Have you ever witnessed something great and special, but with an ending that was even better?
Off the top of my head, I can count six times I’ve had this feeling. In music, it was Tupac’s Hit em up, where the expletive-ridden outro elevated the song from great diss track to all-time memorable art. Kanye’s 2010 Blame game, off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, has the same effect: the song is great, but the Chris Rock skit at the end puts it into the upper echelon of music-comedy genius. In movies, it’s The Sixth Sense: the movie on its own is a classic, but the twist at the end makes it an all-time great. In television, Breaking Bad had a very memorable five-year run that ended with one of the greatest episodes ever written.
In combat sports, two fights sit atop my memory of great fights with greater endings. The first one is 1990’s Julio Cesar Chavez’s Hail Mary knockout of Meldrick Taylor in the waning seconds of the twelfth round (justified stoppage, don’t @ me). The second is 2005’s Griffin vs. Bonnar I, where the two battled for the full fifteen minutes before Griffin was selected the winner by judges. The great and unexpected part was when Dana White eagerly announced that both fighters had earned a six-figure UFC contract instead of just one of them.
Every hundredth blue moon or so, the planets align, the temperature is at its optimum, the setting is primed and we fans are treated to what can only be described as the essence of a sport. In this instance, we saw the essence of MMA, the soul of mixed martial arts. Saturday’s fight between Chan Sung “Korean Zombie” Jung and Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez was a war of attrition. Minute after minute, round by devastating round, these two men showed the world their heart. Every punch was answered with an equally destructive counterpunch, every crashing kick answered with a thudding one. These two put on a fight of the year through the first 24 minutes and 55 seconds, and then the earth stopped for a second.
To get the full understanding of this fight, you have to understand the mindset of both of these fighters. Chan Sung Jung’s Korean Zombie moniker was earned through several fights that showcased his style of walking through an opponent’s best offense to earn a victory. He is a fan favorite who does not shy away from a fight.
In Yair Rodriguez’ recent MMA career, he has entertained fans with dynamic striking and two electrifying finishes. Before his recent loss to Frankie Edgar, his fighting heart would not have been questioned. He always came forward and looked for a finish.
This was supposed to be a good fight on paper: two action fighters who love to strike, one coming off a bad loss and one coming off an injury. What we were treated to far outweighed the pre-fight hype.
After four rounds, the Korean Zombie was ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards by two rounds. Jung controlled the fight, for the most part, stalking forward, delivering overhand rights and leg kicks. Not to be outdone, Rodriguez used his length and counterstriking to keep Jung on the outside of his comfort zone. Both men dealt damage over the four frames. The fight was tight, but Jung was probably edging out a win. The fifth round would be crucial to both sides.
The fifth round was copy and paste of the first four, except that it was interspersed with hugs, handshakes, and nods to the other’s willingness to throw caution to the wind. It looked like, at worst, a split decision for one of them and at best a draw. A draw would have been a cruel joke from the MMA gods: five rounds of beating each other senseless, only to come away without a win or a loss.
The time judge signaled to the entire arena that there were 10 seconds left in the war by clapping two wood blocks together. The men looked at each other, knowing that the only recourse was to fight until the bell.
Jung and Rodriguez could have eased up, like 95% of the fighters would do, their work already done. Instead, both men came forward. Both men threw with reckless abandon, trying to get a knockout finish to leave the judges out of the equation. The ten seconds of engagement looked like the rest of the fight until you blinked and saw Chan Sung Jung face down on the mat in a heap.
The ref called the fight with only one second remaining. The producers scrambled to get a replay up so everyone could see the masterstroke. In the interim, one announcer alluded to a potential head-butt, but this was wrong. Upon the replay, you could see a master at work. In this split second, Jung crashed forward, swinging a left and loading up a right. Rodriguez bent forward at the waist to avoid the blows; at the same time, he swung his right elbow up and behind his body. The elbow, perfectly placed, melted the Korean Zombie to the floor, putting his lights out and defining this war with a clear winner and loser.
Make no mistake; there is no shame in losing like Jung did. He had a decision in the bag. Maybe he didn’t know that, but even if he did, the fight would have ended the same way. He does not know any other way to fight. Rodriguez painted his Mona Lisa on Saturday. He will forever be remembered for this fight, just like Griffin, Bonnar, Chavez and Taylor were remembered for theirs. Don’t get me wrong, he will have more fights and more highlight reel knockouts, but none will get within arm’s length of November 10th, 2018.
After the fight, the two shared a picture of both of them in the hospital shaking hands, Jung there for concussion tests and Rodriguez there for a broken foot he suffered in the first round. If you look closely, you can see MMA’s beautiful soul.