There are defining moments you can have as a mixed martial arts fan.
For me, Saturday's "UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans" was one of those moments.
As someone who extensively watches the sport, it's really tough to get a rise out of me at points. I stoically watch the shows, trying my best to analyze the action so I can better do my job as a writer for this site and as host for the radio show. These days, I don't feel much like a fan, but as someone who is watching (and still enjoying it, don't get me wrong) for business purposes, there are only a few times that inner-fan in me pops out and the excitement comes pouring out while I'm watching the shows.
I often harken back to my first few UFC pay-per-views and just remember being in awe of what was going on. Trying to understand the nuances of the game while getting to know the fighters was quite possibly one of the most intimidating new sport experiences I've ever had. I love pretty much every big sport and I've found none of them as hard to mentally master as mixed martial arts. To this day, I'm still learning.
UFC 52 was my first pay-per-view. There probably wasn't a better one to come in on. It's no surprise that the first two fighters I saw, Georges St-Pierre and Jason "Mayhem" Miller, have remained two of my favorites ever since then. That fight, with Miller taking a licking while still ticking, gave me my first appreciation of what MMA was all about. Then you had the welterweight title fight between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg (which I rated as the top fight in UFC history). Back then, I was, to use a professional wrestling term, a big mark. To a certain extent, I miss that. I sometimes miss not wanting to overanalyze everything. There's something to be said for being able to just sit back and enjoy fights from the perspective of the "casual fan."
These days, there's only a few nights on the calendar that, when watching the fights, bring out the true fan in me. One of those days was Saturday.
For those who said UFC 114 disappointed, I couldn't disagree with you more.
This card had everything a mixed martial arts fan could want. Upsets, gutty, gritty performances, an amazing comeback and a mega-fight that delivered. That's why, as the night progressed, I found myself becoming more and more engrossed in the show. The true fan was coming out in me.
The first two fights really set the tone. From the moment John Hathaway dropped Diego Sanchez, I was enthralled. When Jason Brilz decided he wasn't going to listen to the fans and the pundits and actually put up a fight against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, that was it. Full mark mode.
Seeing Todd Duffee obliterate Mike Russow in the first round only to suffer one of the most stunning losses in UFC history added to the hysteria. I was in full-on nervous mode when the main event hype began. Then when Rashad Evans staggered Quinton Jackson in the opening minute, it was on. I was on the edge of my seat.
To me, that fight epitomized everything that is great about mixed martial arts. You had two fighters who were as intense and as prepared as could be. Then you had one fighter (Evans) come in and nearly perfectly execute his game plan while continuing to be a thorn in his opponent's side. Then Evans survived a situation that many haven't before when in the ring with Jackson, and not only did he survive nearly being finished, he put an exclamation point on the fight by taking Jackson to the mat and winning the round on two of the three judges' scorecards.
It's nights like Saturday that make the sport of MMA so special. You simply never know what is going to happen. You can come in having watched hours of film on each fighter, analyzing every move, but then when a largely unheralded fighter like Brilz starts taking someone like Nogueira down and nearly finishing him twice in a single round, it's a whole different world - and you know you're watching something special.
If there's one thing this card has taught me, it's this: Never be afraid be sit back and immerse yourself in something fun.
And never forget your roots.
Don't forget to listen to this week's edition of Fight Rewind Extra, where each week Matt provides further insight of the week's topic in less than one minute.
Matt Bishop is an MMAForReal.com reporter and pens "Fight Rewind" at least once each week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.