BOSTON -- Across town at Fenway Park, a 1-for-3 night is a pretty successful showing. But Saturday night at TD Garden, a UFC 118 crowd primed to root on its hometown heroes watched a winning rally fizzle.
Bridgewater lightweight Joe Lauzon got the building rocking with a high-energy domination of Gabe Ruediger in this much-anticipated Massachusetts debut of the UFC, the major leagues of mixed martial arts. But neither Marcus Davis nor Kenny Florian could keep the Boston Tee-off Party going.
Davis, who lives in Bangor, Maine, and trains in Somerville, was bloodied, battered and choked unconscious by Nate Diaz. And Florian, who grew up in Dover and trains in Brookline, was taken down and smothered in a unanimous-decision victory by Gray Maynard.
It took Randy Couture's heart-thumping beatdown of boxer James Toney to breath some life back into the crowd of 15,575.
Lauzon got things off to a rousing start. Really, all the 26-year-old native of the fight town of Brockton had to do was emerge from the tunnel to invigorate the fans, who had been sitting on their hands through four preliminary fights that were heavy on technical grappling, light on crowd-pleasing fisticuffs. But as enthusiastically as he was greeted upon entering the cage, Lauzon turned the arena's energy up a notch from the fight's opening moments.
He swarmed Ruediger and within 40 seconds had tossed him to the mat, drawing a roar. A woman in the loge sounded like she was in labor as she screeched, "C'mon, Joey!" A minute in, Lauzon had control of his opponent from behind, and the fans stood as one. Lauzon landed four elbows, then four hard left hands. Ruediger desperately tried to stand, but Lauzon threw him back down. He was relentless. He gained full mount, transitioned to an arm bar, and it was over just 2 minutes and 1 second after it had started.
The building exploded.
"The crowd was unbelievable tonight," Lauzon said in an interview in the cage, the audience still roaring and the victorious fighter looking like he might shed a tear. "I love the crowd. I love Boston. I was definitely feeding off that energy."
Marcus Davis got some love from the fans, too, especially when he was announced as "The Irish Hand Grenade."
Hey, it's Boston.
And Davis had his moments early, especially after Diaz got fed up with 45 seconds of inaction and held his arms out to the side in a "C'mon!" gesture. Davis obliged with a left hand and got the better of a couple of exchanges, but Diaz landed a shot that cut Davis' right eyelid. And everything changed.
The blood distracted Davis, got him off his game. He kept wiping his face when he should have been using that hand to throw punches. By round's end his face was crimson, and his cut man slathered practically a jar full of Vaseline to stem the flow. The cageside doctor came in to examine the cut, and Davis successfully lobbied to continue.
But while his heart was in it, he had nothing but heart left.
Over the second and third rounds, Davis threw looping punches, most of them connecting with air, while Diaz peppered him with jab after jab, thanks to a 6-inch reach advantage. It seemed impossible to fathom that Davis was the one in the cage who was a former professional boxer. He fought on the final boxing card at the old Boston Garden, back in December 1994, scoring a second-round knockout. But there was no KO in his gloves on this night.
Davis, who turned 37 this week, never gave up. Literally. When Diaz scored a double-leg takedown with 1:45 left in the third round, pinned Davis against the cage and secured a guillotine choke, the tough guy from Maine did not tap out. He went to sleep with 58 seconds to go.
"I knew I had it tight," Diaz said afterward. "I felt him gurgle and I knew that it was deep."
Next came Florian, 34, who emerged to the loudest fan welcome of the night. Or maybe they were cheering for his entrance music, a concussive Dropkick Murphys rendition of the fight song of Boston College, Florian's alma mater.
Once the bout began, though, there wasn't much fight in either guy. For the first 2 minutes -- the time it earlier had taken Joe Lauzon to blow the roof off the place with his relentless attack -- not a punch or kick landed and few even were attempted. Florian and Maynard circled and stalked, and the crowd squirmed and groaned.
Finally, about 3 minutes into the round, a Florian punch knocked Maynard off balance, and there was a roar. But Maynard regained his balance, and a minute later he charged Florian, took him to the mat, gained top position and stayed there.
That was pretty much the way things went for the rest of the fight. Maynard took down Florian in each of the next two rounds, maintained control but did little damage. With a minute left in the third, Florian attempted a submission from the bottom, but Maynard escaped. It happened again with 35 seconds remaining -- submission attempt and escape. The crowd made some noise but didn't sound hopeful.
After Maynard rode out the fight's last few seconds, the scores were read: 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28, all for the man who with the win earned a shot at the lightweight title. He'll face Frankie Edgar, who decisively outpointed B.J. Penn in the main event.
As for Florian, who suffered his first non-title-fight loss in four years, he left the cage with his head down and later said, "I'm very disappointed. I really worked on my wrestling. I wasn't successful there, and that was the difference."
Did Florian succumb to the pressure of fighting in his hometown?
"No," he insisted. "Every fight in the UFC you feel pressure."
Florian knew coming into the cage what the unbeaten fighter known as "The Bully" was going to try to do -- take him down near the end of each round to earn points with the judges -- but he was unable to stop it.
"It was really frustrating," said Florian. "He wasn't engaging, he wasn't engaging, I chased him and that opened me up to the takedown."
He was just trying to give his home crowd what they came for.
Jeff Wagenheim writes an MMA blog for thefastertimes.com.