Sep 14, 2023, 05:59AM

Big Meaty Men Slapping Meat

At UFC 293, Russian colossus Alexander Volkov hammered a few more nails in Tai Tuivasa’s king-sized coffin.

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In a Sydney arena thick with tension, where the air would soon be smelling of arrogant middleweight champion Israel Adesanya’s blood and manic challenger Sean Strickland’s raw ambition, two heavyweights walked into the octagon to wage mortal combat. With the stats as they were—beloved Australian slugger “Bam Bam” Tai Tuivasa’s decline mirrored by Alexander  “Drago” Volkov’s merciless climb back into the top tier of UFC heavyweights—it was like stepping into a Budd Schulberg novel, every punch an accusation, every gasp from the crowd a verdict.


The stakes had never been higher. Volkov, the 6’7” Russian colossus, seemed like a man reborn after a humiliating armbar loss to rising British star Tom Aspinall. His subsequent climb, knocking out wrestling powerhouse Alexander “King Kong” Romanov and veteran kickboxer Jairzinho “Bigi Boy” Rozenstruik in the first rounds, had been swift and devastating.


On the other side, Tuivasa, once a fast-rising Samoan dynamo and heir to “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt’s mantle as a walk-off finisher, had started to look like he was finished himself—a brain-battered brave boy whose flash had exited the pan two bad losses ago. Despite packing a puncher's chance in every bout, his previous fights were splattered with the ugliness of defeat: taken out by the monstrous Sergei Pavlovich in a mere 54 seconds, thoroughly bested by Ciryl Gane, and now, it was do-or-die in his homeland.


As referee Herb Dean signaled the commencement of hostilities, you could feel the floor of the octagon practically groan under the combined weight of these leviathans. A tentative touch of gloves, and then Volkov, with surgical precision, unleashed a leg kick, setting the tone. But Tuivasa wasn't there for a dance. He retaliated with leg kicks of his own, each one a testament to his lingering potency—the man could kick like a horse, if nothing else, or so it seemed to those of us at home.


But the Russian was largely unaffected by Tuivasa’s offense; “we ate kicks like that like air,” he said after the match by way of explaining how he had strengthened his tree-trunk legs. As nimble as a cat despite his towering frame, Volkov pivoted and landed an uppercut that would make most men question their career choices. Tuivasa, however, dug in, targeting Volkov’s body with vengeful strikes. Yet, for every attempt Tuivasa made to pen Volkov into a corner, the Russian deftly avoided the snare, peppering his opponent's face until the Aussie’s nose painted a crimson tale of woe.


The round reached its crescendo when Volkov dropped Tuivasa with a right hook, proving that even the mightiest can kneel. The horn sounded, and if it wasn't a savior for Tuivasa, it at least offered him a temporary reprieve.


Round two unfolded like a hard-boiled thriller from James M. Cain, each strike charged with electric anticipation. Tuivasa, eyes smoldering from the first-round beatdown, moved forward with reckless abandon, his leg kicks still packing enough dynamite to make a lesser man crumble. But Volkov was no lesser man. Each of his counters were textbook brutalities; a cornucopia of uppercuts and jabs, punctuated by a knee that seemed to say, “Not today, mate.”


And then it happened. A right hand from Volkov sent Tuivasa tumbling, as if the weight of his recent losses suddenly became too much to bear. Volkov, smelling blood, seized the moment. Leaping onto Tuivasa, he considered a choke, toyed with the idea as one contemplates a shot of whiskey at a grimy bar, but then opted for blunt force trauma instead.


With two minutes left on the clock, Volkov went for the jugular. In a move that would make Alexey “The Boa Constrictor” Oleynik proud, he sank in an Ezekiel choke, the fourth submission of his storied career and his first since 2016. Tuivasa, grappling with the Russian’s anaconda-like grip, had a choice—tap or nap. Choosing the former, he tapped out, as if surrendering to an unavoidable fate.


The verdict was in. Former Bellator heavyweight champion Volkov, once humbled and seemingly on his way to becoming a mere gatekeeper, now stood tall, joining the exclusive club of UFC fighters to win via Ezekiel choke. And Tuivasa? Maybe Sydney wasn't the end, but it felt like the dusk of something—perhaps the twilight of his short career in the unforgiving world of MMA. Either way, when the history of this violent, beautiful sport is written, this fight will stand out as a cautionary tale of rise and decline, full of sound and fury, signifying everything for one man, delivering nothing but CTE for the other.


The official result echoed what everyone already knew: Alexander Volkov def. Tai Tuivasa R2 4:37 via Submission (Ezekiel Choke). But for those who watched, the bout was more than just an entry in a record book—it was a brutal ballet, a clash of titans, a story that needed no embellishment. Yet, here we are, doing just that, because the stories of big meaty men slapping meat demand to be told. And retold.




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