That’s why they call them the championship rounds.
It’s not simply a matter of matchmaking protocol, which in mixed martial arts calls for three five-minute rounds unless there’s a title belt on the line, in which case we get to watch 10 more minutes of scrapping. The mere existence of those extra two rounds is not what the distinguished designation is all about. It’s what you do in them that makes you a champion. Or not.
John Dodson looked like a world beater for three rounds on Saturday night, which under what he’s come to regard as normal circumstances — he hadn’t fought five rounds in a over three years, and never in the UFC — would have been enough for him to get his hand raised. He avoided the great majority of the takedown attempts of a top-drawer wrestler, and even when his back did hit the canvas, he popped right back to his feet. He landed the harder punches, three of which scored knockdowns and turned the fight his way.
But Demetrious Johnson was just getting started. He’d been in the octagon for the full 25 minutes in two of his last four fights, including last September’s win that made him the promotion’s first flyweight champion. He knew there still was work to be done, and in the fourth and fifth rounds he did what was needed and more, earning a unanimous-decision victory in the main event of UFC on Fox 6 at the United Center in Chicago.
“It was a great fight,” said Johnson (17-2-1), whose only loss in his last nine bouts was to bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. “I’m very happy the fans liked it.”
Oh, yeah, the crowd of 16,091 did cheer a good bit, which is a change for the flyweight division. The whirlwind activity of the 125-pounders hadn’t received much love from cageside in either the inaugural title bout last fall or the No. 1 contender eliminator a month later that set up this fight. This time there was good noise in the building. The champ should know, however, that it was the challenger, not him, who set things off. Dodson’s two knockdowns less than half a minute apart in the second round really got the crowd’s attention … and Johnson’s.
“I got dazed a little bit, but I’m in great shape,” said the champ. “It’s going to happen. It’s like going swimming. You’re going to get splashed.”
Johnson endured and, to extend his metaphor, took Dodson (14-6) into deep waters, where he nearly drowned him. The churning whitewater pace of “Mighty Mouse” was a constant from start to finish, but it was in the fourth round that he finally caught up to the challenger, tying him up against the cage for the last minute and a half and landing a succession of knees that drew blood and drained spirit. The fifth round was more of the same … only more so. Johnson landed 50 significant strikes to just nine for Dodson, who even while surviving the final five minutes looked like a beaten man.
He was just that once the scorecards were read, but not by much. All three judges gave the nod to Johnson, but two scored the bout 48-47, handing the first two rounds to Dodson. Had the tight third round been scored the other way, we’d have a new champion. Or if Johnson had had a point deducted for a foul — he was reprimanded by referee John McCarthy (who never looked more “Big” than while in with this 5-foot-3 pair) for a kick to the groin in the third round and a knee to the head while Dodson was a grounded fighter in the fourth — we’d have had a draw.
But we didn’t, and Dodson accepted it. “I don’t think I won,” said the Season 14 winner of The Ultimate Fighter, who was attempting to become the fourth alum of the reality show to capture a UFC belt. “Some people have said that, but I don’t think so. I think it was close, and there was one round in it, so it was close. Just one round in it, but you got to win those one rounds.”
Especially the ones that come after you’ve already finished doing everything you’re used to doing.
Notes from the undercard
Exit Ramp: Quinton Jackson has said he doesn’t want to fight in the UFC anymore, and on Saturday night he showed why that’s for the best.
No, he didn’t unleash his misogynistic tendencies in an interview. It was his performance inside the cage that made him look like a caveman this time.
Jackson lost a lopsided unanimous decision to Glover Teixeira in a fight that demonstrated how limited the 34-year-old has become as a fighter. The man who once was rightfully called “Rampage” was one-dimensional and often passive, getting picked apart in the standup and taken down at will by the hot Brazilian, who’s won his last 18 fights.
“I really wanted to win that fight,” Jackson (32-11) said afterward. “I kinda wish I fought smart and didn’t get hit so much, but I always said I would rather lose a good fight than win a boring-ass one, and the fans are telling me that was an exciting fight. So I guess I’m sad but not so sad.”
There was some excitement, sure, but much of it was centered on the question of whether Teixeira would finish the former light heavyweight champion. Jackson hung tough, but his offense basically amounted to flinging the occasional big left hook in hope of scoring another in a career full of highlight-reel knockouts. But just as those highlights are in the deep past, so is Jackson’s game.
Of course, Quinton doesn’t see things that way. “I fought like Rampage tonight,” he said. “I tried to knock him out with every punch. Wasn’t so smart, but if it was fun for the fans, I will take that and be OK with that.”
That’s one thing you cannot take away from Quinton Jackson: Even to his final breath in the octagon, he tried to make the fans happy. Some surely will miss him. But not the forward-thinking UFC, which has evolved while Jackson has not.
As for Teixeira (20-2), the trajectory continues to point skyward. He said afterward that he got a backstage visit from champion Jon Jones, who told him, “Great fight. You and me will have a great fight.” But the 33-year-old isn’t getting ahead of himself. He won’t start thinking about championship fights until he’s finished dwelling on this victory over a legend of the sport. “After all those years I couldn’t fight the big names because of my visa issues, it is great to fight the biggest names in the sport,” he said. “I want to be UFC champion, but there are other guys there who are at the same level as me. I want to fight them and prove I deserve a title shot.”
Showtime’s time: Anthony Pettis has been here before. After he won the final fight in the WEC to retire the promotion’s lightweight belt, he was promised a shot at the UFC’s strap. But then Frankie Edgar and his challenger, Gray Maynard, fought to a draw, a rematch was scheduled and when the dust settled, Pettis was a forgotten man.
He’s making himself noticed again, though. “Showtime” dropped Donald Cerrone with a body kick that ended their fight after just 2:35, earning him his second straight Knockout of the Night bonus. And something else. Afterward, UFC president Dana White said Pettis will finally get his shot at the belt, taking on the winner of the April 20 bout between champion Benson Henderson, whom Pettis beat in that WEC finale, and Strikeforce belt holder Gilbert Melendez.
Of course, if Pettis holds off on popping open the champagne bottle, no one would blame him.