By Danny O’Neil, The Seattle Times (MCT)
SEATTLE — Some fighters bled. A few got booed, and one ended up in a hospital for observation.
Mostly, men brawled in front of a sold-out KeyArena as the country’s top mixed-martial arts promotion came to town, and no one fought better last Saturday than Benson Henderson, who is now the UFC’s lightweight champion.
Make that still the lightweight champion after beating Nate Diaz in a unanimous decision in the main event of a mixed-martial arts card broadcast nationally on FOX.
“I don’t talk,” Henderson said inside the cage after the victory. “It’s in here.”
It was nothing short of a dominating performance to the point that Diaz raised Henderson’s hand after the final airhorn sounded, ending the 11th and final bout on a card that included three knockouts, two former champions beaten by younger contenders and one sterling homecoming for Henderson.
Henderson won every round on every judge’s score card to claim the victory. Diaz appeared at the news conference with his right eye swollen shut. He used a towel to dab blood from his face, and said he took a punch early in the fight that affected his vision.
“It was blurry,” Diaz said. “I was screwed.”
B.J. Penn, one of the UFC’s most acclaimed fighters, lost a unanimous decision to Rory MacDonald in his attempt at a comeback. MacDonald is 10 years younger than Penn, who had not fought in 13 months. Penn was competitive in the first round, but took heavy abuse in the second and third, and was taken to the hospital for observation afterward.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a Brazilian who is a former light-heavyweight champion, was beaten by Alexander Gustafsson by a unanimous decision.
The attendance was announced at 14,412 with a total gate of $1,522,600, which showed the appeal of this sport and Seattle’s viability as a market. It was the second UFC card held in Seattle, and there was only one knockout in that first card, which was held in March 2011 at KeyArena.
The UFC is not some tough-man contest with beer-bellied amateurs fighting for meal money. These are conditioned pros trained in everything from wrestling to jiu-jitsu to boxing.
Daron Cruickshank knocked out his opponent with a kick to the head in the fourth preliminary bout. Scott Jorgensen submitted John Albert of Puyallup with a chokehold in the final second of the first round.
The crowd booed the bantamweight bout between Mike Easton and Raphael Assuncao when the action lagged and erupted in cheers when Yves Edwards knocked out Jeremy Stephens (no, not Jerramy Stevens) in the first round of their preliminary fight.
And as much as the crowd loves knockouts, fans can appreciate when a fighter works out of an armbar as Ramsey Nijem — who attended Jackson High School in Mill Creek — did against Joe Proctor in a preliminary bout.
It is a sport with its own lexicon, its own norms. A place in which pre-fight trash talk gives way to post-fight hugs of respect, and if you’re not much for watching two guys punch each other with extreme malice, then it’s not a sport for you.
But the sold-out KeyArena served as proof the sport has more than a foothold in Seattle — it has a fan base. One that began filing into KeyArena early in the afternoon. The first preliminary fight began at 12:30 p.m., and seven hours later, the crowd was on its feet screaming at the start of the final round as Henderson concluded the card with a convincing victory.