes few other fighters have. MMA started out as an amalgam of different styles and disciplines and over time evolved into a sport where most competitors fight in similar ways. MVP does not. His unique stance, reliant on fast-twitch reflexes and lunging attacks, immediately distinguishes him. Page is not simply a gimmick, however. He has backed up his bravado in the cage. He accumulated an undefeated record while retiring Evangelista Santos with a brutal highlight-reel knee and forcing tough veteran David Rickels to give up. There is a tendency to dismiss flashy and charismatic fighters, but MVP is the real deal as a talent.
Of course, this does not mean that Page is without flaws. The obvious vulnerability in his style from the beginning was his ground game. When he was thrown into the deep end in the Bellator MMA welterweight grand prix, there was a good chance he would suffer his first career defeat in a field full of MMA, wrestling and jiu-jitsu champions. That seemed more likely after a lackluster performance in a quarterfinal victory over Paul Daley.
There’s no shame in an undefeated fighter suffering his or her first loss. That’s a natural part of the sport. However, it’s a downer to see a fighter go undefeated for seven years while capturing the public imagination with exciting fights, only to lose in a total anticlimax. Specifically, it would have been a bummer to see MVP’s undefeated run end in a quickly forgotten decision fight where he was simply held down and controlled. Luckily, that was not what we got at Bellator 221 on Saturday in Rosemont, Illinois. MVP looked at his most dangerous just moments before he fell. He landed a beautiful two-punch combination that appeared to have Douglas Lima in a bit of trouble but was undone by the overconfidence with which he looked for the finish. Page got into his familiar stance, ready to snap forward like the snake persona he has adopted. Given his track record, it appeared entirely possible that MVP was on the verge of winning the fight.
Lima had different plans in mind and responded with a pair of perfectly timed attacks that were as worthy of a highlight reel as anything MVP has achieved. The first strike was the leg kick that knocked Page horizontally. This left MVP completely vulnerable, albeit only momentarily, as he moved to stand and get his arms back in position. Lima capitalized on the second or so he had with an uppercut from hell that separated Page from his consciousness with brutal precision. It was a great victory for a great fighter, one who has never gotten his full due.
MVP would surely have preferred to keep winning. However, if he was going to lose, this was the sort of extraordinary finish that fit his larger-than-life persona and style. For fans, it also fit perfectly into the career they have followed. MVP was done in while trying to execute the sort of remarkable attack for which he has come to be known. Lima even exploited the downsides of MVP’s unorthodox technique, using Page’s wide stance against him. It was a fitting end to MVP’s unbeaten run for those who have followed it closely for years.
It’s unclear where Page’s career will go from here. Some unique fighters have never fully recovered from their first defeats. Others have recovered and soared to even higher heights. Regardless of what that next chapter holds, Lima-Page was a wholly gratifying conclusion to the first chapter.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.