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Originally published March 26, 2011 at 10:29 PM | Page modified March 26, 2011 at 11:09 PM

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Steve Kelley

UFC Fight Night becomes a fascinating event beyond compare

Coming into Saturday night, I was a tabula rasa and I quickly discovered that sitting next to Danny at a UFC Fight Night was like sitting next to Hubie Brown for an NBA Finals.

Seattle Times staff columnist

That moment before the opening bell on a mega boxing night — when the seconds have climbed out of the ring and the only men standing are the two fighters and the referee — is one of the most charged moments in sports.

As a spectator you can sense the electricity in the building and you feel a combination of thrills and guilt. You're about to watch two men try to knock each other unconscious. You understand the dangers they face, the potential long-term brain injuries, even death.

And still, you feel your pulse racing and you fight the urge to stand.

I've been fortunate enough to see Muhammad Ali's poetry in the ring in person and witness Sugar Ray Leonard's sweet dance steps and knock-out right hands.

I've been ringside and watched Mike Tyson's malevolence and Roberto Duran's savagery. I could see the fear in the eyes of some of their opponents. (Remember Michael Spinks before Tyson?)

I've been so close to the ring I could almost feel Larry Holmes' jackhammer jabs and dodge Marvelous Marvin Hagler's thunderbolts. I've watched Thomas Hearns' fast hands and quick feet and wondered how they would translate to basketball.

I admired the fighters for the risks they took, the dangers they were willing to face and the skill sets they possessed.

But until Saturday night, I'd never seen a UFC Fight Night.

When my colleague Danny O'Neil, a mixed-martial arts maven, invited me to KeyArena for an up-close look at this fast growing sport, I didn't hesitate to say "yes."

"Fighting is the ultimate competition," Danny said to me. "If a dude tops you in math, spelling or basketball, you can always say, 'Yeah, well I can still whoop your butt.' But no comeback has been invented for when you're on the receiving end of a rear naked choke hold."

Coming into Saturday night, I was a tabula rasa and I quickly discovered that sitting next to Danny at a UFC Fight Night was like sitting next to Hubie Brown for an NBA Finals.

As I was settling in, Danny immediately pointed to the octagon and told me that John Hathaway was close to getting into a full mount. I decided not to ask Danny to elaborate.

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Then I was treated to a night that was absolutely fascinating.

These fights seemed almost primal. The octagonal cage, even more so than a boxing ring, makes a fighter feel as if there is no way out.

The mixture of ways to win, the one-overwhelming punch, the knockout kicks, the elbows to the chops, knees to the rib cage and the wrestling-style take downs, add spice to the sport.

When featherweight Chan Sung Jung, "The Korean Zombie," entered the ring for the first fight of the main card, the crowd erupted. His opponent Leonard "Bad Boy" Garcia did a lap around the cage before the bell.

The fight was hypnotizing. It was impossible to look away. I felt myself holding my breath, just like Hagler-Leonard or Leonard-Hearns.

With the crowd chanting, "Zombie, Zombie, Zombie," Jung knocked Garcia to the canvas with a swift kick, pounced quickly on him and beat him with fierce, leveraged elbows to the head.

Unlike boxing, when a guy hits the canvas the fighting doesn't stop. There is no forcing the fighter to a neutral corner. The knockdown is the beginning of the action, not the end.

Garcia tapped out when Jung got him in a modified naked choke hold and the packed house, loud the way The Key used to be in the spring, loved it.

This night was a spectacle in the best sense of the word.

I discovered that boxing and MMA are very different. In my mind they are separate, but equal.

You can't just throw punches in MMA. You can't win merely by hammering straight jabs. You have to be able to wrestle.

Alex Caceres found that out in the opening moments of his featherweight bout when Mackens Semerzier got him on the mat, locked him up and put him on what looked like a sadistic piggyback ride. Three minutes, 18 seconds into the bout Semerzier put Caceres into a rear naked choke hold and Caceres tapped out.

Comparing MMA with boxing is like comparing baseball with cricket, which is why it's ridiculous to ask questions like, "How would Manny Pacquiao do in the UFC." It's like asking Ryan Howard how he'd fare against cricket's best bowlers. Doesn't matter.

"Someone's going to get knocked out," Danny said before the next-to-last-bout, a welterweight fight between Anthony Johnson and Dan Hardy. Well, sometimes Hubie Brown is wrong too.

Boos rained for two rounds as Johnson, the wrestler, "uglied" the fight into a wrestling match. They went into the last round, "the deep water," as the fighters call it. Several times it looked as if Hardy would have to tap out, but he stayed alive and lost a yawner of a unanimous decision.

That most anticipated match was the most disappointing. It happens in all sports. But the rest of the night was great fun and the sport, for me, warrants another look.

The next UFC pay-per-view fights, the really big leagues of the sport, happen in Toronto on April 30.

When he told me, I turned to Danny and yelled, "Road trip!!!"

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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