BROOMFIELD, Colo. – This time, for reasons that were never fully explained, Floyd Mayweather wasn’t ringside at Glory 16 on Saturday night. ("Appointments," somebody muttered, "he’s got other appointments."). Instead there was Chris Camozzi, who was cornering his brother Brian in the prelims, and Brandon Thatch, perhaps the greatest hypothetical someday champion in MMA right now. There was also Trevor Wittman, the coach who’s always smiling.
Wittman accompanied Pat Barry to the ring.
Barry was making his return to kickboxing after a compact six-year career in MMA -- nothing but a detour, really -- which included a dozen fights in the UFC’s heavyweight division. All week long the Louisiana native told people that kickboxing was his true first passion, and at 34 years old he was fortunate to have been reunited with it. Not that his MMA career had been a masquerade, you know, but he learned to wrestle in his late-20s out of something like necessity. The Glory ring, viable and spotlit by Spike, had become his savior; it ridded him of that necessary evil, and for that he was reborn.
The crowd that had gathered on the flat irons in Broomfield loved his entrance, too. It was actually a pretty cool thing to witness.
About five minutes later, though, Barry was lying stiff on his back sorting out the swirl of lights. Zack Mwekassa, a little known South African boxer, blasted Barry with a left uppercut that felled him like an old oak. The homecoming was over. If the knockout felt familiar, then so did the lesson: The fight game doesn’t go in for any one man’s poetry and romance. It remains a swift and merciless transaction, ceaselessly literal. That sort of chaos is ultimately what people love about it. It’s the idea that chaos won’t be mastered.
A few months back at Glory 12, Giorgio Petrosyan, a sort of Jordan-esque deity in the kickboxing world, was knocked out by Andy Ristie to the astonishment of everyone at Madison Square Garden. (Actually, Petrosyan was being touted as the Floyd Mayweather of kickboxing, and "Money" was ringside that night, watching this loose comparison scramble to get up). Ultimately, the thing we gamble with in the fight game is our certainty. That night, Petrosyan was just another example.
On Saturday night during the Glory prelims, Raymond Daniels downed Francois Ambang with what Duke Roufus described as a "two-touch spinning 360-back kick," but others call a "flying spin hook kick," and in any event played out like impossible choreography. That KO made viral rounds within an hour. In that case, Daniels grabbed the tempest by the tail, and for it he got the second loudest ovation, just behind Barry’s noble entrance.
And oh, Barry -- oh. That was particularly violent.
Not that it was a surprise. We didn’t know that much about the soft-spoken Mwekassa beforehand, and we’d seen Barry folded in such ways before, really not all that long ago -- he was knocked out in his last two UFC fights against Shawn Jordan and Soa Palelei. At this point, he might be a little too "chinny" for people to truly feel comfortable watching. Should Glory put together a bout between him and Mirko Cro Cop -- a rematch to UFC 115, when the bro-hugs and high fives got a little rampant -- it’ll be twilight of the idols affair (as in, more novelty than consequential). Whatever happy narratives we draw up beforehand will be blown up by the first liver that gets kicked through a rib cage.
That’s how this thing works.
And even after Barry had been knocked out by Mwekassa, Wittman could still be seen smiling, perhaps a different smile than before. By now Wittman’s smile has become its own fascination; he’s sort of the Mona Lisa of all cornerman. It’s a smile that’s not always joyful in the moment, it’s sometimes heartbreaking, but perceptibly ever-mindful of a big picture joy ride -- it’s as if he’s a bobber on the tide. Whatever it is, his smile feels perfect for prizefighting, where so many poetic narratives go to die and thus become a truly enduring form of poetry.