He is a good fighter
, but not a great
one. He is good because he knows how to throw a punch, how to shoot for a takedown, and when to do these things. He is not great because he does not innovate
, he is only prepared for situations that he has been put in before, and he has to be put into those situations a lot before he learns how to deal with them effectively.
This is why he is going to lose this fight.
The guy he's standing with is a great fighter, a genius. He's been grappling for thirteen years of his life and has consistently made it into the finals of tournaments as prestigious as ADCC, the premier submission wrestling championships, for six of those years. He has been coached by a Dutch kickboxer who once reigned over many of the major kickboxing circuits with an unbreakable fist. The Dutch kickboxer stopped coaching him because he "could not teach him anything more." He has knocked out eleven of the eighteen men he's fought. He has submitted the other seven.
When they exchange blows, the audience cheers because they see a good fight. Our fighter steps in, eats the jab to the face, but stays in the pocket and throws the left to the body, the left to the head, which only glances - the crowd goes wild. He fights with a caveman's finesse, no tricks, just a hard punch and knowing when to throw it. And as he steps out, the genius retaliates with a right hand that connects to cheek bone, and shin bone to the ribs. He delays his next attack just the barest moment, just enough to screw with our fighter's timing, and buries his shin into leg muscle. The slap echoes in the auditorium.
When he comes back at the end of the round we tell him, "You've got to protect yourself when you break contact like that, you've got to keep those hands up. Watch his right hand." We tell him this, but we know this won't help him.
"I know," he says. "I know what I need to do. You think his right can drop me?" He says this like he's making a bet.
He stands for the bell. When it rings, we notice he's limping.
This time he slips the jab. He connects with the left to the body again, a solid left hook, pop, and shoots for the takedown like it's the only thing that matters in his world, even as his left leg drags a little. With anybody else, with any other man on this green earth, he would have gotten the takedown, would have driven through him and take his hips away. But this guy manages, impossibly, to get an underhook, wrestles for the other, and slips a knee up, very sharply, like someone who's been drilling muay thai clinches for way too long and knows the distance and timing down the to the millimeter and millisecond, hits our guy high in the abdomen. You can hear the wind leave his lungs in a labored oof. But he's been stopped before while going for a takedown, he's done this drill a thousand times. Back the fucker against the ropes, start wrestling for an underhook, try to get an arm in between their bodies. He pays for it with two more knees to the gut, but as soon as he slips his left arm through, he comes up top with a short right just like we've taught him. He knows to do this instinctually because he's been hit with that exact same right in that exact same clinch a hundred times. It connects, draws blood. Then the situation changes, he's spun to the side and he's lost for a moment, eats a knee where he didn't expect one, is tagged by a leathered fist from a weird angle.
He walks into that last punch, the vicious right hand, almost on purpose. He doesn't fall.
This is how the fight goes for the rest of the night. One man shows instances of what can be misperceived as brilliance, but is just him finding familiar ground and reacting purely on reflex. He reacts with the correct movement, but that's just the thing: he's following patterns. Anybody can learn to slip, left hook-right uppercut, in that order, all the time, all it takes is a little sweat, bruised knuckles, a black eye. The other makes improvised music out of the first's pained grunts, Jackson Pollock-like paintings with his sweat and blood. He might have been born to do this. That's the difference between them.
The referee stops the fight early in the third round, after a perfectly-timed high kick, right over his extended fist, drops our guy limp. He's back on his feet, shakily, a few moments later. He makes it a point to stand on his own.
When the results of the bout are announced, the other guy walks over to shake his hand.
"You can swing, man, I haven't met anybody who wants to get inside and bang like you do." This is an empty compliment, it can easily be misconstrued as sympathy.
But our guy doesn't even say thanks, and either the knockout two minutes earlier made him dumber or he somehow found an uncharacteristic wit from the depths of unconsciousness, he says, "I know."