UFC 132 provided the action that Klitschko-Haye yawnfest didn't
It took around eight seconds for Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber to ensure that no one was going to confuse them for Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye. For one thing, the two UFC 132 main event fighters, combined, weigh in at not much more than Klitschko alone. And more important, unlike the heavyweight boxers, the bantamweight mixed martial artists came to fight on Saturday.
Cruz fought a little bit better than Faber, at least in the eyes of the three judges cageside in Las Vegas, and won a unanimous decision to retain his UFC championship in the 135-pound weight class's first pay-per-view main event.
It was a frenetic five rounds of attack-or-be-attacked fighting, putting the folks who keep statistics for CompuStrike as much in the line of fire as the fighters, if you factor in the potential for carpal tunnel or some other repetitive stress injury from all that tallying of punches, kicks and takedown attempts. There was more action in those 25 minutes in the Octagon than in Klitschko's 59-fight career.
Why the boxing comparison? Well, in the course of a few hours on a festive holiday weekend, we glimpsed the state of combat sports.
The sweet science took center stage in the afternoon, its heavyweight division coming out of mothballs with a bout in Hamburg, Germany, between European fighters that even American fans wanted to see. And what did this rare marquee matchup of big boys deliver? After weeks of talking about all the nastiness and punishment they were going to unleash upon each other, Klitschko and Haye proved to be, in the words of HBO analyst Larry Merchant, all sound and no fury. Twelve tedious rounds later, Haye was the loser, as was the sport itself.
Fast-forward a few hours to the UFC 132 main event, which resembled Klitschko vs. Haye in only one way: There was bad blood between the fighters. The staredown during referee Steve Mazzagatti's instructions was hardhearted, and the crowd roared when the fighters refused to touch gloves. Eight seconds in, though, Cruz's right glove touched Faber pretty hard, the straight punch to the face snapping back the challenger's head and sending his longish mop of hair flying back. Before Faber could even think of returning fire, Cruz had danced away.
Now, when I say "dance," I mean it in the Elaine Benes sense. Cruz's unrelenting herky-jerky movement -- side to side, forward and back, bouncing on toes, head feinting, hands low but always ready to punch -- makes him a challenge to hit and avoid being hit by. There was no one Faber could bring into his training camp to accurately mimic what "The Dominator" brings to the table. And watching tape of their first meeting -- for Faber's WEC featherweight belt four years ago -- was no help, in part because the fight was so short (Faber won by guillotine choke in 98 seconds) and in part because Cruz was just 21 at the time and not anywhere near the fighter he is now. So Urijah remained patient as he allowed Cruz's pace and rhythm to sink it.
Faber did eventually sync up with Cruz's timing and nailed him with some hard punches, most of them not during Cruz's attack, but on his post-attack retreat. It got so that practically every time Cruz danced toward him, Faber would sidestep like a matador and connect -- ole! -- with a left. Cruz gradually grew more cautious -- not David Haye cautious, but he made sure to set up his attacks before wading in.
That is not to say Cruz let up. Over the five rounds, he threw 100 more strikes than Faber, according to CompuStrike stats. He landed 99 to Urijah's 74, although Faber had a 45-38 edge in power strikes. Three times, in fact, he knocked down Cruz with hard punches.
It was a difficult bout to judge. Cruz was mostly the aggressor, landed more punches and also nailed six of 11 takedown attempts. But Faber (1 of 8 in takedowns tries) bounced back up every time he was taken down, and the only strike that slowed him was a flying knee in the fourth round. "It rocked him," Cruz (18-1) said afterward. "But he's tough. He's a veteran. He's been in this sport a long time. He did well to recover from it."
The same could be said of Cruz. And it could have been said more often. "I thought I landed the heavier punches," said Faber (25-5). "I had him rocked a couple of times. But congratulations to Dominick. He won."
It was the first nice thing Faber had said about Cruz in four years, ever since he handed Dominick his only career loss. The gracious words came after the fighters had hugged at the center of the cage before the decision was announced. They also came after a few similarly kind words from the champion.
"You know, I gotta say, Urijah was ... man, that dude hits hard," said Cruz. "The dude hits hard. His hands are very fast."
Not fast enough to steal away the UFC bantamweight belt.
Speaking of the UFC, the folks at the Dana White Athletic Club clearly were aware that they were sharing the day with heavyweight championship boxing, and probably were a little nervous about it. After all, they were trying to sell a $55 PPV, the first one featuring a main event between 135-pounders, while to watch Klitschko-Haye -- which was repeated on HBO while the UFC undercard was under way -- all one needed was premium cable. No doubt the reports out of Germany that a stadium full of fans had been put to sleep were welcome.
And it didn't take long for a veiled reference to creep into the UFC telecast. When Rafael dos Anjos knocked out George Sotiropoulos in the opening bout of the Spike undercard show, analyst Joe Rogan jumped in with a choice comment: "That was a Haymaker!" ("The Haymaker" is the nickname of David Haye -- or at least it was until he fought more like "The Hayfaker" on Saturday.)
Rogan's announcing partner, Mike Goldberg, got in the act during the second Spike bout (actually from earlier on the card, shown on tape). As he watched Andre Winner get picked apart by Muay Thai fighter Anthony Njokuani kicks and punches, Goldberg assessed the Brit's hapless arsenal as "just boxing." He almost spat the words.
As the night wore on, though, the fights spoke for themselves. We saw Carlos Condit land a flying knee that led to Dong Hyun Kim's first loss. We saw Tito Ortiz, one loss away from being kicked to the curb by the UFC, knock down heavy favorite Ryan Bader with a right hand, then choke him out for his first victory since 2006. (Chuck Liddell looked thrilled for him at cageside.) We saw Chris Leben slay his hero, Wanderlei Silva, via a 27-second KO.
We saw Justin Bieber at cageside. Justin Bieber! Also Kevin James, who is in the middle of filming a feature film about MMA. And also some big, musclebound actor who's going to portray Conan the Barbarian and isn't named Arnold. The stars were out in Vegas.
Whom did we spot during the boxing telecast? Well, Haye, a man seeking to become heavyweight champion of the world, was escorted to the ring by bodyguards, one of whom was none other than James "The Colossus" Thompson, MMA fighter.