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UFC 116 to be remembered as one of the sport’s greatest cards

Chris Leben, Stephan Bonnar set the stage for Brock Lesnar with hard-fought victories

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Sam Morris

Chris Leben gets tagged by Yoshiro Akiyama during their middleweight bout Saturday at UFC 116 . Fighting on short notice only two weeks after his last fight, Leben submitted Akiyama in the third round.

UFC 116: "One of the Greatest Cards Ever"

Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar, Middleweight Chris Leben and Light Heavyweight Stephan Bonnar all contribute shocking victories to one of the UFC's most memorable cards.

UFC 116 Lesnar v. Carwin

Brock Lesnar points to the stands after submitting Shane Carwin in the second round of their heavyweight title fight Saturday at UFC 116. Lesnar won with a second-round submission. Launch slideshow »

Pandemonium broke out seconds after Brock Lesnar submitted Shane Carwin to claim the heavyweight title at UFC 116 Saturday night.

Lesnar leapt onto the top rail of the octagon, raised his arms and started screaming. The capacity crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena released a cannon-like blast of energy.

UFC President Dana White missed all of this. He stumbled out of the arena in a daze. White could not take anymore.

“This night almost gave me a heart attack,” White said. “I really went into the back, walked right out of the octagon into my back room, sat down and thought they were going to have to bring a defibrillator back there. I was seriously messed up after the show. I was blown away.”

Lesnar’s triumphant comeback in the main event after nearly a year away from the UFC battling a severe intestinal disorder was only a small part of White’s amazement.

He also witnessed two of the best fights of the year during the main card. The first happened when Stephan Bonnar (16-7) won his light heavyweight grudge match against Krzysztof Soszynski (20-12-1) by pummeling him into a TKO victory in the second round.

Then right before the Lesnar fight, Chris Leben (22-6) and Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-3) engaged in a back-and-forth middleweight bout so evenly matched that no one could definitively say who was ahead. That was until 20 seconds remained and Leben submitted Akiyama with a triangle choke.

Add impressive victories from George Sotiropoulos (14-2) and Chris Lytle (40-17-4) and UFC 116 will go down as one of the greatest nights in the organization’s history.

“In 10 years of being in this business, I’ve never seen guys deliver like they did tonight,” White said.

Most of the fighters knew they were involved in something special, too. Leben said he forced himself not to watch his friend Bonnar’s fight because it would get him too pumped up. But before Leben got in the ring, he had heard how epic it was and how it had practically clinched Fight of the Night honors.

Leben — who agreed to take on Akiyama on only two weeks of rest after Wanderlei Silva pulled out of the card because of injury — remembered a few distinct moments when he knew he was in the fight of his life.

“There were a couple times when I threw a double punch and (Akiyama) looked up and smiled at me,” Leben said. “Because I know he knew it too, that we were fighting and this was good.”

At the end of the night, White announced the Leben vs. Akiyama and Bonnar vs. Soszynski split the Fight of the Night award.

Bonnar took the opposite approach of Leben. He said he totally blocked out all of his surroundings and didn’t realize how great his fight was until well after it was over.

There was hardly a second that went by without Bonnar and Soszynski wailing away at each other both on their feet and on the ground. In the post-fight press conference, Bonnar sported two black eyes and at least five cuts on his face.

This did not look like a guy who just prevailed.

“I’m about as high as you can get,” Bonnar said. “He actually hit me so hard, my head went back and I saw lights. When I tried to re-focus, I couldn’t see anything for a good 45 seconds.”

“To get a win, this means the world to me.”

The most severe beating of the night probably belonged to the only fighter who left with a title belt. Carwin mauled Lesnar after getting him on the ground in the first round. For more than a minute, it looked like a Carwin win by TKO was imminent.

But Lesnar, with memories of a battle for his life with disease less than a year ago, rallied to survive the first round and unpredictably finished it in the second.

“It really truly is a miracle,” Lesnar said. “To come back from all of that and to be here and to win, words just can’t describe it. I really feel like I’m in a dream.”

At UFC 116, he wasn’t the only one.

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