UFC 116: The Greatest UFC Of All-Time
UFC events have become increasingly popular because of their artfully brutal action. Whether it be the the devastating poetry in motion of Anderson Silva, the sheer athleticism of Georges St. Pierre, the crafty ground game of BJ Penn or the brutality of Brock Lesnar, UFC fans get a little bit of everything each time they watch a UFC event. But what happens when you get every aspect of what makes a fight epic balled into one event?
You get UFC 116.
As someone who was in Las Vegas to witness the heavyweight title tilt between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin, I can tell you that this may go down as the greatest UFC event in the history of the company. I’ve watched the UFC ever since the Royce Gracie days and have a hard time recalling a fight card that delivered from top to bottom. Perhaps going back to 2004′s UFC 47 which featured Chuck Liddell pummeling Tito Ortiz and other fantastic fights such as Nick Diaz stopping Robbie Lawler could compare. But alas, this fight card featured the drama, high stakes, comeback story, amazing submissions, devastating knockouts and all around awesomeness that would make a fanatic out of even the most jaded fight fan.
It all started before UFC even went on air—Gerald Harris demonstrated incredible power as he knocked out Dave Branch with a brutal slam that was felt throughout the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It was the first, but far from the last, spectacular finish of the evening. A razor thin split decision won by Kendall Grove over Goran Reljic kept the momentum going as Spike TV prepared to air the preliminaries. And that is when all hell broke loose.
The man who knocked out Kimbo Slice and the now defunct Elite XC organization in 14 seconds, Seth Petruzelli, kicked the festivities off with an exciting battle with Ricardo Romero. Although Petruzelli had the upper hand early on with a display of power punching, it would be Romero who pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and surprised Petruzelli with an arm bar in the second round. Shortly thereafter, TUF alum Brendan Schaub unleashed a monster right hand that collapsed Chris Tuchscherer in just over a minute into the first round.
With the prelims out of the way and grabbing the attention of many, it was time to kick off the pay-per-view portion of the night. Aussie fighter George Sotiropoulos yet again looked impressive as he proved to be too much for Kurt “Batman” Pelligrino to handle. The battle between 155 pounders was another entertaining bout and had the arena buzzing. It also set the table for some of the best fight moments you’ll ever see crammed into one night.
The rematch between Krzysztof Soszynski and TUF Season 1 alum Stephan Bonnar picked up right where they left off back at UFC 110 where the TKO decision was controversially awarded to Soszynski after a clash of heads split Bonnar wide open. With Bonnar sensing that this may be his do-or-die moment, he and Soszynski put on a back-and-forth brawl that was eerily reminiscent of Bonnar’s clash with Forrest Griffin during The Ultimate Fighter season 1 finale that put the sport on the map. With the crowd roaring at every near finish, a bloodied Bonnar blitzed “The Polish Experiment” midway through the second round and landed a thudding knee that folded Soszynski in half. A series of punches forced referee Mario Yamasaki to call a halt to the bout and the immediate buzz around the arena signaled this would be awarded “Fight of the Night.”
Not so fast though kids.
Chris “Lights Out” Lytle showed why he is one of the most unappreciated fighters in the organization as he defeated hard hitting Matt Brown with a beautifully executed arm bar in the second round. This would come after Lytle nearly had his own lights cut off due to a tight D’arce choke that Brown slapped on in the first round. Somehow, Lytle survived and made the most of his opportunity in the second frame by transitioning from half guard to side control and, in the process, locked up Brown’s arm and head with an inverted triangle while bending Brown’s free arm en route to a brilliant submission victory. The immediate buzz around the arena this time was for Lytle to get “Submission of the Night” after escaping a near finish and tapping out.
Again, not so fast.
At this point, it was obvious something was in the air. Something very special. If the pay-per-view ended at that point, fans wouldn’t have much to complain about. But we still had a highly anticipated main event and an attention grabbing co-main event to watch. Could they live up to what proceeded them?
Yes. They certainly could.
What was originally scheduled to be Yoshihiro Akiyama against Wanderlei Silva in a fight that fans have been clamoring for went up in smoke when Silva had to pull out of the fight inside of two weeks due to a rib injury. In stepped Chris “The Crippler” Leben on just under two weeks notice. Sounds rough right? Akiyama—affectionately known to his Asian fans as “Sexyama”—is a former K-1 champion with an impressive Judo background. How could it be worse? Leben had just fought a tough battle with Aaron Simpson on June 19th which saw him come up with an impressive come- from-behind TKO victory. Since he was only mildly bumped and bruised, he would be the only fighter available on such short notice to fight Akiyama.
Many thought Leben was being fed to the wolves. Oh, how he would prove them wrong.
The Japanese star had his way with Leben early and scored several takedowns while looking sharper on his feet. But, apparently, Leben had “Bad Motherf*cker” written on his wallet that evening. After winning the first round, Akiyama tried Leben at his own game and opted to stand and trade with the fan favorite. Leben ate whatever “Sexyama” launched at him and came right back with power punches of his own. With the partisan crowd behind him, Leben slugged it out with Akiyama for nearly the entire duration of the second frame. All three judges had the fight even going into the third round. Akiyama seemed to have the fight put away as he took down Leben in the closing minutes. But Leben and his never-say-die attitude surfaced as he pounded at Akiyama while on his back before capturing Akiyama in a triangle choke with under a minute left. With the arena in a frenzy, “The Crippler” pulled down on the Judo black belt’s head and elicited a tapout with 20 seconds left in the fight. The crowd roared with approval and Leben scored an improbable two wins in two weeks over a highly touted opponent. “Fight of the Night?” Absolutely. Both this fight and Bonnar’s frenzy won the award. But as surprising as the submission was, there was still one fight left to go.
The highly anticipated showdown between interim Heavyweight champion Shane Carwin and Heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar had already taken on the shape of one of the most highly anticipated heavyweight tilts in the history of the sport. Carwin was undefeated and absolutely mauling his opponents en route to 12 straight victories with no opponent making it out of the first round. Former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar was entering the Octagon for the first time in just under a year after a bout with diverticulitis that nearly cost him not only his mixed martial arts career, but his life.
When the two titans finally got into the cage, everyone in the arena wondered how they could follow what we had just witnessed. These two hulking beasts had the answer. Carwin came out raging like a bat out of hell as he showed why nobody makes it out of the first round with him. He dropped Lesnar with a left uppercut and proceeded to make mince meat out of Lesnar as it looked like the former WWE star would become victim #13. But somehow, someway, Lesnar survived that brutal barrage of 57 punches to make it out of the first round. A lesser man would have been unconscious. But here was Lesnar, still standing and ready to take Carwin where he had never been before: the second round.
Carwin had emptied his firearms all in the first round and Lesnar knew it. The NCAA Division I champion quickly took down the winded Carwin early in the second round. What transpired next couldn’t be written by Hollywood screenwriters. Rather than look to brutally pound the musclebound Carwin out—as he did with Frank Mir a year ago—Lesnar managed to get full mount but shocked everyone as he transition to an arm triangle in the center of the cage. Carwin looked shocked as well but seemed to defend the choke. That was until Lesnar wrapped his massive arms even tighter around the undefeated Carwin and began to choke the life out of him. At the 2:19 mark, Carwin tapped and the arena exploded in awe and cheer. Lesnar weathered the storm and remained the undisputed champion with a dramatic come from behind victory.
It doesn’t get any better than this folks. UFC 116 had it all. If you missed out and need to see it to confirm my thoughts, make sure you rent it or find a way to watch it. You won’t forget it.