The last time the UFC called a meeting of the bloodthirsty, it was to dangle the greatest fighter on the planet in front of our wide eyes. Jon Jones performed like a virtuoso that night two weekends ago, but showtime had begun even before the light heavyweight champion stepped into the cage, in the mere anticipation of something transcendent.
Two weeks from now expectations once again will be soaring when another indestructible champion, Renan Barão, puts it all on the line: his bantamweight belt, a 33-fight unbeaten streak, the pride of a nation. Once again, the contest in the cage will be only the culmination of a gala happening that, in its blazing buildup, will begin ... well, it already has begun.
The only thing that had been standing in the way of firing up the hype for that UFC 173 pay-per-view in Las Vegas was this little Fight Night card Saturday night in Cincinnati. If you couldn't make it to U.S. Bank Arena, all you needed was basic cable to tune in and sit through an evening of fisticuffs headlined by a meeting of the No. 10 welterweight in the SI.com MMA fighter rankings and an unranked opponent in the midst of a bumpy career path. Not the most highly anticipated party the octagon has ever hosted.
Sure, the collision of a couple of forward-moving studs, Matt Brown and Erick Silva, did have the potential for fireworks. But promises don't move the needle like high stakes. Until, of course, they come true and then some.
Brown is known as "The Immortal," and no fighter has so breathtakingly lived up to his nickname as he did in this third-round TKO. After being badly hurt by a body shot 30 seconds in, then spending the better part of the first round with Silva latched to his back, immobilizing him with a body triangle and clamping on a choke hold, the 33-year-old turned the tide with two minutes to go in the round and battered the Brazilian the rest of the way before referee Herb Dean mercifully jumped in at 2:11 of the third.
To say a star was born might be an overstatement. But only slightly. When Dana White walked into the cage to congratulate Brown (19-11) on his seventh straight victory, the UFC president looked like he'd just seen a UFO fly past his tingly, bewildered face. He invited Brown's whole family in to join the party, and Matt picked up his young twin boys and carried them around the cage as he waved to his friends and neighbors in the stands.
"Cincinnati, Ohio, who do you want to see fight for a title next?" Brown shouted into the microphone as he was being interviewed. Then, as the crowd roared, he pointed at White and said, "Right there's the man to talk to. Tell him what you want."
At that moment of exhilaration, White might well have been willing to give Brown anything he desired. Indeed, a short while later the poobah awarded the fighter $100,000 in performance bonuses. A title fight, though? Not yet, but this performance certainly added Brown to the heap of welterweight contenders.
Brown, strangely enough, wasn't so impressed by his performance. "I just did what I do," he said. "I didn't even think it was that good of a fight. I didn't feel my best at all tonight. It's my first main event, in my home state, close to my hometown. The pressure got to me a little bit. But once I started feeling the groove in the fight, I started pulling things together."
It was indeed a treacherous start for Brown, who stomped across the beer logo at the center of the cage as soon as the fighters were waved together and went right after Silva (16-5, 1 NC). This was a bit of a surprise, even given Brown's aggressive nature, because Silva is known as a sprinter, not a marathoner. All four of his UFC victories have been first-round stoppages, and opponents who've had the patience to wait him out have eventually taken advantage. But Brown couldn't wait to engage.
He soon paid the price when a left leg kick to the midsection dropped him, and Silva swarmed with a barrage of some 20 punches. Dean hovered nearby, but before he saw the need to intervene, Brown managed to get to his feet. That didn't last, as Silva took him back to the mat and got behind him, wrapping his legs around Brown's tender midsection and going for a neck crank, then a choke. Brown couldn't escape, but he fended off the Brazilian's arms well enough that the tide seemed to be turning even while "The Immortal" was in a bad position. Considering the relentlessness he'd shown in the past and Silva's propensity to fade, it seemed like only a matter of time before Brown would take over.
He did so with around two minutes to go in the first, and he savaged Silva for the rest of the round. The second round was even worse, as the Brazilian offered no offense. By the time Dean jumped in midway through the third, Brown had landed 118 significant strikes with 71 percent accuracy. Silva had connected with just 25.
As Brown and a building full of Ohioans celebrated, Silva lay on the canvas being attended to. He ended up being carried from the arena on a stretcher, a victim of his own toughness, really. Marveling at how the bout lasted as long as it did, Brown said, "I guess he's just that tough. Most people I hit [like] that, they go down."
Eventually, Silva went down and didn't get up. But Matt Brown sure went up, up, up.