ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Call it perhaps the best, least-watched fight ever.
Unless you were one of the comparatively few fans who tuned in online, or among the 14,000 who came out in person on Saturday night for the UFC on Fox, you might’ve missed Ben Henderson and Clay Guida steal the show.
If so, that’s a shame. Those lucky enough to lay eyes on it may have witnessed the fight of the year.
“The reason I fight is to put smiles on people’s faces and to get people cheering ...,” Guida said when it was over. “It was a stellar fight. We came out of the gates swinging. I’m not satisfied with my performance [but] we went out there and gave the crowd what they wanted.”
That they did, whipping the live audience at the Honda Center into a fury as their lightweight appetizer arguably outperformed the heavyweight main course. As their three-round battle built from its chaotic beginning to a frenzied conclusion in a clear-cut decision win for Henderson, you could almost feel the week-long whispers become a consensus.
This fight should have been on TV.
That it wasn’t, of course, was nobody’s fault. Time constraints of the UFC’s hour-long debut on network television made showing more than one fight impractical and the call was made some time ago that, no matter what, only Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez would see the light of national TV exposure.
Leading up to the fight, Guida and Henderson both did their best to downplay any disappointment about being relegated to the Internet streams. Both guys said the only thing that mattered was winning. For his part, Henderson said he’d get even by putting on a fight that would make the UFC wish it would’ve been on television.
From the outside looking in, it seemed he did that and more. Ever the fighter though, Henderson came away unmoved by a performance that made him the No.1 contender for the lightweight title.
“If a guy slips on a puddle of water and falls down and I get the W, I’ll take it,” he said. “But was I happy with my performance? To be honest, no. I can do a lot better than that. I can do a lot better than that. You guys haven’t seen anything yet.”
Hard not to see some irony in that last sentence.
While the heavyweights went out and did what heavyweights do -- finish up in 64 seconds -- in front of millions, the two 155-pounders once again underscored why the lighter-weight classes are MMA’s most dependably exciting. Albeit in front of a much smaller audience.
Their fight had wild flurries on the feet and near-miss submission attempts on the ground. Guida twice got dropped to the canvas with strikes, but later threatened Henderson with a tight guillotine. Guida landed a crazy spinning backfist and a few minutes afterward, Henderson tried an even crazier axe kick. At one point, Guida simply tumbled across the cage in a move that defies all description.
In short, their fight was just what Henderson wanted it to be -- the kind that might make Dana White think twice about leaving lightweights off the next network broadcast.
You know, just as soon as he gets the chance to watch it.
“I was on TV. I was working, I didn’t get to see it,” the UFC President said at the postfight media conference. “I kept turning around and looking at the fight. It sounded exciting.”
Take it from those who did watch: It was.