It's been nearly 30 years since an American and a Russian fought each other inside the ring in Vancouver to decide a world championship title.
It happened again at UFC 174, only this time the American wasn't half the other guy's size, the Russian wasn't actually a Swede and nobody was there to avenge the death of Apollo Creed.
Fight fans in the stands at Rogers Arena also weren't nearly as enthusiastic for the main event as the ones who packed the PNE back in '85 for the climactic final scene of Rocky IV, possibly because they had to pay to be there rather than be paid to cheer as background performers.
But at least the place was around three quarters full, which I'm guessing must be due to scalpers cutting ticket prices at the last minute. When the UFC made its Vancouver debut in 2010, all of Rogers' 18,000 seats sold in a matter of minutes and the event earned a whopping $4.2 million. On Friday, UFC boss Dana White announced the latest installment of the mixed martial arts travelling circus — and the very first to feature flyweight fighters as the main event — had only sold around 7,000 tickets to earn just over $1 million.
But, like yet another intimidating bald man with the same surname, Mr. White isn't just in the money business. He's in the empire business and in this regard UFC 174 was yet another victory for the stats sheet, proving that plenty of people would far prefer to spend a Saturday night watching professional athletes injure each other rather than watch them fake injuries playing soccer in the World Cup.
Johnson vs. Bagautinov
The last time diminuative 57-kg champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson defended his flyweight title, he knocked out challenger Joseph Benavidez in just 128 seconds. This time he needed five rounds to win by unanimous decision over challenger Ali Bagautinov in a bout that was frequently booed by the crowd for having too much dancing and clinching.
Despite the champ being based in neighbouring Washington, Johnson never seemed to have the crowd on his side (apart from one woman wailing like a banshee throughout the fight who drew a lot of attention on Twitter) and while there were no chants of “Ali Bomaye” from the crowd, the biggest cheers went for the underdog Russian. This was perhaps the toughest fight for Mighty Mouse since the time he had to rescue Pearl Pureheart from the clutches of the villainous Oil Can Harry.
MacDonald vs. Woodley
The co-main event was the night's real main event, with far more excitement generated by the welterweight battle between 24-year-old B.C. boy Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley.
There was a strange quasi-religious subtext to the fight given the two fighter's nicknames. MacDonald took the whole nom de guerre thing literally by choosing Ares, the Greek god of war, as his fighting name (and it has to be said it seems a missed opportunity not to go with the Bloc Party single Ares for his entrance music) while Woodley goes by the rather immodest Chosen One. Unlike another highly accomplished martial artist that people refer to as the Chosen One, Woodley didn't take an easy shortcut to master his skills.
Not that they were enough though. MacDonald dominated the fight throughout all three rounds through striking and seemed on the verge of a TKO as he repeatedly bashed the head of a subdued Woodley before the final bell rang. He instead won by unanimous decision, taking 30-27 scores across the board.
It's a bit of a Pyrrhic victory for MacDonald, who is the Great White North's de facto great white hope for a Canadian world champ now that GSP has gone AWOL. White had previously said the winner of the fight would be rewarded with a title shot against current champion Johnny Hendricks, but then decided that chance will instead go to the winner of a fight between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown July 26 in San Jose. Unless he changes his mind again.
Bader vs. Cavalcante
Most fighters enter the ring hoping to kick ass. Light heavyweight Ryan “Darth” Bader seemed just as happy to knee it.
Darth mauled Rafael Cavalcante like he was an overgrown padawan throughout the fight, including — much to the crowd's amusement — repeated knee strikes to the Brazilian's posterior while on the ground in the final round. Cavalcant's nickname is Feijão, the Portugese word for “bean,” and he spent so much time on the ground being pounded I half expected Bader — who won by unanimous decision — to pull out a Bodum and put a kettle on.
Arlovski vs. Schaub
The night's most controversial fight was between the main card's heavyweights after 35-year-old former champion Andrei Arlovski returned to the octagon for the first time in six years to face Brendan “Big Brown” Schaub. And it wasn't because the bear-like Belarusian was in clear violation of what seems to be some sort of UFC policy banning chest hair.
Arlovski won by split decision in a fight nobody, including the fighters themselves, agreed with.
“There has to be some sort of major change with these judges. I have no idea what they’re doing, but clearly they weren’t paying attention to the fight,” said Schaub afterward, despite having what appeared to be a broken jaw. “The most significant strikes he landed on me were the two headbutts. I don’t know what else to say.”
Arlovski, a dead ringer for Kryptonian tough guy Non from the Superman II movie, seemed to agree at a post-fight press conference that White skipped out on.
“Honestly, I still feel really horrible. Dana White is not here because he’s probably so pissed at me. He gave me a great opportunity. I didn’t like my fight tonight.”
It was probably the most unexpected win in Belarusian sports since their national hockey team beat Sweden at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Expect a rematch to be announced.
Jimmo vs. St. Preux
I'll admit I was rooting for light heavyweight fighter Ryan Jimmo — who is tied for the league's fastest knockout with seven seconds — in the main card's first fight of the night. We both hail from Saint John, New Brunswick, a city best known for being mistaken for St. John's, Newfoundland, and I was hoping to see a local boy make good on the world stage. Former Strikeforce standout Ovince St. Preux had other ideas though and broke Jimmo's right arm early in the second round to decisively put an end to things. But at least Saint John still has bragging rights for being the first incorporated city in Canada and the birthplace of Stompin' Tom Connors.