Dana White was expecting this to be the greatest night in UFC history. Instead, it turned into perhaps the most gruesome.
The rematch of Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva was supposed to answer questions raised in their meeting back in July. Would "The Spider" be serious this time rather than clowning to such excess that Weidman knocked him out? And if Silva was all business, could the new champion handle that?
We got our answers Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. At least to an extent.
The answer to the seriousness question was a definitive yes. In the main event of UFC 168, there was not the least bit of fooling around by the former middleweight champion -- no arms at the side, no waving in the opponent, no pretend wobbling. The 38-year-old Brazilian kept his fists cocked and in front of his face, ready to protect and ready to do damage.
But they didn't do damage. Weidman's did. The champ answered our second question in the affirmative, too, although we just never got to see that answer play out to its fullest. After a dominant first round by the New Yorker, the fight ended suddenly in the second when Silva threw a hard kick with his left leg, Weidman lifted his right leg to check it, and the collision of shin and knee resulted in a ghastly shattering of Silva's lower leg. Anderson fell screaming to the canvas, and even before referee Herb Dean could jump in, Weidman knew the fight was over. He raised his arms in victory, still champion, via TKO at 1:16 of the round.
A fluke victory? Some Silva diehards might say so, but it's not so. This fight was all Weidman. Just over a minute in, after already having used his wrestling to take Silva to the mat briefly, he sent him crashing back to the canvas with a short right hand that connected to the left ear. Weidman pounced and landed several hard punches and elbows while swarming with ground-and-pound dominance for the rest of the five minutes.
Weidman (11-0) was surprised that Silva (33-6), who'd won 17 straight bouts and reigned for six years before July's knockout, was still in the fight at the end of the round. "There was a point where I was like, 'Ref, stop the fight,'" he said, describing what was going through his head when he was on top of Silva after the knockdown. "His eyes were still kind of in the back of his head for a lot of those punches. But he recovered well."
Silva did, but when he came out for the second round, he looked like he'd survived something brutal. He wasn't marked up, but the look on his face told you he was in a fight that wasn't going his way. He tried to take it to Weidman, stalking with long punches the champ always seemed to elude. Chris couldn't elude the leg kicks, though, so he checked them. And as it turned out, what appeared to be a fluke ending was actually the result of the champion's game plan in action.
In the first meeting, Weidman had taken a lot of leg kicks. So in training camp he'd focused on defending them. "That was the No. 1 thing I got hit with in the first fight, so I did work a lot against guys with good kicks, and was working on checking them a lot," he said. "I did think that if he's going to go that hard on kicks, as he usually does, if I catch it on my knee it could really hurt him. But it's still crazy how that happened."
Indeed it is. And the scene in the octagon afterward was surreal, with Weidman having his belt secured around his waist and posing for pictures with his team as Silva was being strapped to a stretcher and carried out of the arena. My friend and colleague Ariel Helwani, who conducts postfight interviews for Fox Sports 1, wrote on Twitter, "Anderson is yelling at the top of his lungs on the stretcher backstage. I've never heard anything like that. A horrible sound."
And perhaps a horrible ending for perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist in history. At age 38, a leg so badly shattered is going to be difficult to overcome, if he even has the will to continue.
Ronda Rousey thrives in deep water
UFC 168 had not one, but two championship bouts. In the other, Miesha Tate made history.
No, she didn't capture the women's bantamweight championship. But she did become the first opponent to last beyond the first round with Ronda Rousey. In the end, Miesha was just like all of the others, succumbing to an armbar. But before tapping out 58 seconds into the third round, Tate gave Rousey the fight of her MMA life.
Tate (13-5) beat Rousey (8-0) to the punch on several occasions in the first two rounds. She grabbed an armbar of her own in the first. In the second, she escaped one of Ronda's signature submission maneuvers, landed a succession of upkicks from her back, and even went for an inverted triangle. Rousey had enough go her way to win both rounds on the judges' scorecards, but not in the court of public opinion. At moments throughout, the crowd chanted "Miesha! Miesha!"
And the fans booed loudly just moments after Rousey finally secured the decisive armbar early in the third. Tate stood up and extended a hand to shake, but Rousey coldly turned and walked away. Bad blood would not be squashed and the crowd didn't like that. When Ronda was interviewed in the cage, her words were drowned out by the disapproving public.
"I need to commend and congratulate Miesha. She's an amazing fighter, she really is," Rousey said. "Just, once you insult my family, I can't shake your hand. But I really respect her and I think she did an amazing job tonight."
Even after her explanation, the booing continued. But Rousey was not fazed. "When I did judo," she said, "I got booed in 30 different countries around the world."