In their wildest fantasies, the people who created the first Ultimate Fighting Championship couldn’t have imagined what would go down 25 years to the weekend later.
UFC Denver, the company’s 25th anniversary event in the same city as UFC 1 in 1993, was headlined by a bout between Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez and South Korea’s Chan Sung Jung that was everything you could have imagined the sport evolving into, a high-level battle of skill and will.
But that in and of itself was before one of the craziest finishes ever seen in the history of mixed martial arts. After battling for nearly 25 bloody and bruising minutes in the featherweight main event at Pepsi Center, the duo engaged in one final rush.
And Rodriguez ducked The Korean Zombie’s flurry and knocked him cold with a ridiculous counter elbow, sending Jung face-first to the mat just before the horn sounded.
With that, a Fight of the Year contender and a Knockout of the Year contender converged to make for an all-time classic fight, as Rodriguez won via knockout at 4:59 of the final round.
“I know the title shot is gonna be there eventually,” Rodriguez said. “The only thing I care about is being happy every moment I have. Being able to do what I love in the biggest company in the world is something I appreciate.”
Rodriguez was did his postfight interview being held up by two of his cornerman, as the effects of a leg injury suffered early in the bout set in. But that didn’t stop Rodriguez from throwing his wide variety of effective and at time flashy kicks during the bout.
The Chihuahua, Mexico native did his best damage when landing from range. “Zombie” did his best work doing what he’s best known for as well, as he waded in fearlessly throughout the fight and did nasty damage with combos and punches in bunches.
If Denver’s mile-high altitude affected the fighters, it didn’t show during the bout, as they were smart enough to pick their spots. Both fighters wore their damage on their faces as the bout went on.
On and on this went for a tick under 25 scintillating minutes. With about 15 seconds left, Rodridugez appeared to want to celebrate, drawing boos from the crowd, but that was simply the precursor to the all-time classic final exchange and knockout.
The bout was as memorable as it was improbable: Rodriguez, the former TUF: Latin America winner, was cut from the UFC over the summer, only to return to the company. And the bout was originally scheduled to be between Jung and Frankie Edgar, who had to pull out. Rodriguez accepted the fight on two weeks’ notice.
Rordiguez improved to 11-2 with his sixth career stoppage win. Jung (14-5) has now dropped two of his past three.