Altitude has often been described as the "silent" or "disguised" killer in the world of climbing, but the same could arguably be said for that of mixed martial arts. Even in a sport that regularly boasts some of the most supremely conditioned athletes of them all, it's amazing to see how something as simple as an arena's relation to sea level can make mice -- and in some cases, memes -- out of men, reducing triathletes and cardio machines alike.
Standing a staggering 7,382 feet above sea level, the Arena Ciudad de México in Mexico City that will host this weekend's UFC Mexico card poses a threat unlike any other, topping even that of Denver, Colorado's Pepsi Arena by over 1500 feet. In the evening's main event, streaking lightweight contender #TonyFerguson and former lightweight champion #RafaelDosAnjos will do battle in a fight that may very well determine the next challenger for the 155-pound belt.
To combat the effects of Mexico City's altitude, Ferguson built his own custom training facility in Big Bear, California, elevated some 6,700 feet. And while both men have been lauded for the unbreakable pace they put on their opponents in the past, we figured it would be worth looking back at some of the highest high-profile fights in UFC history to see how, if at all, it might affect them.
UFC 188: Mexico City, Mexico
If you're looking for a blueprint as to how the altitude of the Arena Ciudad de México might affect this weekend's headliners, then look no further than what happened the last time the UFC made its way to Mexico City: #UFC188.
Hoping to utilize the Mexican heritage of its then-heavyweight champion as a bridge to a new market, the UFC booked #CainVelasquez against then-interm champion #FabricioWerdum in the evening's main event.
Known by many as "Cardio Cain," Velasquez was pegged to outwork and overwhelm Werdum (as he had done to so many of his previous opponents) en route to a stoppage victory by fans and oddsmakers alike. Unfortunately, Velasquez failed to take into account just how long his body would need to acclimate to the altitude of Mexico City's staggering elevation, which, when combined with his then two year injury-related absence from the sport, resulted in one of the most surprisingly sluggish performances of his career.
After being submitted with a guillotine choke midway through the third round, Velasquez told reporters that the two weeks he spent in Mexico prior to the fight (as opposed to the extended time Werdum spent at altitude) "maybe wasn't enough," giving birth to alter ego the known as "Sea Level Cain" that we all know and love today.
UFC 1 & 2: Denver, Colorado
For all intents and purposes, the UFC was essentially born in the snow-covered, vertigo-inducing mountains of Colorado. It was in Denver's McNichols Sports Arena and Mammoth Gardens, after all, that the promotion crowned the champion of its first two tournaments: a diminutive Brazilian with a mean streak a mile wide by the name of #RoyceGracie.
Donning a pair of funny looking pajamas known as a gi (say it with me, gee), it was the youngest son of Helio Gracie who introduced the masses to the concept of Brazilian jiu-jitsu by way of six straight submissions over the likes of fellow pioneer #KenShamrock, street-fighting legend Patrick Smith, and the sport's only one-glove boxer, Art Jimmerson. How fitting it was that the art of smothering and choking out a person would first be demonstrated in an area of the world where a brisk walk up a flight of stairs could achieve the very same results.
UFC 6: Casper, WY
Although altitude did not play a major role in the results of UFC 1 and 2 -- mainly in that its competitors were too busy being taken down and tapped out by Gracie before they could even get their footing -- it did begin to make its presence known when the UFC made its first trip to the Casper Events Center in Wyoming for UFC 6.
Knowing that cardio would not be on the side of his hard-hitting, beer-gutted opponent, Taktarov opted to drag his opponent into the deep waters, utilizing his sambo background to wear him down on the mat before submitting him nearly 18 minutes into the fight. Not looking to repeat the war of attrition he had just witnessed, Ken Shamrock would make short work of #DanSevern in their headlining bout, submitting his foe with a guillotine choke in just over two minutes to claim the UFC's first ever Superfight Championship.
UFC Fight Night 13: Broomfield, CO
Following the trio of decisions that topped off the Ultimate Ultimate 95 tournament, the UFC understandably decided to take a break from Colorado. A thirteen year break, to be exact, which came to an end when lightweight contenders #KennyFlorian and #JoeLauzon were pitted against one another in the main event of UFC Fight Night 13 in 2008.
Despite a strong showing in the first round, Lauzon would succumb to the effects of the Broomfield Event Center's altitude (which at 5420 feet, sat some 300 feet higher than either of Denver's arenas) and suffer the first loss of his UFC career via second-round TKO, a result that he was willing to admit was at least partially to blame on "The Centennial State."
"If it was at sea level, I think I would have been able to push that pace for all three rounds, but being in Colorado, I couldn’t do it," said Lauzon in a post-fight interview. "I came out for the second round and I felt like my legs weighed 1,000 pounds each. I thought I had a good first round, but cardio killed me and a couple of other things just didn’t go my way."
Two years later, the UFC would return to Broomfield for its inaugural event on the Versus network. In the main event of the evening, an up-and-comer you might have heard of named #JonJones would have his coming out part by obliterating #BrandonVera with elbows just three minutes into the fight.
Pride 33 Las Vegas, NV
Although Las Vegas' 2030 ft. elevation pales in comparison to the other arenas on this list, I think we can all agree that any retrospective of the highest fights would be replete if it didn't include the lightweight bout between #NickDiaz and #TakanoriGomi.
With Diaz pulling off an unprecedented #gogoplata to finish Gomi, the victory was later voided and ruled a no contest, after Diaz tested positive for cannabis and the Nevada Athletic Commission determined that the banned substance numbed the pain from any damage absorbed during the bout.