One Of The Most Brutal UFC Fights I’ve Seen In Ages

One Of The Most Brutal UFC Fights I’ve Seen In Ages
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I never cringe at UFC fights. One fight on last weekend’s UFC 189 card made me cringe hard.

(Warning: some of the photos in this post are a little nasty.)

Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald II is one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen. The welterweight championship battle was that rare occasion where I actually agreed with commentator Joe Rogan’s frenzied post-fight praise, his tendency to declare every other fight THE GREATEST OF ALL TIIIIIIME. Lawler-MacDonald II was an instant classic. After a tepid first round, both guys — MacDonald, heir apparent to the welterweight throne (he trains with former division king Georges St Pierre) and Lawler, an old dog who’s miraculously picked up new tricks in his latest UFC run — tore off the breaks and hurled them out the window. From then on, it was a beautiful ballet of violence and technique. And more violence.

Back and forth and back and forth they went. An uncharacteristically patient Lawler (back in the day before a stunning career resurgence, he was a one-dimensional berserker without a tactical bone in his body) bobbed, feinted, and countered MacDonald, busting his nose and turning his face into a grotesque mask of blood and swollen flesh. MacDonald was never out of the match, though, and — despite Lawler’s off-the-charts absurd punching power — scored a third round head kick that nearly ended the fight.

By the midpoint of the fourth round, both guys looked like hell. The fight was less unstoppable force versus immovable object and more woodchipper versus guy-with-blenders-for-fists. I mean, look at this:

One Of The Most Brutal UFC Fights I've Seen In Ages

Nobody walks away from a fight unscathed (unless you’re Ronda Rousey, in which case you walk away from every fight unscathed), but these two were falling the fuck apart. By the end of the fourth round, Lawler and MacDonald were standing by sheer, stubborn force of will. But they refused to stop for a heartbeat, even when the ref motioned them back to their corners.

They stood in the center of the octagon, and they stared, perhaps wishing that their eyeballs would leap out of their heads and pick up where their battered, exhausted bodies left off. It gave me goosebumps, watching that. They were in another word, the closest thing you’ll find these days to a primal one. All that mattered was the moment, bodies, minds, and weeping wounds be damned. It was hideously, beautifully pure.

One Of The Most Brutal UFC Fights I've Seen In Ages

Minutes later, it all came crashing down. MacDonald’s will shattered. Lawler popped him right in his already broken nose, and he backed away, fell to the ground, and curled up into the fetal position like a frightened child. This was not a typical TKO, where someone eats it because they’re on the verge of losing consciousness. For MacDonald — tough as goddamn nails, this guy MMA fans like to describe as an emotionless madman who’d probably be a serial killer if he didn’t fight — the pain was unbearable. He wanted out. He wanted to be anywhere else.

That’s when I cringed. When they showed that punch — a strike that made MacDonald’s thoroughly busted nose look like it was gonna recede into his face — on replay, I had to look away. I refused to watch it again. It made me feel a little nauseous. It was too much.

I’ve done some thinking about exactly why that was — for me, someone who’s been a diehard MMA fan for more than a decade — and I realised it’s because of the way I watch fights. There’s a cognitive dissonance to it. These men and women step into the octagon and regularly shrug off punches and submissions that would make you or me cry and book it to the hospital. Part of it is adrenaline, the other part is sheer toughness. So when they’re in there beating each others’ brains out, I view them almost as Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. I don’t think about the pain. I don’t think about how they’re feeling, how they’re breaking.

Which is kinda weird, because I’ve trained before. Not quite at that level of intensity, but I’ve had my body battered and my nose broken enough times to know that that shit sucks. I know it can be fucking scary. I guess, though, some part of my brain wants to believe that UFC fighters are Different. That’s what lets me cheer when somebody scores a fantastic knockdown or knockout instead of cringing. “It’s cool,” my brain says. “They barely felt it, and they will be fine in a couple weeks.”

Perhaps I’m assuming or over-generalising, but I think a lot of us do that. Despite how safe modern MMA is relative to the sport’s early days or a street fight or what have you, it takes mental gymnastics to enjoy watching people beat the shit out of each other. We have to separate ourselves from it, at least a little bit. It’s kinda like watching a Hollywood movie full of gore and explosions. “None of it is real,” we tell ourselves. Because it isn’t, obviously. It’s entertainment. Fun entertainment, entertainment that appeals to some ancient part of the human psyche. Combat sports are similar in that they exist for our entertainment, and nobody is gonna die, hopefully.

One Of The Most Brutal UFC Fights I've Seen In Ages

After the fight ended, MacDonald apparently didn’t even know what year it was. A day later, he posted a picture of himself after a trip to the hospital and… yikes. He might not be cleared to fight again until next year.

Lawler and MacDonald’s knock-down, drag-out slugfest was, for me, a wake-up call. I still love watching fights (Lawler-MacDonald II is my top ten of all time, easily), I still pine for sublime strikes and knockouts, but I want to be a little more mindful of what’s actually going on in the cage. I want to appreciate what these people are sacrificing for our entertainment — their long and short-term health, their brain cells, their peace of mind — and feel authentic concern when it seems like someone might be pushing themselves too far. I don’t want to cringe or look away when a fighter seems to be expressing authentic fear or pain because I’m afraid to deal with it. MMA fighters are human, and they deserve an audience that keeps that in mind, lest we continue to cry for blood when a fighter is in actual danger.

Image credit: Getty Images.

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @vahn16.


    • I say the same thing about the Game of Thrones posts.

      We rarely get UFC news here unless it’s related to the game, so I’d say this is to do with UFC 189 being arguably the best UFC of all time and the fact that it’s going more mainstream now due to Mr McGregor for the most part. Plus people like discussing exciting recent events.

      Not that those reasons justify posting it here really.

    • Was going to mention when did Kotaku become a blog for Nathan to write about how much he loves UFC…

      Great you love UFC Nathan, but i’m sure there’s plenty of other places to talk about it on this crazy internet.

    • because half of the videogame news that gurgles from Kotaku is usually a 2 sentence summary and a missing link to the original source.. at least youre getting something half decently put together –
      The real argument is “why is there not more gaming coverage to drown out the not-as-relevant topics”

      • The real argument is “why is there not more gaming coverage to drown out the not-as-relevant topics”

        Because they’re too busy watching UFC…

    • Agreed. There’s so many articles on UFC lately. It has nothing to do with games. If this website is going to be about sports then I want to see more football articles.

  • Great read.

    What made me cringe most was when the doctor put a rag on it after the fight and pushed it into Rory’s face. You see him visibly wince and fall back/almost pass out with the pain. Ugh.

    That fight was an absolute war and it had me on my feet from the second round. I was a huge Lawler fan going in, but holy shit am I a huge Rory fan now. Been reading more about him and listened to him on the Joe Rogan podcast, really interesting guy. Still young with such a great mindset (seriously check out #579 of Joe’s podcast if you want to learn more about him) I have no doubt he will be champ one day. Hopefully not too soon though, I’d love to see a couple more Lawler title defense wars first.

  • Same could be said about Suicide Squad? or most things… there is a game of batman an such and its awesome news when a trailer comes out too…. there is also a game of UFC so if your nit-picking you could say that… I’m genuinely liking the ufc info every now and then… as my friends watch it whilst i game 🙂 This fight and the one right after it were unbelievable!

  • i’ve missed the last few episodes of real housewives of melbourne could you give me a recap please

  • Still don’t understand why these sports can’t wear face/head pad-guards and the match be based on points more so then crippling each other… whatever..

    • because it was not meant to be about who won based on Points, UFC is meant to be about the best fighters in their styles fighting to see who is the best fighter, and its meant to be using all techniques that are not lethal.

      there are already a tonne of fighting sports that use points, but points don’t show everything, similar to touch footy vs tackle footy, different skill sets.

      Unfortunatly UFC has molded into a generic fighting sport now.

      the original UFC also was a tournament, so you had to win without major injury and without being too tired to continue into the next round.

      They used no gloves so punches to the head were not as common since broken hands were not uncommon, along with a bunch of changes that I dont agree with but meh.

    • Repeated sub-concussive blows are actually worse for you than taking a few solid hits and having the fight end. See the research done on boxers and footballers with respect to “holes in the brain”. It’s kind of terrifying.

      From that point of view, MMA is actually safer because it mixes in wrestling (so a good chunk of the time you’re not receiving blows to the head) and fights are called off as soon as someone gets wobbly, as opposed to boxing’s standing 8 count, which is actually pretty brutal.

  • can someone keep me up to date on Millionaire hot seat, i dont have time to watch Eddies bullshit.

  • Dont get it.
    Granted im not a fan of most sport, but seeing two guys beat the ever living out of eachother isnt even mildly entertaining.

    Also, does UFC news really belong on a gaming website?

    • It’s fine not to get it. I really don’t get most sport, but for some reason the combat sports click with me. I like the competition, it’s less abstract than “kick this ball into that net”. Pretty much everyone knows who is winning a fight and why, but it can turn at any moment.

      Most people that I’ve introduced to UFC start off with no understanding and a base dislike of violence, which is probably a healthy attitude to have. They became interested once they understood the technique involved, the strategies at play, and started to get to know the people as “characters” rather than “generic fighter number 3”.

      But no, as good as these articles are they probably don’t belong on this site.

      • This. It’s 1 on 1 competition at the highest level. Sports like AFL and cricket bore the shit out of me, but seeing two guys/gals go toe to toe and test each other in varying ways is very addicting to watch.

      • I like UFC but this spectacle made me sick, and I’ve seen some hairy stuff, with all that nonsense about how low the injury rate is and how you only get knocked out once etc just went up in smoke with this one fight. I appreciate the technical side of the sport but this was gruesome and I really wonder how important the health of fighters are to the UFC. This was a massive blow as those who just see UFC as a barbaric sport that needs to be banned just got a ton of ammo, and honestly for the first time, I saw their side.

        • That’s true. I was thinking more generally, but this is one of the cases where it feels like the system failed. They took way too much damage.

    • From an old Kotaku post from the Kotaku team (paraphrased):
      “Why is it called Kotaku?

      Otaku is a Japanese word meaning unhealthily obsessed. In Japan, otaku are further sub-classed into being creepy crazy for either video games, anime, manga, or idol singers. In the U.S. it’s been mostly associated with fans of anime and manga. We are told that using “ko-” at the beginning of the word instead of “o-” adds an additional connotation of small.”

      Video Games, Anime, Manga – I don’t see how UFC (two people beating each other into bloody pulps for real) fits into that context. Among my gaming, anime and manga loving friends, enjoyment of real life violence isn’t a “thing”.

      I’m not saying you shouldn’t be allowed to watch/read/enjoy it.. just that I don’t think this is the place for it.

  • It’s good to see that this fight is transcending the world of MMA. The whole card was incredible. For those asking “why kotaku?” Because it was that good. That’s why. It has nothing to do with sport or gaming, these are 2 humans who stepped inside of a cage to prove who has the greater mind, body and spirit, just so happens that this specific one was one of the greatest displays of just that, anyone has ever seen.. It’s just natural that when something like that does happen it gets the attention of people, and those people feel they need to share what they had just witnessed. idk.. if you don’t get it you don’t get it, but no need to knock it..

    Rory ‘Red King’ MacDonald for Welterweight champion. Baddest dude.

  • Omg MMA is too violent and bloody.
    Let’s go play games and kill lots of shit for no reason.

  • Seriously who gives a shit if he is posting about games or one of his favorite sports if you don’t like it don’t read it. Pretty simple. As for me someone who cant afford to watch UFC am enjoying the coverage Mark is posting.

      • hahaha so it is I have been reading marks posts and they freaking sound much similar my mistake.

    • I was asking as there have been a bunch of UFC articles lately and they are MUCH longer, and more in depth than the actual gaming articles, and this being a gaming site and all, I was wondering if there was a link to the gaming world that I was missing.

      • Well, there have been a bunch of MMA games. And some MMA fighters play games. Seems totally legit.

  • Great article, I felt the same way about it. I also question why it’s on Kotaku but don’t really care because it was a quality write up and I love MMA as well.

  • Crazy fight – props to both of them. I’m a massive fan of Lawler and we need more champs who are willing to actualy FIGHT. Lawler and Mcgregor are a fantastic addition to the championship roster.

  • Yeah it would be nice to have articles about video games with this much content. How about you and Serrels just go make an MMA blog…somewhere else and hire journos who can be bothered to do in-depth articles relevant to gaming? We know Serrels can when he wants to. Hell, how much coverage did he give Bloodborne? Although to be fair Grayson does 1 (maybe 2?) MMA posts and cops all this due to Mark’s recent spamming of the topic (sorry, but straws n camel’s backs n all that). Anyhoo we know you guys can write, just steer back to the topic we came to kotaku to read plz.

  • +1 for this probably fitting in a little better elsewhere on teh webz. Blood’s better in pixel form.

  • Not to be “that” guy, but I’m gonna be “that” guy
    Kotaku is not a “gaming” site, its a pop-culture site with a predominant gaming theme, UFC is a perfectly valid topic for Kotaku

    If you don’t like it, don’t click the link to read the story, I certainly don’t read every story here

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