I read up on the basics, like the prohibitions on biting, head-butting and hair-pulling. Which makes for one advantage in doing a crash course on a sport like M.M.A. versus, say, cricket: There are fewer rules. Finally, I understood the origin of the phrase “no holds barred.”
The night before the fight, I texted my father-in-law, Gary, who lives in Pittsburgh and is a big U.F.C. fan, asking for tips.
“Don’t blink,” he said. “It’s fast paced and anything can happen in an instant, including lack of consciousness.”
I texted back a sweating emoji.
On Sunday morning in Taiwan, I woke up, showered and poured myself some coffee before settling on the couch with my laptop in front of the TV, ready to take in several hours of raw, unbridled combat.
Then the fights began. Watching the live action, I quickly realized that no amount of work beforehand could have prepared me for the gruesomeness of the sport. In the first bout, I saw one fighter, Jimmy Crute, go down in the opening round after Anthony Smith delivered a hard kick to the back of his knee. In the second fight, I watched Chris Weidman shatter his leg just by kicking Uriah Hall’s knee at the start of the bout.
Turns out my father-in-law was right.
There were also some uplifting moments. Like Hall’s gracious interview after Weidman was taken out of the octagon on a stretcher. And the Kyrgyzstani fighter Valentina Shevchenko’s endearing but lost-in-translation exchange with Joe Rogan, one of the announcers, about rising to the challenge.
And then there was Namajunas, who defied the bettors by knocking out Zhang with a powerful kick to the head in the first round. Tears streamed down the former champion’s face as the title belt was wrapped around her waist once again.