UFC 102: Deception

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(Couture revives his career with a loss to Big Nog. Getty Images.)

UFC 102 happened just under six months back, yet it proves once again what Socrates was getting at some 2,500 years ago . . . which is this: If you think you know what’s going on, you’re a fucking fool.

Think about it: Save for the fact that Todd Duffee now has seven concrete seconds of UFC experience, nearly everything we learned from the results of that card we have since had to unlearn completely. In retrospect, the winners lost, the losers won, and Chris Tuchscherer’s balls were neither here nor there. There has never been a card that’s been as moot.

Make sense of this, if you can:
A) Nate Marquardt knocks out Demian Maia in 21 seconds to solidify himself as the number one contender—yet six months later, Maia is fighting for the middleweight belt.
B) Randy Couture drops a unanimous decision to Antônio Minotauro Nogueira, and everybody knows his 46 years have finally caught up to him—yet six months later, he is next in line for the light heavyweight shot.
C) Jake Rosholt. Sigh. He’ll always have Portland.

On the van ride over to the Rose Garden that late August afternoon, Chris Leben pointed out to Brandon Vera an area where he did a little imbibing back in the day. “They call it the Barmuda Triangle,” he said, “because people get lost in there and disappear for the night.” We laughed at the time. (He also pointed out a bridge he’d jumped off of on a triple-dog dare as an adolescent. It was just pre-fight nervous energy, this chatter.)

But I was thinking about what some of the informed drunk media were saying the night before at Spanky’s, a Portland strip-joint where there was an angular girl with a blue mohawk who was actually quite good and making mad bank. Poor Chris Leben, I thought. Bless his heart. The UFC handpicked Jake Rosholt to fight him in a do-or-die fight after his latest scrapes with the law and his Bisping loss because, well . . . anyway, it was a nice run in the UFC, Crippler. Stay out of trouble. So long.

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(Marquardt watches Maia fall, unconscious, into a title shot.)

Rosholt of course beat Leben via an arm triangle (armuda triangle?) in the third, winning Submission of the Night honors. And you know what? It didn’t mean shit, in retrospect—Rosholt is unceremoniously gone from the UFC (after subsequently losing to Kendall Grove), and Leben fights on (he fought and beat Jay Silva next). It’s like this fight never happened.

In the main event that night, 46-year-old Randy Couture lost a unanimous decision to Antônio Minotauro Nogueira. To put that in perspective for a minute, Couture was born in 1963, six years before Lorenzo Fertitta, who has shiny graying hair and a regal Just For Men beard. Big Nog was coming off a devastatingly one-sided loss to Frank Mir, so at the time this looked particularly ominous for Couture, even if he’d just signed a new four-fight contract. Now, Captain America is being touted as the next in line for the Machida/Rua winner, after narrowly edging Brandon Vera on debatable scorecards and taking out a washed up Mark Coleman (late of the UFC). It’s the damndest thing, how meaningless certain fights can be.

Which brings us to Nate Marquardt, who was fighting presumably for a rematch with Anderson Silva. He needed something emphatic to nose ahead of Dan Henderson in the grand scheme of things, to help sell explosiveness the way Hendo did when he knocked out Bisping at UFC 100. So what’d he do? He went in and felled Demian Maia in 21 seconds—one punch, Knockout of the Night, kaboom. Curtains. And yet, it’s Demian Maia who is readying for a fight with Anderson Silva at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, just ten cards removed from the that one. As Willie Nelson sings in his homophobic ditty, “Ain’t Going Down on Brokeback Mountain”—that shit ain’t right.

Granted, consequence and luck have since intervened. The UFC has found themselves in unusual pinches with injuries and such. Chael Sonnen beat the daylights out of Marquardt in his next presumably number one contender bout, and Maia outboxed Dan Miller to become the right man at the right time when Belfort went down. These events are fresh on people’s minds.

But still, thinking back to all the things we thought we learned that night in Portland—that Marquardt established himself as the number one contender, that Couture’s title aspirations were all but over, that Rosholt was a rising star in the organization—it turned out to be smoke and mirrors. Moot.

Like none of it ever really happened. Just like Chris Leben’s sordid tales of people disappearing in Portland’s infamous Barmuda Triangle, all the logic from this card just disappeared. Spooky.

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