After a bloody three-round war between Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone at UFC 141 that underscored the grit and guts of a long fight between two tenacious MMA fighters, Alistair Overeem stepped into the ring and used his vicious striking skills to limit Brock Lesnar’s comeback to a paltry 146 seconds.
Unable — or unwilling — to take Overeem and his dangerous stand-up game to the ground, Lesnar was treated to a series of punches, knees and a final and decisive shot to the liver. The former champion stumbled, teetered, fell — and Overeem pounced, fists flying, Lesnar on the canvas seeming helpless and already beaten, and then the fight being called in a technical knockout.
It was a quick and inglorious end to an attempted comeback that capped Lesnar’s up-and-down career. He rose to heavyweight champion only to be sidelined for more than a year after a battle with diverticulitis.
Humbled and beaten, he quickly announced after the fight Friday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that he was done.
"I’ve had a couple difficult years with my disease," Lesnar said. "And I’m going to officially say tonight is the last time you’ll see me in the Octagon. Brock Lesnar is officially retired. I promised my wife and my kids if I won this fight, I would get a title shot and that would be my last fight. But if I lost tonight …"
And that was it. With the loss, Lesnar fades from UFC hopeful to part of its history.
"When a guy decides he wants to retire, that’s his thing man," Dana White, the president of the UFC, said afterward. "This is the real deal. You don’t half-ass this stuff. When you know it’s over, it’s over."
And with the win, the man who ushered Lesnar out of the UFC for good now gets his own shot at the UFC heavyweight championship against Junior dos Santos.
"I just wanted to show the world that I was ready and coming," Overeem said.
The question entering the night was whether Overeem’s dynamic and powerful striking could send Lesnar out of the Octagon before Lesnar could get him to the ground. There was talk that Overeem had not faced heavyweights of Lesnar’s caliber, and that when he did he would find himself in for more than he bargained for.
But Lesnar tried to take Overeem to the ground only once, his one true advantage and shot, before backing off and ceding the fight to the feet. Overeem attributed the misstep to his own powerful early attacks — mostly knee shots that seemed to stun Lesnar and back him off.
"Usually, Brock’s a guy who comes straight forward, but he wasn’t doing that," he said. "Then I knew the knees bothered him."
So much so the question was answered quickly and without doubt. Overeem’s stand-up game was too much for Lesnar to handle. Another MMA great had been replaced by an up-and-comer.
"The funny thing was I predicted it the evening before to my fiancé," Overeem said. "I said, ‘First, I’m going to do this, then I’m going to do that, then I’m going to finish it with a liver kick.’ I don’t know if it’s luck or if it’s strategy, but it turned out that way and I’m happy it did."
He might have been one of the few who was happy with the way the fight went. The main event was short and unsatisfying, a two-minute letdown after so much buildup. It was, instead, the Diaz-Cerrone battle that underscored how good MMA can be — and how unpredictable it is when it comes to knowing which fight on a card will be the one worth watching.
The backstory and build-up were compelling enough on their own. In a sport inundated with fighters who make a habit of hugs, respect and kind words, Diaz was openly hostile to Cerrone, a fact he made abundantly clear when he knocked Cerrone’s hat off his head in a pre-fight press conference.
To say nothing of the middle-fingers that flew between rounds Friday.
"I’m there to fight," Diaz said.
Nate Diaz and his brother, UFC welterweight contender Nick Diaz, thrive on anger — it seems to seep from their very pores when a fight approaches and only intensifies once it’s underway. And in that spirit this fight thrived on anger as well. The two came out, refused to knock gloves, mean-mugged one another and then unleashed three rounds of bloody body shots, punches and leg sweeps.
It was a feast of violence, toughness, guts and stubborn resilience between two fighters who dished out and took massive beatings from one another.
Diaz landed shot after shot to Cerrone’s increasingly swelling face. Diaz bled, too, his eye a colorful canvas of red and blue and purple, but he most often found himself punished when Cerrone swept his legs out from underneath him. Both men hit the canvas repeatedly.
After the slugfest, the judges gave Diaz the win. But it was one of those fights in which both fighters really should have walked out of the Octagon able to hold their heads up — so much so that afterwards Diaz body-bumped Cerrone in a sign of respect and then offered him his hat.
"He said, ‘Sorry for knocking your hat off, here’s mine,’" Cerrone said. "He stood there and went toe-to-toe. There’s respect in that. You got to stand in there and look a guy in the eye and go, ‘(Gosh darn), you’re one tough son of a (gun).’"
It was a 180 that could only be born of such an incredible match, one propelled on hate and hard feelings that mimicked those school-yard fights from childhood in which the two fighters go from hate to respect somewhere between the first and last fists.
UFC 141 might have been mostly about Overeem beating Lesnar, but it was Diaz-Cerrone that gave fans their money’s worth.
Overeem got the title shot, but Cerrone and Diaz both fought like champions.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.