Hunt vs. Bigfoot: Who Could Ask for Anything More?
Here’s something I don’t understand about MMA fans and pundits: If two fighters have been generous enough to supply you with an experience that was as close to sublime as you can hope for in this unpredictable sport and this weary world, why would your instinct be to ask them to do it again? Why tempt the Fates and hope for the impossible: the repeat of transcendence? Don’t we all have enough experience with life by this point to know that moments—no matter how transformative--are by their very definition transient, that the wonderful and sad truth about life is that all our greatest and most joyous experiences are forever in a state of passing away, that life is at its most beautiful when it’s at its most sorrowful, that all beauty is fleeting?
I remember reading a story once about the great classical actor Laurence Olivier, who, after giving a masterful performance as Othello at a theatre in London, was found weeping in his dressing room. His co-star Maggie Smith asked him how, after performing so brilliantly and after transporting his audience to places they had never been before, he could be so sad.
“It was magnificent,” Smith said. “Magical.”
“I know, I know,” Olivier responded, “And I have absolutely no idea why.”
To ask Mark Hunt and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva to fight a rematch after their classic, epic, poetic five-round match this past Friday in Australia in the hopes that somehow their second fight will be as good as their first is to live in denial of the fundamental truth of human existence and to refuse to resign oneself to the paradox that governs our emotional experiences: that our most magical and joyous moments are also our most miserable because we’re plagued with the knowledge of their transience. The Buddhists speak about immersing ourselves in the present to achieve enlightenment, to find eternity in an hour, but the sad and beautiful, and beautifully sad, truth is that we’re not really capable of that, not fully anyway. The best we can hope for is temporary immersion in the experience of a moment tinged with the recognition that the moment, even as we’re experiencing it, is dying away. Olivier knew this, and that’s why he wept.
So, don’t hope for a Hunt/Bigfoot rematch. Not only would it lead to inevitable disappointment, but doing so is the manifestation of a delusion that flies in the face of what we know deep down in our hearts to be true: that for 25 minutes two enormous men fought each other in such a way that their efforts transcended sport and toppled into art and that our experience of watching them moved from mere viewership into the realm of communal transcendence ... and then they stopped. The bell rang, their arms were lifted, and everyone went home. That’s it. Olivier walked off the stage and then everyone moved on--Olivier, eventually, included. I for one would be happy if Silva and Hunt never saw each other again, if they just left us with the memory of a perfect moment that with each passing day we’ll remember with less and less accuracy until it’s just a faint feeling, a recollection that, for one flash, we witnessed something meaningful.
What more do you want from life?
Shogun and the (Temporary) Return of My MMA Youth
Speaking of fleeting emotions, the really terrible thing about caring about fighters is watching them--slowly or instantly but inevitably--collapse before your eyes. This is particularly true for the fighters who were there when you first fell in love with MMA. Whether those fighters are or were the best fighters doesn’t matter. The love you feel for your first MMA heroes can never be touched by the more cerebral appreciation you may develop for better fighters who come along later in your life, after you know what you’re looking at. It’s the same as it is with music. My head knows that the Smiths are a better band than Jane’s Addiction, but the love I have for Jane’s Addiction is the love of a 15-year-old, a time in life when music means something, and no matter how beautiful the Smiths are they will forever be cursed by the tardiness of my coming to them. My love for them is the love of the fan, not the true believer.
So, watching the dissolution of my early favorite fighters—the ones who in my head will always be associated with the first flowering of ardor—has been hard these last few years. First it was watching Fedor fall three times in a row after never falling before, then it was Mirko “Cro Cop” timidly being chased around the Octagon time after time, and for the last two years it’s been Mauricio “Shogun” Rua—whose collapse seemed to come in a burst. One minute he was the light heavyweight champion of the world, fulfilling the promise of his early, marauding PRIDE days; the next he was cowering before Jon Jones, and he was never the same after that. Against Alexander Gustafsson, Bradon Vera, and Chael Sonnen, he seemed slow, unintimidating, and uninspired. The old Shogun, who used to kick men’s heads straight off their bodies, seemed gone. Even in his classic fight against Dan Henderson, he looked more like an old man slogging his way through a fight on pure heart than a killer.
But watching a trimmed-down Shogun knock out James Te Huna with a colossal left hook on Friday night was like seeing the sun rise again after years of darkness. I didn’t realize until that moment just how much the guy meant to me and how hard it had been to watch his slow, seemingly inevitable slide into irrelevance. My joy when that knockout came was uncontrollable, as was Shogun’s. He seemed reborn. Who knows how much longer he’ll be around, or how much longer he should be, but for now, Shogun Rua is alive, which means my MMA youth is still alive as well. Bruised and beaten but alive.
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