Almost everyone loves a good comeback story. And almost every comeback story becomes the whole story. It is a strange thing when the narrative of a fight or fights can be extremely one-sided for a lengthy duration — only to have that entire narrative shifted on its axis by a last-minute buzzer-beating move in another direction.
This is all the more true when the stakes are high. Recent MMA fights like Michael Chiesa’s near win over a too-game Vicente Luque come to mind.
A mega example of this came in the first bout between Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva at UFC 117 in 2010. Yes, it was a long time ago, but the diehards remember it like it was yesterday.
The lead-up to the match was the dawning of the trash-talk era in MMA. Folks give Chael Sonnen a lot of credit for starting it, but really he just saw its usefulness in boxing and pro wrestling and copped it to great effect. Looking back now, it was not even that great — especially when compared to possibly the narrative-writing GOAT: Conor McGregor.
That said, there is little question that Sonnen made promises that no one expected him to keep once the cage door closed. But then the craziest thing happened. It went just as he predicted. Without a doubt, the bad guy was on his way to infamy in what might have been — the operative word being “might” —considered the greatest upset in MMA history. It’s rivaled only by Matt Serra shocking the world (and himself?) by taking Georges St-Pierre’s belt at UFC 69.
But then, at the buzzer (minute 23 of a 25-minute fight), Anderson Silva attempted a triangle that seemed like a Hail Mary pass in football or a full-court launch in basketball — and it worked. Chael Sonnen tapped.
The thesis here is that these plot twists in fighting can have varying effects. For example, in this case, almost nobody talked about how great Anderson Silva was at the ground game in MMA. There was nothing about his skill or poise or anything— just a strange sigh of relief that his legend stayed intact.
The other side of that coin was similarly strange. No voices clamored about the brilliance of Chael Sonnen in dominating that match 92.4 percent of the time. The entire story was that it was lost/won in shocking fashion, as it were, at the buzzer. The story was the shock and twist, not the result.
In recent days, there was another barn burner of a fight between Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz. What’s that, you say? That match was not even close, and Edwards dominated nearly every second? Yes, this is true. But to hear Diaz tell it — and somehow the rabid 209-infatuated fan base — it was close and almost a victory for the younger Diaz brother.
He said in the way only a Diaz can say it, “In the real world, that fight’s a wrap.” It is amazing that Nate Diaz actually lost the bout and it would appear to most who tell the story that he almost did not. Comparing it to Anderson Silva/Chael Sonnen makes this very odd. Silva had that moment, like Diaz, but won, yet little is said of that win as a win. So a final shot at the buzzer misses for Diaz and he’s a hero, but it sinks for Silva and we just move on about our business.
One thing remains constant, though. Unless you are one of the pedestaled fan-favorites like Conor McGregor or GSP, close calls and plot twists will not turn you into the stuff of legend and lore. Sonnen is still known for his gift of gab, not for his following through on putting his forehead in Anderson Silva’s chest and dominating him. Leon Edwards did not gain any of the Diaz army of fans by dominating even more of the fight than Sonnen did.
If you are the right fighter, a surprising turn of events can propel you into the stratosphere. And as it was in Nate Diaz’s case, you don’t even need a win for that to happen. MMA is littered with these flashes of brilliance, and many come at the ends of fights.
One honorable mention would include Miesha Tate’s rear-naked choke of Holly Holm to steal the belt at UFC 196. It was very much one of those jump-out-of-your-seat moments with just over a minute to spare.
While the twist is usually the story, it wouldn’t hurt for fans to appreciate the tenacity that goes for that shot at the buzzer.
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