Up until this past Saturday night I truly believed that the greatest fight card of all time took place on February 24th, 2007 at the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas, it was PRIDE 33: The Second Coming. Featuring an all-star cast that included Joachim Hansen, Travis Wiuff, Sergei Kharitonov and the birth of Sokoudjou while hosting wars like; Frank Trigg vs. Kazuo Misaki, Hayato Sakurai vs. Mac Danzig, Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi and of course two fights that have been remembered as two of the best of all time as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua clashed with “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem and the main event for the PRIDE Middleweight Championship “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva vs. Dan “Hollywood” Henderson. With a stacked card like that it was not hard to see why PRIDE 33 had been remembered as being at the top of the heap for the greatest fight card of all time, every fight on the card delivered and the fans were rabid from the opening ceremony to the final bell.
However Saturday night, November 19th, 2011 may be remembered as hosting the greatest mixed martial arts card of all time as the UFC hosted UFC 139: Henderson vs. Shogun from the HP Pavilion in San Jose. A loaded event that featured Gleison Tibau, Miguel Torres, Matt Brown, Tom Lawlor and Ryan Bader all on the undercard gave way to five wars on the main card. The PPV portion of the night began in the light-heavyweight division and it was quickly realized that this was going to be no ordinary night in the Octagon as the always-entertaining Stephan Bonnar and highly touted prospect Kyle Kingsbury were on a mission to entertain the California crowd. Despite Kingsbury bringing a lot of talent and promise to the fight, on this night it was the veteran Bonnar who would simply overwhelm his younger competitor as he dictated the pace both on the feet and on the ground to take home the unanimous decision victory and put three wins in a row together for the first time since 2006.
From there the action would step up a notch as “The Hitman” Martin Kampmann and Rick “The Horror” Story each brought their own unique skillset to a welterweight war. It was precision versus power, skill versus strength as Story wanted to bully Kampmann and turn it into a brawl and for the first 5 minutes it looked like Story might do just that. Something clicked for Kampmann between rounds however and in the 2nd Kampmann looked like a different fighter. Using his pinpoint precise striking he began to batter Story, who found his attempts to turn the fight back into the brawl it was early erased by Kampmann’s impressive speed and use of angles to land repeatedly. The 3rd round was no different as once again Kampmann was able to control Story’s attempts to make the fight a brawl and use his precise striking to win himself another round. In what was a great striking display, “The Hitman” Martin Kampmann would walk away with a unanimous decision victory.
Next up was the fight for #1 contendership to Dominick Cruz’s UFC Bantamweight Championship as former bantamweight kingpin Brian Bowles took on former WEC Featherweight Champion “The California Kid” Urijah Faber. Bowles was the man who lost the belt to Cruz and was looking for his first chance at revenge meanwhile Faber and Cruz have a well-documented history and currently stand at 1-1 against one another, so for Faber it was a 2nd chance at the bantamweight title and a chance to take a rubber match from Cruz. From the outset of the fight Faber, perhaps, looked better then he ever has, using angles and his famous unorthodox striking to keep the powerful Bowles off balance, never allowing him to utilize his powerful right hand and even putting Bowles to the mat with an impressive and devastating slam that really put a stamp on round 1 for Faber. When the second round started little changed, Faber was back on the offensive and with a barrage of strikes. With Bowles on his heels Faber landed a devastating uppercut that dropped him into the cage and followed it up by overwhelming Bowles with strikes against the cage. With Bowles hanging on and defending on pride alone, Faber transitioned into the Alpha Male specialty, the guillotine choke, with Bowles on the verge of passing out he would tap, giving “The California Kid” the win and guaranteeing the rubber match against Dominick Cruz.
The second fight of the triple main event featured PRIDE 33 holdover “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva taking on San Shou World Champion and former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le in a bout of devastating middleweight strikers. From the opening bell Wanderlei took the initiative, coming forward with his looping hooks and frightening Muay-Thai clinch game and even managed to rock Cung Le. However Cung would turn the round in his favor, standing at range and repeatedly landing the devastating kicks he has become so well known for while mixing in solid boxing skills and even throwing some flashy techniques like repeated spinning back fists. At the break however Cung looked as if he had worn himself down and Wanderlei stormed the gates in the second round, still dangerous Cung Le landed some solid strikes but the “classic Axe Murderer” was in tune in round 2. The hooks were timed to perfection and from the clinch Wanderlei would batter Cung with devastating knees before finally dropping Cung and finishing the fight with a barrage of uppercuts and hammer fists.
The main event of the evening however was the highlight of the night, despite every fight coming before being ultimately entertaining they just couldn’t compare to the 5 round war that would ensue when PRIDE 33 holdovers Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Dan “Hendo” Henderson went to war. The fight started with Henderson controlling the pace and using a variety of strikes, including stinging inside leg kicks and clinch knees that showed that despite being 41 years old Henderson is still learning new tricks. Despite the new additions to his repertoire however when push came to shove it was still the cannon ball of a right hand that Henderson possesses that did the most damage, dropping Rua on several occasions throughout the first three rounds. Despite suffering an incredible amount of damage, Rua would not quit and every time he was dropped by Henderson he would find a way to get back to his feet and continue to push Henderson to the brink. Dan Henderson was in complete control going into round 4 but Shogun would show his warriors heart. As Henderson started to tire, Shogun would rock Henderson worse then he had ever been to this point in his career but Henderson refused to fall. Shogun would eventually take Henderson off his feet and gain mount, only to be reversed and find Henderson in his guard as time expired in round 4. Round 5 was a completely different story from the rest of the fight as Shogun controlled the entire 5 minutes, keeping Henderson on his back and controlling from mount for most of the round, but with both warriors exhausted Shogun just didn’t have the ability to finish the fight. When the fight turned to the judges scorecards it was the damage that Henderson was able to do in the first three rounds that made the difference as he would take a 48-47 victory in what may be the greatest fight of all time on the greatest fight card of all time.