LAS VEGAS -- Bless you, arrogance. Way to go, disrespect. Thank you, hype. You guys set us up for some of the towering moments in sports and yet we always respond so ungratefully. We never give you any credit.
Well, here's some: Just now, you served as indispensable backdrop for a Las Vegas Saturday night no witness will forget. A giant entered the Mandalay Bay Events Center; a curious crowd craned necks to see the giant; the giant got going with his heavyweight bout in UFC 156 and then, 25 seconds into the third round, in the kind of stupefying jolt the eyes struggle to comprehend, the giant got his aura punctured.
He took blows to the head against the cage. He wilted. He began to dredge up a dose of something that felt like some distant cousin of sympathy. And as he crumpled toward a canvas where a rival would taunt him from above, he almost seemed to melt, as if he might leave behind only a witch hat. "When he punch, he's a lion, but when the guy punch him, he's a cat," his conqueror said in charmingly budding English.
You notched all of that, arrogance and disrespect and hype. Take a bow, you three. You took the buildup for a five-bout main card and you ladled it with anticipation for one man that overrode even the main event, the featherweight title match between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, two fighters who repeatedly showed respect for each other. We all respect respect, but sometimes when we're busy respecting respect we disrespect disrespect, ignoring its knack for setting up stories.
This one set up deliciously. Here came the mysterious and alluring Alistair Overeem, the 32-year-old Dutch heavyweight with the stunning muscles (even for this crowd). Seen only once before in UFC, he had spent two minutes and 26 seconds of December 2011 ransacking Brock Lesnar. Look at those muscles. He had 34 knockouts or submissions in 36 wins for a celestial finishing rate of 94.4 percent. Look at those muscles. In the late mixed-martial arts circuit Strikeforce, he had a significant striking accuracy of 57.3 percent, highest ever in the circuit.
Look at those muscles.
(Some claim he got those muscles from the shadow pharmacy, but he blamed his positive test for synthetic testosterone on a shadowy Texas doctor, which is not to be confused with, say, a shadowy Texas state legislator.)
Worse yet -- or, sorry, better yet -- Overeem lavished the run-up with arrogance and disrespect. He talked willingly and openly about prospective title bouts beyond this one, such as the envisioned colossus against title-holder Cain Velasquez. He freely used the verb "destroy" in reference to this opponent, 33-year-old Brazilian Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. As Silva put it, "He talk a lot of bulls--- and s---," meaning he had talked not only s--- in general, but also the s--- that comes from the bull, for an array of s---.
On a pre-fight video played in the arena just before his look-at-me entry, Overeem said, "I'm going to raise my hands afterward," while Silva would become just a "statistic."
So everyone yearned to see this specimen. Everyone stayed glued as he undressed -- look at those muscles! -- and entered the cage and made an arrogant little run around it. Then everyone sort of sat back as the first two rounds took on an unexpected tepidness even while most seasoned observers had Overeem ahead. Seasoned observers also noticed his cavalier treatment toward Silva, whose 17-4 record included knockout losses in two of his previous three bouts. For one thing, Overeem's casual proximity to Silva suggested disrespect for Silva's striking.
It all had inflated so beautifully then, hadn't it?
It all set up for Silva to notice Overeem's labored breathing: "All the time when he would use his ground game he's breathing a lot. He's tired. I can see he's tired. I can see the third round he's not coming back 100 percent and I can see I'm gonna go forward."
It had given Silva an underdog post he kept saying he relished -- "I like when the people do not believe in my job," he said charmingly -- and made him very, very mad, "so angry because he did not respect me, you know." He presumed that people presumed "I was in my home drinking soda and watching TV and eating popcorn but no, I train hard. I train Sunday, Saturday ... I give my blood for this fight."
Without you, arrogance and disrespect and hype, we might not have had the buildup that enabled the gasping frenzy of the crowd once the savage battering began, seconds into the third. We certainly would not have had the victor standing over the bully and screaming, "Hey, get up! I want to fight! Fight hard me! Get up!" We would not have had Silva proudly saying, "I show him he's gonna respect the other fighter" from now on.
And we would not have had Silva's recollection of what Overeem said to Silva in the cage just afterward: "'Hey, great fight. OK.'
"And that was it. 'OK.'"
Respect had its turns. After another tight, tough defeat, in a unanimous decision that drew some jingoistic jeers, Edgar still went all the way over to Aldo along the press-conference dais, to offer a handshake. And the welterweight Demian Maia spoke glowingly on video of opponent Jon Fitch as "the hardest guy to submit in the UFC." Yet every once in a while, it helps if arrogance and disrespect and hype also have a turn, backdropping the fine disbelief of a jolting moment and reminding us we'd be diminished without them.