Everyone had it wrong all along. The big moment for Ultimate Fighting, the moment the sport found itself ushered from the smoky basement to the big ballroom, wasn't Saturday night's bout between Chuck Liddell and Rampage Jackson.
Like every big-time American sport, the big moment came in the week or two leading up to the bout. That's when UFC 71 -- it only sounds like a spy plane -- got its sport all the validation it needed.
Liddell on the cover of ESPN The Magazine and another fighter on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Extended and serious coverage of the bout on every outlet, not just ESPN. For fans of leg whips, kicks and punching a dude when he's down, it was the equivalent of Joe Namath's hanging poolside with a bunch of reporters before Super Bowl III. It was money in the bank.
So who cares if the main event was short, dull and puzzling? Jackson hit Liddell and he went down, so Jackson hopped on him and pounded him a few more times before the ref called it. And ... that was it?
I'm probably predisposed to disliking this kind of fabricated sport, but I watched for the first time, and I watched with an open mind. In my case, the pre-hype won. The reality, though -- just like every other overhyped event -- didn't measure up.
(For one thing, throughout the preliminary bouts there was way more nuzzling and cuddling -- lengthy cheek-to-chest action -- than I ever anticipated. Barefoot guys in swim trunks listening for a heartbeat -- this is the sport of the future?)
Even the aftermath was more interesting. Speculation in Vegas, starting with a local newspaper column, focused on Liddell's training. Apparently he was seen at the trendiest clubs doing the trendiest things in the week leading up to the bout, raising skepticism about how seriously he was taking his work.
And that, fans of UFC, is a compliment. It's the kind of second-guessing your sport receives when it has finally hit the big-time.
This Week's List
• I don't know if there's an official list anywhere, but if you're the commissioner of a major sport, this has got to be one of the headlines you'd least like to see: "Informant: Vick 'Heavyweight' in Dog-Fighting World."
• Sort of like stalking, only creepier: This whole Roger Clemens obsession -- televised minor-league assignments! detailed pitch-count spreadsheets! -- would be kind of funny if it wasn't just encouraging him.
• We're trying to be kind here, but someone in the UFC PR department needs to upgrade the Rolodex: If your crowd "celebrity shots" include Rob Dibble -- between the first and second round, no less -- you're better off just telling us some big-name folks are there and leaving it to our imagination.
• What do you give the guy who has everything? Jerry West, apparently -- at least if the guy in question is Kobe Bryant.
• You know your career has hit the skids when even your contrived reality isn't real: Jose Canseco's efforts to hype his reality-show concept -- starring Jose, of course, as some sort of prize -- reached the pages of USA Today before it was revealed that nobody ever had any intention of buying into the idea.
• OK, you know all those "worst job" lists, the ones that claim outhouse cleaners and human-remains removal specialists are the lowest professions -- well, the guys who do those jobs just found someone they can dog at the year-end picnic: Hall of Fame vice president Jeff Idelson has been given the duty of following Barry Bonds around to get him to donate something -- or, more likely, anything -- to Cooperstown when he breaks Hank Aaron's record.
• Two of the many reasons that job is the worst: (1) the last thing Bonds donated to the Hall was a batting-practice bat from the 2002 World Series, and (2) when asked about providing mementoes to Cooperstown, Bonds told the Associated Press, "I don't worry about the Hall. I take care of me."
• Here's a Bonds-related question for all the nation's columnists and hired arguers: Do you really and truly care where Bud Selig is -- or isn't -- at the moment Bonds breaks the record?
• Because, if you do, you've got to acknowledge the following: This is the first time anybody has ever been that interested in the prospect of seeing Bud Selig filling a seat at a ballpark.
• The only reason to clamor for Selig's attendance at the inevitable Bondsfest: Seeing the commissioner forced to sit and stew in the juices of his own concoction, or whatever other way you want to describe a guy who is trying to duck out of an unpleasant situation that he had a big hand in creating.
• You know what's far worse than Barry Bonds' being the No. 1 home-run hitter of all time? Sammy Sosa, No. 5.
• And, on the copy desk, high-fives all around: The New York Post dubbed Yankee reliever Scott Proctor "Proctor Doolittle" after he walked two with the bases loaded after coming in for Mike Mussina on Sunday.
• Similar to the Frick Museum with a catchier nickname: Proctor's outing could be considered philanthropic, since it allowed everyone in New York another opportunity to ruminate on Joe Torre's job security.
• And finally, bringing new meaning to the idea of blind patriotism: At the Texas-Oakland game Monday night, the public-address announcer asked those in attendance to "close your eyes and join us in singing 'God Bless America.'"
Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.