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Week 2 Information Overload: Frampton won, then said that it had all been pretty boring. The second fight was in London, at the O 2 Arena. Because it was the single most talked about sports event on Twitter that day, beating the Premier League, the Six Nations and Frampton v Quigg. It was a middleweight mixed martial arts contest between Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping, five five-minute rounds in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He has more Twitter followers than some countries have citizens, 7.
Those who know say Silva may be the greatest martial artist in the world. Hardy has a 10in tattoo of Lee along his left shin. He lost the title at the end of Bisping is 36, born in Cyprus, brought up in Manchester.
If Silva is trying to make it back to the summit, Bisping is still trying find it. He has been in the UFC for a decade, a perennial top contender who has never been given a title shot.
After that, Bisping swore that he would never again fight anybody who had used performance-enhancing drugs, but he broke the rule for Silva, a fighter he once idolised. There are a lot of misconceptions about MMA. The main one is that it is, in any way, a simple sport. It is endlessly technical and complex.
An athlete could spend a lifetime trying to master just one of the key disciplines it combines, wrestling, striking and grappling. For instance, to succeed on the mat a fighter needs a sound understanding of Brazilian jiu jitsu, which, one teacher tells me, contains more than 2, techniques, each designed to counter another.
They say MMA is human chess. It is sometimes so intricate that it can seem entirely unfathomable. Silva, though, is so extravagantly talented that even a newcomer can appreciate his skill. He has an almost supernatural ability to sense punches coming and sway away from them, like a sapling in a strong wind. Silva also has all the arrogance of a great champion.
He spent much of the first two rounds taunting Bisping, leaning back and beckoning him on. Bisping, unimpressed, stood off and demanded Silva step up and start fighting. Bisping is not a hugely skilful fighter, nor a very powerful striker, but he has great stamina and enormous quantities of that intangible quality — heart. MMA, like boxing, is scored on a point must system and Bisping won the first two rounds simply because he landed so many blows.
Silva seemed almost too busy looking good to bother with the business of scoring points. He wanted to win with a flourish, in a big finish. It was brilliant sport and it brought each and every one of the 17, people inside the O 2 to their feet. The referee, Herb Dean, picked it up. Seconds later, Bisping reached what he thought was an opportune moment. As he fell, the buzzer rang for the end of the round.
Silva started to celebrate, medical and coaching staff started to swarm around Bisping and the O 2 erupted. One point MMA fans and fighters make over and again is that its sport is, in one key regard, safer than boxing because in MMA a knockout ends the fight.
There is no standing count. After being knocked unconscious, no one gets a second chance to get hit in the head all over again. Dean would say later: Silva had made a mistake, Dean suggested, by standing off Bisping, when he should have followed up with another blow and so forced Dean to stop the fight.
The UFC had a medical consultant and five local doctors at the fight. In rugby union medics take 10 minutes to make head injury assessments. In the NFL they have between eight and Bisping, bleeding profusely from his nose, brow and cheeks, fought on. My enjoyment drained away and in its place grew a queasy uneasiness.
He won on points, because he had landed many more scoring shots in three of the five rounds. Immediately after the decision was announced, Silva said in Portuguese: Oddly, the phrase got lost in translation over the PA. Soon after, the 17, fans filed out into night, some furious, some exhilarated, some overjoyed, some dismayed. Boxing has been sanctified by all the fine minds who have fallen for it through the years.
Some say MMA has a long history too. They stretch it back to pankration, a combat sport staged at the ancient Olympics. The UFC, though, is a modern phenomenon.
The inaugural event was in November and so far as great writers go, it has one major advocate: From Glengarry Glen Ross: This watch cost more than your car. They are also the principal shareholders in Station Casinos. There is a feeling within the organisation that was a tipping point. By the end of the year, UFC was being watched, it says, in 1. UFC London sold out in 27 minutes. UFC Dublin sold out in 60 seconds. To understand the success of the UFC today, you have to go back before what Lorenzo Fertitta calls the modern era.
The UFC was concocted by Gracie and three partners. One was John Milius, who wrote and directed Conan the Barbarian. Another, an advertising executive named Art Davie and the last the promoter Bob Meyrowitz, a pioneer of pay-per-view TV. Milius thought the fights should take place in a pit. Davie suggested a ring surrounded by a moat filled with either sharks or alligators. In the end they settled on an eight-sided cage. The British martial arts teacher Windy Miller says: Hardy describes these as the wild west days of the sport, no gloves, no weight categories, no rules.
The card included a fight between a Dutch karate fighter and a lb sumo wrestler. By the late 90s, the UFC was in danger of extinction, despite the efforts Meyrowitz had made to improve its image. Political pressure had driven it off cable TV. John McCain led the campaign. As a kid, Fertitta used to go to the fights in Vegas. He wanted to get into the fight business, but not the boxing business.
There was no other business or industry I could think of that had been around for so long, had generated billions of dollars in revenue, yet had no value.
In the UFC, he saw an opportunity. The one thing we did see was there was a brand and there was structure, something we could at least start with. The Fertittas knew a little about MMA as they were doing some jiu jitsu training. When their attorneys insisted that their UFC ownership contract include a dispute resolution clause, the brothers agreed that in the event of a boardroom deadlock they would stage a sport jiu jitsu fight against each other, over three five-minute rounds, refereed by their friend White.
Zuffa made one crucial change to the business strategy. Instead of shying away from independent regulation, it would encourage it.