November 10, 2012

What was it that Woody Allen famously said? "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Well, the UFC showed up.

The fight promotion made its first appearance in China on Saturday, leaving its biggest stars at home -- sure, Chuck Liddell was there at CotaiArena, although just as a cageside observer -- but still delivering a card that was entertaining, even if it was upside-down.

By that I mean that despite an exhilarating finish to the main event, the top-billed bout was between a couple of athletes teetering around their "best if used by" date. This was a card that, in terms of octagon relevance, was best assessed from the bottom up.

We saw the only Chinese fighter on the bill lose a decision to UFC debutante John Tuck but delight the fans by showing some grit. It wasn't like Zhang Tiequan was fighting at home, of course. He's from Inner Mongolia, about as far from Macau as Seattle is from Las Vegas. But Tiequan was all the local fans had, and they were behind him.

We saw Takanori Gomi and Mac Danzig put on a Fight of the Night performance in what shaped up as a battle for continued relevance in the lightweight division. For Gomi, the 34-year-old former Pride and Shooto champion, the split-decision was his second straight victory after having lost his first three of four since joining the UFC. Danzig, meanwhile, continued on a roller-coaster ride -- win one, lose one, win one, lose one -- that's better than the three-fight losing streak that came before but isn't exactly a sustainable career path.

We saw Thiago Silva show fans what a comeback look like. And I'm not just talking about his third-round submission of Stanislav Nedkov, who controlled the first two sessions but was gassed late and easy pickings for the Brazilian's arm-triangle choke. I'm talking more about Silva's reemergence from a rough patch in which he lost two fights (Rashad Evans, Alexander Gustafsson) and had a victory over Brandon Vera turned into a no-contest and a suspension after tests showed the presence of a urine adulterant intended to mask a banned substance. This was the light heavyweight's first baby step back.

Best of all, though, we saw Dong Hyun Kim display utter domination in handing Paolo Thiago his fourth loss in five fights. Until just over a year ago, Kim was undefeated, including wins over Nate Diaz and fellow judoka Karo Parisyan. But since then he'd lost two of three -- a KO by Carlos Condit and then, back in July, a TKO by Demian Maia in just 47 seconds after the South Korean suffered a fluke rib injury. After riding Thiago incessantly and nearly finishing him, Kim didn't need the translator who stood at his side for the post-fight interview when he was asked who he wants next. "Demian Maia." Got that? See, you know Korean.

And after all of this, we saw 40-year-old Cung Le step in with Rich Franklin, 38, for the main event.

Now, I'm not suggesting by citing the fighters' ages that their meeting was not worth watching. Le is a former world champion kickboxer whose Sanshou style still confounds (and ultimately hurts) his opponents. Franklin is a former UFC middleweight champion who within the last two years has sent a pair of decorated veterans into retirement. Wanderlei Silva hasn't made it official, and in fact says he wants to fight again. But he might want to watch tape of Franklin's KO of Liddell to get a sense of what it looks like when it's time to go.

Or maybe Wanderlei should watch Franklin vs. Le.

"Ace" started off well, maintaining distance and countering Le's kicks with straight punches. But before long Le picked up on the rhythm, countered a punch with a blistering right hook of his own and sent Franklin crashing face-first to the mat for the KO at 2:17 of the first round.

"I'm just grateful," Le said afterward, after looking like a younger man in celebrating with two aerial flips. "I don't know what to say. Lucky punch."

Not really. When you've trained as a lethal striker and you find a home for a punch with all of your body behind it, that's something other than luck. If there was any good fortune involved, it was perhaps only that that the fighter standing in front of Le was a 38-year-old man who'd been in one too many octagon wars.

That's not saying Franklin is done. Or at least he's not saying he is.

"I don't know," he said when asked what went wrong. "I'll have to go back and watch it on tape. I'm a little fuzzy right now."

Too fuzzy to make any future plans. "No," said Franklin. " I have to go home, go back to the drawing board, sit down with my coaches and make an intelligent decision."

The same holds for Le. Following what he described as "the biggest fight of my life," he plans to step back and take a vacation rather than rush back into the cage. "I love to do martial arts. I love to compete. If I can do it for as long as I live, I'll do it," said the 40-year-old. "But I know my clock is ticking."

Indeed it is. And the clock is ticking for the UFC, too, though in a different way. There's no rush for the promotion in seizing upon the Asian market in the same way Dana White & Co. has expanded its stake in North America and swarmed Brazil with fights. But after the evening of fighting in Macau the UFC announced a partnership with an organization named MNC Media to bring MMA to Indonesia. First Japan, now China and soon Indonesia. The road to success winds all around Asia, and the UFC is showing up.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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