By Dan Walk
1 Every once in a while there’s that special trip or event that you know will be unforgettable. For three friends and me this past week, that trip was to Las Vegas and the event that it centered around was Saturday’s UFC 160. It was the first live UFC event for three of us — and its stacked card lived up to its exciting billing. If there’s anything that I took from the fights, it’s that there really is no comparison to watching them in person.
2 My friends and I sure did pick a perfect card — all 12 fights were either competitive or had an exciting finish. Considering I’ve watched nearly every UFC card for a few years now, I’ve seen my fair share of dud matches. I’ve even seen terrible cards that make me glad I didn’t have to pay for a seat. UFC 160 was quite the opposite. The first bout had to rank in the top 5 or 10 as far as bloodiest in UFC history, while Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt had the feel of a fight of the year candidate.
3 Witnessing such a fantastic card in person is definitely something I could get used to. The stakes seemed so much higher, and it definitely helped that one match was for the heavyweight championship and two others were title eliminators. The thing that’s different — and better — about the UFC than other sports is that every card feels like the Super Bowl. There is no “regular season” in the UFC. Many competitors are fighting with their UFC careers on the line, while the elite are defending or working toward titles and the fame and fortune that comes with being one of eight UFC champions.
4 The final two fights featured the two best heavyweights in the world — currently the baddest men on the planet. And both lived up to their high billing — Cain Velasquez easily won in 81 seconds and Junior dos Santos controlled more than two rounds before an unexpected spinning head kick finished his opponent. The pair are way ahead of the rest of the weight class, and it isn’t even close. The next best heavyweight is Daniel Cormier (we’ll get to him later), and he’ll be dropping to 205 pounds within the next year.
5 It’s no surprise that Velasquez vs. dos Santos III is in the works already. It’s a match that every fight fan wants to see. Dos Santos used a vicious right hand to beat Velasquez in 64 seconds during their first fight, while Velasquez caught dos Santos early and outclassed him during the rematch with a unanimous decision. Now, in the trilogy fight, it’s a question of whose performance during the first two bouts means more. Can dos Santos finish Velasquez with his one-punch (or kick) power? Or does Velasquez have a more complete game that will once again leave dos Santos scrambling and looking for answers? We’ll find out at the end of the year.
6 The one thing that was a bit surprising to me was the lack of a crowd for most of UFC 160’s undercard. I know the most high-profile fighters compete during the final five pay per view bouts, but if you’re going to shell out hundreds of dollars, why not take advantage of all 12 fights? The arena was half full (or less) for the first seven bouts. What’s worse, the fans who did show up early booed many takedowns and grappling phases of the fights. Every match can’t be a standup war — fight fans need to realize that grappling is a major part of the sport.
7 My friends and I did have a few “starstruck fanboy” moments earlier in the week. We ran into Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov (a highly talented lightweight who improved to 20-0 with a record-breaking performance on Saturday) and former Edinboro University wrestler Shawn Bunch. The trio trains at American Kickboxing Academy — that’s the same club former EUP wrestler Josh Koscheck used to fight out of too. Cormier joked that I had a great first name, while Bunch said his second Bellator fight is in July. We also were seconds away from talking with Junior dos Santos, but he made it on an elevator at the MGM Grand before we caught up to him.
8 Possibly the most impressive fighter on Saturday was lightweight T.J. Grant, who earned a title shot by knocking out one-time contender Gray Maynard in just 2:07. Grant’s performance was noticed by Mike Tyson, who was front and center during Friday’s weigh-ins and Saturday’s fights. When UFC figurehead Dana White was going to give dos Santos the $50,000 Knockout of the Night bonus, Tyson vetoed the decision, saying Grant earned it more. So White gave the $50K to Grant, who’s expected to face champion Benson Henderson in August. No contender has been more of an under the radar success than Grant, who many fight fans couldn’t have known about this time last year. That said, Grant has won five straight, including the final two in the first round. Henderson won’t be taking him lightly.
9 Sunday’s Game 3 should be all the proof we need that the Heat aren’t going to be denied a third straight NBA finals trip. Two poor passes late in Game 2 by LeBron James helped Indiana churn out a victory. In Game 3, Miami came back with one of its best games, scoring 70 first-half points against a really good Indiana defense. Unless they make mistakes similar to Game 2, Miami won’t lose more than one more game in this series.
10 The NBA needs to change its late-game review policy. During the final two minutes of regulation and all of overtime, the referees can consult a video replay on out of bounds plays. Meanwhile, this not only saps one of the team’s late-game momentum, but it also provides both teams with a free timeout. I know they want to get late-game calls correct, but spending that much time is damaging to the flow of the game.
The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.