By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
A recent practice finds Mezger, Macias, and Telligman in Mezger's Oak Lawn studio practicing their punching and kicking. Macias is on the heavy bag, double punching, kicking, double punching. "High, low, high, low," he says in cadence.
Giving a hit, these fighters say, is much like swinging a racket or a bat; it's all a matter of finding the sweet spot.
"You know when you get a good hit," Telligman says.
"Yeah, it causes your arm to vibrate--like a bat against a telephone pole," Macias adds.
Another practice has the three grappling on the cold mats of a judo studio off Northwest Highway. Before a fight, the men practice their ground work, because a fighter can have all the high kicks and swift punches in the world, but if he can't work on the mat, he's defeated.
Grappling on the floor takes a great deal more skill than just being able to bash someone with a good right cross, Mezger says. "There is an intellectual side to this. It's skill and technique. A large percentage [of UFC fighters] look at it from that aspect."
Once an opponent is on the ground, the idea is to get him to submit. This can be done through a variety of submission holds, many of which were made famous by professional wrestling--"only they're real" in the UFC, Macias says. The figure four, figure eight, ankle hook, leg lock, and arm lock are all used.
The three men trade off fighting each other, and three others are present to spar. Macias says they need the extras; otherwise they'd wear each other out.
Grappling, with its reliance on technique, is the irony of the UFC. While critics complain unceasingly about the competition's violent nature, most of the matches don't end in the bloodletting seen in the UFC VI's Abbott-Varelans pairing. Most end up on the ground, with little discernible action.
You wonder what the big deal is.
In the final bout of UFC VI, "Tank" Abbott faced Oleg Taktarov. Abbott came out swinging, trying to take Taktarov down with head punches. He didn't count on the Russian being so hardheaded. Taktarov barely budged.
Taktarov, who had defeated his two earlier opponents, also found Abbott difficult to take down. Taktarov got Abbott on the ground a few times, but couldn't get a hold on him to make him submit.
In the end, the audience was treated to the sight of two grown men--who at times did little more than lie inertly on top of each another--throwing halfhearted punches in response to a referee's prodding. Twice, the referee broke up the fighters' embrace to make them start again. Both times they ended up in the same position: punch, pant, punch, pant, punch and pant some more.
Seventeen minutes after the start of the fight, Taktarov won the match by finally forcing Abbott into a choke hold. The Tank tapped out.
Abbott and Taktarov collapsed on the mat. Medics ran to their sides, administering oxygen and aid. A few minutes later, Abbott got up and left the Octagon.
Taktarov had to be helped to his feet and held like a child while he raised an arm in victory.
But he did it. For this one night, he was The Man.