July has been an incredible journey for combat sports. Four MMA and boxing events took place this month that perfectly illustrated the nuanced beauty of the prizefight and the rich tapestry of emotions that can be found in the fight game.
The parrallels and paradoxses of the industry’s characters were at play. Young stars and champions were made, but also, a few old samurai showed that they have matured, not aged. Their time is not over yet.
In a dramatic occasion at the Olimpiyskiy Sports Center, Oleksandr Usyk unified the cruiserweight division. Usyk walked into Moscow with zero fame despite being one of the best in the world. He walked out with global acclaim.
Beating Gassiev secured Usyk every belt in the cruiserweight division; The Muhammad Ali Trophy and a strong position in the pound-for-pound rankings.
However, it also gave the Ukrainian something far more valuable, the praise he deserves. Tony Bellew has named Usyk as his next and likely final opponent. The mainstream audience have taken note of Usyk’s undeniable, clinical masterclass. He is finally in the spotlight.
Fast forward to Saturday the 28th, more stars are born on the battlefield. Mikey Garcia out-manoeuvres Robert Easter in a lightweight title bout. Garcia added a shiny new trinket to his trophy cabinet in the shape of the IBF belt.
The unified champion is eyeing a move up to welterweight to take on Errol Spence Jr. If Garcia does move up two divisions for a clash with Spence, his profile would rise massively.
However, it was the UFC Fight Night Calgary and the Whyte/Parker card that captured those parallels and dualities. Saturday night displayed the full range of depth in combat sports and its paradoxical nature.
Careers can come to a bloody and unceremonious end. But sometimes, a battle-scarred old campaigner can re-capture that old glory for one more fleeting moment in the sun. New stars emerge while members of the old guard defend their territory.
Dereck Chisora is a veteran of the game, many believed him to be in the twilight period of his career but on Saturday, he triumphed over father time. He showed that he is still a heavyweight contender when he knocked out Carlos Takam in round eight.
Despite only being 26, David Allen was in a similar situation to Chisora going into Saturday’s card. Allen has had a streak of bad luck of late, he was having thoughts of retirement. He totally turned the situation around. Allen picked up the knockout win over Nick Webb in round four. That was an emotional moment for a guy that has struggled inside and outside of the ring.
Jose Aldo is a veteran of MMA. He was once the most dominant featherweight champion in history but he has not beaten a fresh contender since before he lost the title to McGregor in 2015. Many people no doubt counted him out of his bout against Jeremy Stephens at UFC Calgary. With a stoppage via bodyshots, Aldo proved there is life in the old dog yet.
Dillian Whyte continued his journey to a world title shot with a career defining win over Joseph Parker. The fight was an absolute slugfest with both fighters hitting the floor over the course of twelve rounds.
The aforementioned paradoxes of the hurt business were certainly at play here. Parker lost the decision but he achieved a moral victory. Parker came to fight in spite of doubts about his heart. He made the critics choke on their cries that he is ‘gun shy’ and not the Polynesian warrior he purports to be.
As fans we hope for clashes like that but there is an element of fear for the combatants. There is a huge toll taken on the body of a heavyweight. Those two 250 pounders put on a show but they no doubt left a part of themselves in there. Shades of Gatti/Ward.
Saturday brought some very emotional moments, the kind that make you all misty eyed while the Gladiator music plays in your mind. I actually wrote my dissertation on combat sports but the events of this month made me even more of a fan.