When mixed martial arts debuted in 1993, it was hardly viewed as a sport. “Human cockfighting,” its derogatory descriptor, was perhaps not inaccurate. There was a visceral brutality inherent in it, a blatant disregard for the precepts of the time. More than just another organized sport, it was a counter-culture movement, a mode of thinking and a way of life. While there were seasoned martial artists following intently, the common man, the intended audience, was there for blood. For violence. For a spectacle that could not be matched by any other sporting event.
It was in no way mainstream. It was vehemently opposed by all cultured and sensible members of society. Early UFC advertisements made clear what it was selling. Clips of a man getting repeatedly battered in the groin are hard to misconstrue.
In time, as it had to be, the sport slowly became more regulated. Rules were adopted to protect the fighters. Instead of having to follow the sport on bootleg VHS, events were displayed on major television networks in increasing frequency until the market was entirely saturated. As fighters grew in skill, the savage brawls of the past, where the man with more will, ferocity and human growth hormone would be crowned victor, were oft replaced with technical battles, with neither fighter putting themselves in any undue risk. Following the sport and having an educated opinion only became more difficult as the years drug on.
Where have all the Don Fryes gone? What are the glorious meatheads spraying beer all over the “Just Bleed” painted onto their distended bellies to do in 2018?
Well, have I got a fight just for you.
Neither of these two men are likely to be confused with Dominick Cruz. Neither are likely to win a title any time soon. Their techniques are not perfect, their defenses are full of holes, and all they want is to do very violent things with little to no thought of the repercussions and dangers of their actions.
Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens is a dinosaur himself, a relic of more violent times. A professional fighter since 2005, Stephens has a record of 26-14 and has only won three of his last eight fights. Even with a win here, he has a long way to go to put himself into anything nearing contention. But his last win, a one-sided beating delivered to an always game Gilbert Melendez, certainly offered a glimpse of hope that he may be able to put some sort of run together still.
Stephens seems to be a victim of his own gift. While he possesses an unreasonable amount of power in his strikes, he leans on that power to his own detriment. For years seemingly unable to vary the speed of his attack, feint or throw anything other than haymakers, Stephens looks to kill with every punch. His demolition of Melendez showed growth in that area to a degree, and his commitment to the “low low kick” won him that battle. But even while hobbling on one leg, Melendez was still able to find openings to land power shots.
Doo Ho Choi, “The Korean Superboy,” was a top prospect coming into the UFC, and for good reason. He entered the organization with a record of 11-1, seven of his last eight all knockout finishes. Upon his arrival, he quickly accrued three first-round knockouts by way of a precision right straight, earning two Performance of the Night bonuses. Riding a wave of hype, Choi looked to mark his claim as a legitimate title contender by doing the same thing to another member of the old guard, Cub Swanson.
What proceeded was one of the greatest slugfests to ever occur inside the octagon. Earning not only Fight of the Night, but Fight of the Year for many, Choi put his heart and superhuman chin on display in a wild back-and-forth battle that harkened back to the days when “The Predator” put it all on the line against Yoshihiro Takayama.
While there are many things Stephens could do here to improve his chance of winning, this may be a case of being unable to teach an old dog new tricks. And in this case, maybe he doesn’t need to break the wheel. Choi clearly is willing engage in a dogfight, and in a brawl it ought to be easier to land his terrifying meat hooks on the Korean than it was much of his recent competition. Landing the same hard low kicks as in his last match is highly recommended here and could easily be the difference, especially if the fight goes into the later rounds. Even with his tremendous power, Choi’s chin may hold up, but leg kicks will pay dividends later.
“The Korean Superboy” needs to use his straight punches and stay just out of range. Staying just out of the pocket and countering the power shots of Stephens is crucial. If he can land the tighter shots and put volume on the American, he could easily start to run away with the fight.
This fight certainly seems like a shoo-in for an early 2018 Fight of the Year candidate. What is beautiful about this match is that no real understanding of the sport is necessary. This fight isn’t about establishing a No. 1 contender. While not irrelevant to the division, its relevance is not where its appeal is. This is a fight. These are two fighters who don’t care about talking trash to each other, aren’t just jockeying for position or super fights. They aren’t going to fight the safe way. These are two gladiators that are going to put their very lives on the line and do very violent things for our entertainment.
Featured image credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports.
Image will be removed upon request.
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