My first time, with FOX

Apparently, all it takes is 64 seconds.

Ladies and gentleman, we aaaaaaare liiiiiiiiiiive. For UFC on FOX. After announcer Bruce Buffer said his typical signature opening to the crowd on the evening of Nov. 12, 2011, there was a possible 25 minutes of fighting to follow. Instead, the UFC heavyweight bout between challenger Junior ‘Cigano’ dos Santos and champion Cain Velasquez finished just barely after it started when dos Santos hit Velasquez on the right side of his head and proceeded to pound him enough on the face to force the stoppage of the fight. Just like that, the UFC’s debut on cable television on FOX had ended after 64 seconds.

Apparently, hit another man hard enough across the head and he’s bound to give up in 64 seconds or less. That’s what I took from the fight. And I was hooked on the UFC. 

I didn’t watch the fight live. When I did watch it, it was probably around 1:30 a.m. and I had just finished writing the recap of the Waterloo Warriors’ defeat of the Ryerson Rams for Northpolehoops. The fight was on TV and I watched, and if that had been the end of the story, no harm would have been done. But then Sportsnet showed the Don’t do this at home, kids episode of The Ultimate Fighter season 14, and again I watched. Huh?

Prior to the UFC on FOX gala, I knew next to nothing about mixed martial arts. In fact, my lone experience–if you can call it that–was a beatdown of epic proportions playing the demo of the UFC Undisputed 2009 game. It didn’t matter whether I played with Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua or with Chuck Liddell, I was losing before the second round. Systematically. Even in the days before the Kinect, it’s not fun to lose a fight on a videogame. My friend was an expert at the game–or maybe that’s just how he seemed to me–but that didn’t explain the fact that I was terrible.

As a Québécois, I knew of George St. Pierre but for the longest time, that’s all I could really say: I knew of him, who he was and more or less what he had accomplished in the UFC. In the ultimate irony, it took me moving to Toronto to care a bit more about GSP, especially with the UFC’s Toronto debut last April. Say what you want about Toronto, but the city embraced the event and for a week, lived and breathed mixed martial arts.  GSP’s typical headband was everywhere and had I known better, I probably would have bought one for myself.

Until then, I had always preferred boxing to mixed martial arts.  Boxing and mixed martial arts will always be linked if for no other reason than there’s no other sport quite as violent; but there are differences that go beyond the size and shape of the ring and the octagon. As odd as it may sound, boxing seems more elegant: boxers react to one another, block and counterattack and, well, there’s a reason Mohammed Ali used to say he would dance around the ring. There’s all of that in mixed martial arts as well, but it seems different. The violence is rawer and needs to be embraced. Fighters punch, kick, and wrestle relentlessly and are unapologetic about the punishment they unleash on each other. There’s no 10-count in the UFC, you simply pound your opponent until he stops fighting back and the referee stops the fight. Then you cry like dos Santos, because you’ve finally won the title you’ve worked so hard for. ”I have no words to say how I’m feeling. It’s amazing, my life,” dos Santos said after the fight. “I have a lot of good people around me.”

In many ways, I still do prefer boxing. I want to see the fight that shall not be named like everybody else, but that doesn’t mean anything because everybody–boxing fan or not–wants to see Manny Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather. But I also want to see who Sergio Martinez dismantles next, or whether Andre Ward can win the Super Six World Boxing Classic Final against Carl Froch on Dec. 17, 2011. Yet, I also want to watch the UFC.

The Sunday evening after the dos Santos/Velasquez fight, Sportsnet played the fight and the episode of The Ultimate Fighter again. And again, I watched. I will not be at the Air Canada Centre to watch Jon ‘Bones’ Jones fight Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida on Dec. 10,2011, nor will I buy the fight on pay-per-view. But the next episode of The Ultimate Fighter? Sign me up twice.