I woke up yesterday morning, grabbed my computer and a cup of coffee, and got right back into bed to watch the TUF China Finale in Macao. I love watching the fights live because there’s really something irreplaceable about experiencing them at the same time as the rest of the planet but, when they happen to be on between 2:00 and 6:30am, watching the morning after in bed with coffee sure is a nice option.
Fast forward to the main event, coffee is gone and I am glued to this laptop screen with eyebrows nearly up to my hairline and my mouth hanging halfway open. It almost seems like it’s better not to know much about a pair of fighters before watching them compete because of how surprised you might be if they put on one of the most fun-to-watch fights you've seen in a long while. I didn’t know much about Alexander Gustafsson before he fought Jon Jones last year, but I’ll never miss a fight of his now. I feel the same way about Dong Hyun Kim after watching him drop John Hathaway with that spinning back elbow this weekend.
I wouldn’t have known enough to realize without Jan Anik and Kenny Florian’s commentary exactly where and how Kim and Hathaway were taking serious risks trying to put everything behind their punches, but even I could see that Kim does not give a rat's ass about playing it safe. And that right there is the fastest way to any fan’s heart.
It is well within a fighter’s right, of course, to keep a cautious distance, look for the perfect openings and win a fight tactically, strategically, and at a reasonable pace. I always feel bad about getting frustrated with fighters like that. It’s not me in there so I really shouldn't complain, and I do want to be the kind of fan who appreciates the skill involved in strategy, but try as I might, I can’t muster the excitement for a chess match that I do during a fight like Kim vs Hathaway.
I loved GSP as an ambassador of the sport. I respect and admire him as an athlete and a martial artist. But when he was still champion, I would go into his fights knowing that he’d probably win, that he'd probably win with a smothering, wrestling-based style, and that I’d probably be ready to go home and go to bed right afterward. But now that GSP is on hiatus, suddenly the welterweight division is freed up for the fighters I love to watch; guys like Johny Hendricks, who tears around the cage like a rabid ape with brick fists, or like Robbie Lawler, Jake Ellenberger, and Carlos Condit, who are in it purely for the love of the brawl. And guys like Dong Hyun Kim, who fought on Saturday like there was nowhere in the universe he'd more love to be. Might be enough to get me out of bed in the wee hours next time.
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