Whether you favor boxing or mixed martial arts or enjoy them equally like myself, here’s one thing we can agree on: there’s nothing like a fierce battle between two evenly-matched competitors who love to slug it out. All fight fans appreciate the grueling brutality of legendary wars such as Ali vs Frazier, or Muhammad vs Lopez, or Hunt vs Silva and Henderson vs Rua. This love for back-and-forth violence, the thrill of watching a fierce toe-to-toe struggle, is likely the single thing which unites hardcore boxing fans and MMA aficionados.
I was fortunate enough to attend such a contest Saturday night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. UFC 206 was initially a much-maligned card due to its lack of star power, notably the absence of Georges St-Pierre. Fortunately, all that was supposedly wrong with this card was quickly forgotten thanks to the 15 minutes of fury displayed by the American veteran, Cub Swanson, and the Korean Superboy, Doo Ho Choi.
I am not someone that gets caught up in hyperbole, and I find that the word “greatest” gets thrown around far too often in combat sports. But as I watched the violence of Choi vs Swanson unfold, I couldn’t help saying to myself that this was the greatest fight I’d ever seen and I’ve seen more than my share. Fight of the Year for 2016 is a no-brainer. In fact, this war needs a higher pedestal. It should be included in the pantheon of greatest mixed martial arts fights ever contested. And that’s saying a lot given the tremendous battles that have taken place in the sport’s short history.
After a relatively calm and controlled first round, all hell broke loose in the second. At one point, Swanson hurt Choi with a winging punch that sent him reeling. Swanson pounced in a bid to finish the fight but his recklessness made him vulnerable to Choi’s precision return fire as the South Korean landed a counter right that stunned Swanson. It was now Choi’s turn to flurry and he landed a fusillade of unanswered punches while Swanson covered up against the fence.
From that point on, the two warriors took turns teeing off on one another, exchanging power punches at an alarming rate. What made this fight so incredible was that neither man was willing to concede an inch or let his opponent get the upper hand. Instead, every landed punch resulted in an immediate response, much to the delight of the crowd. And the thing is, the fight could have been stopped at numerous points because both men were hurt on multiple occasions. Somehow, someway, they both managed to show enough wherewithal to answer back or tie up just enough to convince the ref to let it continue.
As the fight was happening, I took turns between standing up and clapping, and putting my hands on my head in disbelief. Even as they showed visible signs of exhaustion, Choi and Swanson continued to exchange and land strikes, almost as if their limbs were operating on autopilot, their muscle memory having been so strongly ingrained into their subconscious. The crowd rightfully stood up on its feet and roared in approval, showing appreciation for the amazing courage and will-to-win on display.
In the waning seconds of the contest, Swanson seized the initiative and secured a dominant top position, landing ground-and-pound as Choi desperately clung on to survive. Incredibly, they both made it to the final bell, an astonishing feat in itself given the unreal pace of the battle and the amount of punishment dished out. When Bruce Buffer announced the victor, it was Swanson who was awarded the decision, showing he is far from a stepping stone gatekeeper for promising featherweights to feast on.
But in truth, this was a fight without a loser. As I watched this dramatic and unforgettable donnybrook, one of the reasons I didn’t want it to end was because of the fact that one of these noble warriors would have to suffer defeat. Even as I watched the two gladiators continue to battle and absorb inhuman amounts of damage, it pained me to think that, despite having showed inordinate amounts of courage and heart, the end result was someone’s record would have to register a loss. When the final bell sounded, I was relieved to know that at least both men had survived and gone the distance.
Both Swanson and Choi gave fight fans an inspiring and unforgettable war and showed astonishing ability to absorb damage and the strength and guts to keep fighting in the face of adversity. This fight is exhibit A of what makes combat sports so special, the violence which forces its combatants to not just overcome exhaustion but also withstand physical damage and pain. These two warriors put on a battle that should go down as one of the best ever distance fights inside the famed Octagon. They pushed each other to the brink of their human capacities and neither showed even the slightest sign of giving up. When two men go to battle like they did, both their names and legacies are enhanced forever. This was one fight which will never be forgotten by those lucky enough to have witnessed it. — Jamie Rebner