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Ultimate Fighting Championship does have good fighting

Sunday, November 13, 2005

OK, I admit it - I've been watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship programs on Spike TV.

Part of it may be that morbid fascination that makes us slow down to gawk at wrecks on the highway and part of it is that it just happens to be in a time slot during which I regularly find myself at home in front of the television.

But the truth is, I've really kept tuning in because there have been some truly outstanding fights (congratulations to UFC-2 reality show winners Rashad Evans, heavyweight, and Joe Stevenson, welterweight, by the way).

Now don't get me wrong - I still don't believe that the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the be-all and end-all of fighting contests and I am still far from forking over 30 bucks to watch a pay-for-view UFC fight.

But watching welterweight Matt Hughes make smack-talking Frank Trigg submit in the first round not once, but twice using a bare-handed rear choke was exhilarating.

Their first matchup made it look almost too easy for Hughes as he methodically worked his way into position onto Trigg's back, applied the choke, and arched his back to force the submission.

It was definitely a refreshing display of martial art technique after watching all too many UFC fights end by the referee rescuing the loser from certain brain damage from a hail of elbows and fists as they ball up against the octagon's wire mesh fence in a punch-drunk daze.

But the rematch was even better. Trigg again talked smack before the fight but almost was able to follow through on his boasts this time.

A knee shot from Trigg directly to Hughes groin (an illegal strike in UFC) visibly hurt Hughes who immediately tried to make eye contact with the referee.

The ref, however, apparently did not see the low blow and did not halt the fight. Worse, Trigg connected with a hard head shot as Hughes looked at the referee and followed up with a brutal barrage that nearly knocked the welterweight champion out cold.

Trigg then tried to give Hughes some of his own medicine, working around to Hughes' back to apply the same choke that Hughes used to beat him during their first matchup.

Hughes refused to submit, however. He kept his head and, in an amazing display of heart and skill, worked his way out of the choke and into a mount position to soften Trigg up with a series of strikes, one of which opened a cut.

Seconds later, Hughes ended the fight with the same technique that ended their first match - a rear bare-handed choke from behind.

As if Hughes didn't display enough character in the octagon - not only in making a comeback from a losing situation, but also in going for a submission instead of beating his opponent to a bloody pulp - his comments following the fight proved to me at least that Hughes is one of the classiest professional athletes out there.

Hughes didn't have a negative word to say about Trigg or his taking advantage of the results of the low blow. He said fighters are supposed to keep fighting until the referee tells them to stop and that Trigg did nothing wrong in doing so.

While most UFC viewers presumably tune in to watch people get beaten bloody and senseless, I realized that isn't the reason I watch.

It is always interesting to watch bravado turn to panic, to watch bloodlust melt away to fear as someone who got into the sport to beat people up suddenly finds themselves getting beaten by a meeker, weaker-appearing opponent.

But while watching Hughes I realized why I really watch UFC fights: I watch hoping I will see fighters with courage, skill and sportsmanship overcome brawlers seeking to build their self-esteem by inflicting injury on an opponent.

While it was exciting to watch Hughes do exactly that, a part of me thinks that someone with the class and heart of Matt Hughes is, in many ways, simply too good, too noble for such a brutal contest.