“Fight back, fight back, you have to fight back, or I'm gonna have to stop it!” referee Herb Dean screamed at the tail end of the Gabriel Gonzaga/Randy Couture headliner at UFC 74 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday evening.
Wait, you think Dean was yelling at 44-year-old Couture, the underdog, as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Gonzaga, age 28, dropped bombs down on his head?
No sir, you best flip that script, and remember this outcome, and respect the old man, because it was Couture who forced Dean to step in, and save Gonzaga's face from further punishment at 1:37 of the third round in Vegas.
Gonzaga was cut, severely, in the first round, and his mouth was filled with blood, so he did well to last as long as he did. Couture, the master of the gameplan, pressed Gonzaga against the fence, leaned on him and popped him with sneaky quick shots as the big Brazilian gulped for air and spit out crimson spew.
The end came in the third, as Randy ate a high leg kick to his chops, and shrugged it off. He clinched up, got his feet, got underhooks and dumped him. In half guard, he tossed shot after shot after shot, as Gonzaga covered up feebly, and Dean warned that he was going to end the evening.
In the second round, the cut looked closed but a trickle was still there as he moved to center cage. Gabe missed a signature high kick, which flew over Couture's head; no, theer would be no Cro-Cop replay. Gabe told ref Herb Dean he was having trouble seeing, and the ref asked him if he'd like to continue. Yes, he said, and the action restarted at 3:40. Dean took a point from Gabe for grabbing the fence. The blood was running again, as Couture was up in Gabe's face, not giving him a space to breath or a moment to collect himself.
Gonzaga's weigh proved to be a disadvantage as he wasn't able to move his feet to extricate himself from the super sticky Couture. The old man landed uppercuts, and clinched Gabe, as Gabe's nose dripped crimson onto the Natural's back. Gabe's mouth was full of blood at the close and anyone had to wonder if he'd come out for the third. His busted nose stood in contrast to Couture's unmarked face, check that, OK, maybe there were a few lines on there but he looked comparatively fresh as a daisy.
In the first, it stood out that Gonzaga looked to be far larger than Couture. Would he be large, and in charge? Couture caught Gabe with a left hook and yanked him down. The stood up, and grappled, and Couture smothered him against the cage. Another Randy takedown had the crowd roaring, but Gabe popped right up. He landed a short elbow and then right hand, but Couture stood tall. Blood leaked from Gabe's nose at the 2:30 mark. That slice opened up when Couture dumped him on his back, with that Olympic level Greco Roman style, and his head slammed Gabe's nose. The gash on the bridge of his nose screamed for a coagulant. He threw little shoulder jabs clinched up with Gabe, and the Brazilian knew he was in there with a master.
Couture, a Las Vegas resident who turned 44 in June, came into the cage with a 15-8 record. Just last year, he was settling into a retirement existence, and building a business empire.
Gonzaga, a 28 year-old Brazilian who lives in Massachusetts, brought an 8-1 mark to the table. More importantly, he owned the cred building high kick KO of Cro-Cop Filipovic in his last outing.
In an online poll before the bout 61% of responders said they thought the ageless wonder Couture would show the young pup that forty ain't a death sentence in MMA.
The 6-2 Brazilian weighed in at 252, while the old perennial, at 6-2, weighed 228 1/2.
Cap'n America came to the ring to the strains of that 1980 badass anthem, Back In Black by AC/DC, and his body looked to be in prime form.
Four time All-American wrestler Josh Koscheck, a villain from TUF, met comebacking Georges St-Pierre in the top undercard attraction.
The conventional wisdom coming in was that Kos' standup has improved mightily, and that St-Pierre may suffer from too much self doubt to live up to his potential as one of the sport's top athletes.
The boos drizzled down when the 29-year-old Koscheck strode to the cage. The Pennsylvanian came in with an 11-1 mark.
The 26-year-old GSP, the Quebec resident, drew the good guys' share of cheers when he came in, boasting a 13-2 record. He had on the trademark gi, and eye of the tiger, when he climbed the steps into the cage.
In the first, the welterweights (170 pounders for our new-to-the-party readers) stood for 30 seconds before GSP scored a takedown. He passed guard easily, and dropped some sharp elbows down on Kos. Kos showed a chill attitude as he fended off St-Pierre's strikes. Kos powered up and scored his own explosive takedown, pinning GSP on the cage. The round was split into two prolonged lay and pray sessions, nothing to write home and tell your mama about.
In the second, GSP opened up with leg kick softeners. He then scored a takedown and searched for offense on the mat. The Canadian worked a kimura but it slid off Koscheck's sweaty arm, twice. GSP got side control but kept the foe down as Kos worked to right himself.
GSP was sitting on his man's head, looking to snap his shoulder, and the wrestling ace had no answer, beyond blocking some strikes and making sure GSP didn't snap on a lethal submission.
In the third, Kos tossed looping rights and peeled his eyes for leg kicks. St. showed better foot speed, and his movement stood out far above the less mobile American. GSP used a Superman leap, with a jab feint, and was on Koscheck in the blink of an eye. Kos went for the single leg and GSP sprawled back and leapfrogged over his outmanned elder. GSP closed down the stretch atop Koscheck, pumping body shots, and elbows with both hands. At the horn, GSP had a leg lock primed.
No drama as we went to the cards: the judges saw it 30-27, 29-28, 29-28, GSP.
The men hugged it out afterwards.
Joe Rogan chatted with GSP postbout. “I want to apologize to my fans for my last fight, now I'm a brand new version, I'm better than ever,” he said. “He's a very good wrestler, my plan was to put him out of his comfort zone.”
GSP then invited UFC to Montreal, and Dana White clapped and grinned.
There was no chat with Koscheck, who must wonder if he came to this sport too late to catch up, and build up his boxing and jujitsu to get over the hump to the next level. Brutal truth, I think he may just have jumped aboard too late to get there…
OCTAGONAL ODDS AND ENDS Roger Huerta dominated Alberto Crane and the win stood out for a move that I've never seen before. In the third round, Crane had Huerta locked up from behind, on the mat, and Huerta looked up at the jumbo monitor to get a bead on his opponent, and unleashed elbows behind him. Crane dropped to 8-1, while Huerta, the SI poster boy, one of the sport's ascendent heartthrobs, rises to 21-1-1
–TUF's Forrest Griffin was grabbed by Lee Majors in the arena, and 99% of the audience wondered who that old guy grabbing Griffin was. That old guy used to be married to Farrah Fawcett, and they were the Brad and Angelina of their days–the 70s.
–Jenna Jameson and Tito Ortiz got a mixture of cheers and boos when the camera lingered on them for a spell.
–Diego Sanchez drew silence and then boos when the camera found him.