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Blue Skies Burn

Posted by mmaplayground Sunday, October 31, 2010 12:00 AM



Coming into UFC 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez a lot of people were questioning whether or not Lesnar could be stopped by anyone in the heavyweight division. Since his loss to Mir at UFC 81, he's been on a tear in the division; overwhelming people with sheer size and athleticism. Prior to Velasquez, the biggest test of his young career came against fellow monster heavyweight, Shane Carwin.

On paper Carwin was a dream match-up for someone of Lesnar's size. Both tip the scales at over 265 upon entering the octagon. Both have great collegiate wrestling backgrounds; including two national championships and 3 second place finishes between the two of them. Both have hands the size of those lunch-boxes you used to take to school as a kid. Yes, this was the sporting equivalent of two Mack trucks colliding at full speed for our view pleasure.

Leading into the match-up there were questions surrounding Lesnar's ability to survive a punch from Carwin who won by either KO/TKO in 6 of his last 7 fights. Carwin was viewed as the slower of the two behemoths, but definitely the fighter with better stand-up and knockout power. Brock got Shane down to start the fight, but then Shane got right back up and landed that shot everyone, including Lesnar, knew was coming. Brock immediately staggered back and hit the mat. The crowd began to roar as Carwin smelled blood and went in for the kill, throwing shot after countless shot. No such killshot ever came for Carwin and the round ended with Lesnar bloodied, but not broken. Carwin, on the other hand, looked exhausted, almost bewildered; after all, weren't those the very same shots and positioning that had gotten him a stoppage so many times before?

The second round seemed rather elementary to anyone who saw the hunger in Brock's eyes and the glaze in Carwin's. Brock immediately shot for a takedown and, without practically any resistance, got Carwin onto the mat. Then came something few saw happening. Most figured Lesnar would ground and pound his way to a stoppage over an almost lifeless Carwin, but Lesnar advanced his position and sank in an arm triangle on Carwin ending the fight. Yes, Lesnar had won by submission. Lesnar was showing that not only was he evolving as a mixed martial artist, but that what appeared to be his biggest threat, in terms of sheer size and match-up potiential, was not going to be enough to stop him from running roughshod through the heavyweight division. The athlete known as "The Next Big Thing" in the WWE, was now "The BIGGEST Thing" in the UFC.

Enter Cain Velasquez; a man who had wrestled men Lesnar's size in college, but had come out on the losing end. As a matter of fact, Velasquez lost a national championship match to Lesnar's training partner, Cole Konrad. Yet this match-up posed an interesting dichotomy; would the sheer size of Lesnar prove to be too much for Velasquez? vs. Would the speed and technical superiority of the younger Velasquez prove to be a chink in the armor of the champion?

Speed vs. Size, Technical Prowess vs. Raw Power; how many times has this match-up presented itself in the sporting world? USC vs. Texas, Mayweather vs. Mosley, Cardinals vs. Steelers; the list goes on and on. What were we going to see when these two athletes squared off in the octagon? The "experts" spoke; many fighters picked Velasquez because of his speed and technical striking, writers and contributors picked Lesnar because of his raw power and size, on this very forum most of my camp-mates picked Lesnar because of his size and athleticism. The debate waged on until Saturday night when the two men would finally answer the question Size and Power. vs. Speed and Skill.

As the two men met in the center of the octagon it looked, to me, like Velasquez was in a different much smaller weight class than Lesnar. Lesnar dwarfed him in size, muscularity, and height. The door slammed shut and one of these two men were going to make history. Lesnar was attempting to become the first man in the heavyweight division to successfully defend his title on three consecutive occasions. Velasquez had the opportunity to become the first ever Mexican heavyweight champion in ANY combat sport. What happened next was going to make history of some sort.

Lesnar immediately shot out with a flurry that included overhands and flying knees. He then secured a take-down on Velasquez who used his knowledge of jiu-jitsu to land back on his feet only to be pressed against the cage by Lesnar. Lesnar scored one more quick take-down from which Velasquez popped right back up and what happened next answered the question of the night. Velasquez immediately exploded with series of take-downs technical striking on the champion sending him staggering across the octagon. He finally dropped the champ alongside the cage and used timely shots and vicious ground and pound until Herb Dean called a stop to the bout at 4:12 of round number 1 to become the new UFC heavyweight champion and first ever Mexican heavyweight fighter in combat sports history.

Velasquez reminded of us of a valuable lesson that sometimes gets lost in the sporting world; Sometimes size does not matter. How many times do we forget that as fans of the sporting world? Royce Gracie, a pioneer of this very sport, made a living off of proving that size does not matter. The Boise St. Bronco's proved this when they took down the mighty Oklahoma Soooners in the the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamond backs proved this when they beat god-like New York Yankees in the World Series in 2003 and 2001 respectively. Size and intimidation through size are no match for fundamentals and a well-rounded skill-set.

Often times as fans we get caught up in the hoopla surrounding a team. We, as fans, experts, and analysts jump on and off hype-trains with such regularity that it would make the hobos of the Great Depression era jealous. We become consumed with the aura and magnitude of the event and few, if any, truly sit down and account for things such as heart, determination, grit, and fundamentals. I'm not suggesting this never happens, it's easier for us to breakdown team sports because most of us are only biased toward one or two teams per league. Combat sports is a different animal because social convention does not dictate that you can only root for one fighter per division. No, we enjoy many fighters in many different divisions.

Velasquez never seemed to get lost in the moment. He remained calmed throughout this entire process and maintained his composure when the biggest athlete the UFC had ever seen came charging at him like a bull in the arena. Velasquez never got lost in the amount of pressure to become the first ever Mexican HW champion in combat sports. Lastly, Velasquez never got lost in the amount of national attention this fight received.

Yes, everything about this fight was huge. Velasquez's opponent, the event itself, and the amount of passion invested by the Mexican community in this event. Velasquez, however, never saw it. He focused on what he needed to do. He focused on his game, his skills, his cardio, his striking, and his will to succeed. Velasquez proved last night, once again, that in the world of sports, size doesn't always matter.

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