Letter from Abu Dhabi V

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Renzo stands with Hughes. Photo: Josh Hedges

I enter room 436 of Rotana Hotel at around two Saturday morning with neither a camera nor a notepad, not as a reporter, but as a friend. Renzo is stretched out on one of the beds, Cristina by his side. Also in the room are Ralph and Flávia, Sérgio Ignácio, Zé Alfredo, Cora, Ruran and Rilion.

I give him a friendly embrace and, almost faint, Renzo mutters: “What a fight, huh?”

We spoke a bit about the fight, him complaining that he couldn’t hear anything, and had no idea there were less than 20 seconds left on the clock when the fight was interrupted.

“I would have lowered my chin and taken punches till time ran out,” he says, almost without the energy to smile.

And he asks me why they stopped the fight, if he had dropped to the ground to play guard. I explain:

“You were in slow motion. Between your going to all fours and getting up your guard, there was a stretch where you were motionless, when the referee intervened. The way I see it, he was right.” He shrugs.

And he drags himself to the tub to soak, trying to rehydrate. And everyone exits, leaving him in the care of Cristina and his thoughts.

The next evening, still limping but with his usual good cheer, Renzo tells me he watched the fight. “I saw it; there was a ‘delay’. I didn’t even remember it. Truth is I was knocked out, from one moment to the next, and when I awoke and turned I was grabbing the referee’s leg,” he admits.

At 43 years of age, and a legend in the fight world, Renzo made his UFC debut far from his best days as a fighter. Regardless, he brought tremendous value to the organization. So much so that on Friday, the day of weigh-ins at Abu Dhabi’s Marina Mall, the crowd that made it impossible to even photograph the episode boisterously cheered the idol, who unbelievably shed 15 kg (33 lbs) since signing the contract returning him to action.

And, even with the loss, at 4:46 of the third and final round, he had a dignified showing. His opponent, Matt Hughes, won the division title on two occasions, and successfully defended it another five times. He is considered such a monster of the UFC that Dana White proclaimed that fighting or not, he will never leave the event. He is known for plowing through opponents the way does the fields of his farm with his tractor back home in Illinois.

Even so, he such was his respect for Renzo that he hardly looked to try and take the fight to the ground, even if it cost him earning some points on the scorecards that he would have managed through takedowns, his specialty. And, while the Brazilian wasn’t running of fumes, Hughes was getting the worst of the striking game. His tactic of kicking Renzo’s leg, incorporated into his game especially for the bout, took everyone by surprise.

Despite the superior start, though, Renzo showed his worth precisely at the end when, already gassed out and without a chance, he would lose. He turned on automatic pilot and trudged forth with his characteristic valiance, visibly not in any condition to continue. And, even so, he managed to bring further honor to his adversary, for instance, when Hughes helped him to his feet, after falling to the ground from a kick.

Arab custom dictates that when a member of the royal family arrives at a location, everyone rises to their feet. Renzo didn’t realize it because he left the Octagon carried by his seconds, gazing at the ground lost, but the front row at one end of the Octagon was occupied by illustrious local guests. And, when Renzo drug himself past them, everyone stood. Even beaten, the prince of fighting was revered as he made his exit.

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