The end was beautiful, a startling bit of violence that made even the most hardened fight fan wake up, shake off the ennui and feel. In one fell swoop, Dong Hyun Kim, the Korean grappler once best known for his stifling top control, spun right to avoid a John Hathaway elbow and clocked his opponent with an elbow of his own.
It was arguably the most deadly pirouette in fight history, a moment worthy of Anderson Silva, as elegant as it was brutal.
But the means?
They were ugly, a succession of spinning drivel, missed haymakers and footwork so bad it left him stumbling.
Kim is no born striker. A striker, however, he's become. In a business that sees even the icons opening up juice stands and worrying about making ends meet after a career, Kim had little choice. The clock on his career is ticking, and the 32-year-old fighter has a very short window of time to make any money.
Grappling and winning, even against some of the UFC's best like TJ Grant and Nate Diaz, was never going to be enough. And so, like that, Kim sold his fighting soul to the "Stand and Wang" gods.
"I've continued to stack up the wins, but I wasn't given a title shot, so I decided, in order to get a title shot, I had to change the way I fight," he candidly admitted at the post-fight press conference broadcast, like the fight, for only the most hardcore fans on UFC's online Fight Pass. "So, I decided to get much more aggressive and hopefully I'll get noticed, and get a shot at the title."
It's hard to be too critical of Kim's decision. It's his to make, his body being sacrificed at the altar of sport. He has to make the toughest kind of economic bargain, deciding for himself how much of his future brainpower he's willing to trade to pursue his dreams. It's the ugly side of this sport but also the most noble, courage trumping common sense, guts decimating prudence time and time again.
As a purist, however, it's a little hard to watch someone eschew his gifts for a style of fighting drunks in a bar would consider a bit unsophisticated. Kim, once a terrifying grappler, is focusing on delivering the "Zuffa special," the kind of fight designed to win bonuses and the attention of UFC executives with short attention spans but not the kind of fight designed to maximize your chances of winning.
Yes, it's worked well for Kim so far. He clocked Erick Silva with a hard left hand out of nowhere, following with a Donkey Kong-style finisher that can still make me shiver if I ponder it too long. And, after missing so many spinning backfists I lost count, he eventually made it work in devastating fashion, leaving Hathaway crumpled on the mat.
But a title shot? A future at the top of this sport? This isn't the road that will take Kim there. A sophisticated striker will cut a path through his striking bluster that ends right on the tip of his chin. He has found the gift of power. It's god-given and more than a bit tantalizing. What he lacks is the skill set to deliver it effectively against the best in the world.
The old Kim was en route to a potential title shot. He may not have made it there, but it was an honest attempt, pitting his best skills against his opponent's best. The new Kim? He's on the path to Chris Leben-ville. Only heartbreak and brain trauma await.
I understand why he's made this decision. It's economic and stark and a little sad. It's also a reminder of something we can too easily forget —there's a reason they call this the fight business and not the fight game.