When Rashad Evans was coming up through The Ultimate Fighter franchise back in 2005, his attitude rubbed a certain faction of purists the wrong way. Evans would strut, wobble, shimmy his hips and slick back his eyebrows right there in a middle of a fight, acts better left for a bedroom or a dance floor. He got accused of having the cocky gene, a mild condition that didn’t take a turn for the worse until he went ahead and knocked out Chuck Liddell at UFC 88. Careless handling of such a cherished heirloom brought out the boo birds in force.
If people weren’t booing Rashad’s swagger in the Octagon, they were counting the days for his comeuppance. He eventually got it against Lyoto Machida, who knocked him out viciously, and then later against his double-crossed nemesis, Jon Jones. Everyone in the fight game is really just on a march towards humility.
Michael “Venom” Page knows something of that early Rashad vibe, though. So far nobody has stopped “MVP,” but plenty have been styled on, posterized and otherwise turned into white rabbits to be ritualistically pulled from a top hat.
Then again, there’s a better comparison to be made between Page and Anderson Silva, two willowy strikers who share a certain spirit of the discotheque. And it’s especially easy to do so after Page showed up to London and bedeviled poor David Rickels into saying, “nah, I’m all set” after taking a hard right in the second round of his co-main event at Bellator 200. Silva did the same thing to Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 in Philadelphia, back when his own spookometer spiked to 100. After spending a little over three minutes with Silva’s ever-disappearing form, Griffin bolted from the cage like he’d just encountered a witch.
Rickels didn’t sprint off, but he certainly lost his bearings in there a bit — you could tell from the wild blinking that he was seeing weird faces in the campfire. Rickels came into the encounter with a mind to showcase a little of his own mojo, ready to match Page showmanship for showmanship. Kudos for the “Caveman’s” boldness of character. But the difference began to show in that prized space between the combatants, the area of manipulation for an artist. With his hands held low at his hips, and often after a fit of histrionics, Page unleashed a series of bafflers on Rickels that gave him pause. The right hand that ended it was a thing of diabolical beauty; but there were combos in there snapped off as quick as switches.
Page owned the space in between. And like with any special fighter, he manipulated that space by marrying up his imagination and will. He made the air between them vibrate like he was a subwoofer.
Rickels is a tough dude, and he’s never been one to be played with. He ended 2017 with a win over Adam Piccolotti, which is no small feat, and has stood in against the likes of Michael Chandler and Patricky Freire. Nobody has handled him like “MVP” did. Just as nobody had handled Evangelista Santos as Page did, when he put a dent him his skull with a spring-loaded knee. You can say what you want about the kinds of competition Page has faced, but he is treating fighters — people who are trained to hurt him — like props to demonstrate his greatness.
Afterwards, Page snatched up Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet and was wearing it when he got his hand raised. When he sent Cyborg out of the game with that skull-crushing knee, he put on a Pokemon hat and rolled a Pokeball at the fallen victim. Playful acts after devastating showings. There is a frivolous air to what he does that insinuates ease. Nothing in today’s fight world is that easy. Even the guys that tried to make it look ugly — like Nah-Shon Burrell and Fernando Gonzalez — couldn’t make it ugly enough. Can Page do it against disgruntled veteran like Paul Daley, who loathes everything about his rubberman being?
That’s a question that really should be answered.
Evans was able to put together a great career without compromising his style, just as Silva rolled along for many years with his flare for theatrics. Both were accused of being disrespectful while at the same time being lauded as great. Both of them, it should be mentioned, fought much tougher competition than Page has (or perhaps ever will).
But the visuals are compelling no matter how irresponsible the comparisons. Page plays with his food, but his finishes speak for themselves. Rickels was going to give Page a good fight up until the moment it became crystal clear he wasn’t, and he couldn’t.
It’s a tribute to Page’s talent that he can put the “dis” in disparity like he does, and smile from whatever level he’s operating on.