“I love it when a plan comes together.” – John “Hannibal” Smith

The 70-yard touchdown pass. The first-pitch home run. The jump shot rejected into the fifth row. The head-kick knockout.

All of these are spectacular and explosive moments in sports that are sure to elicit loud cheers from anyone watching them happen. They’re the sorts of irregular but still semi-frequent happenings that keep people coming back to live sports venues and keep ESPN in business. They’re the athletic version of instant gratification and provide the powerful emotional rush upon which televised sports are advertised.

The thing about big moments like these, though, is that they’re frequently forgotten as soon as the next highlight takes place, relegated to the back of fans’ brains until they see them again on a top-plays package sometime later. Less frequent, and therefore more powerful and long-lasting, are the stories in sports that take longer than three seconds to explain. Moments alone come and go, but when athletes can tell a story through their competition, and thus put those moments in a larger context, the memories they create can last a lifetime and reinvigorate one’s love for sports themselves.

On Saturday night, Matt Brown wrote another chapter in his incredible story when he put on one of the most significant displays of willpower in sporting history.

The prelude to Brown’s main-event fight with Erick Silva was compelling enough. The Ohio native battled some personal demons before ever stepping foot into the Octagon, and he ended up becoming one of the more memorable participants in The Ultimate Fighter‘s seventh season. Brown looked like a promising welterweight prospect in the year or so after his season, going 4-1 in his first five UFC fights, with all four wins coming by stoppage. Things went south in 2010, though, when Brown suffered three consecutive submission losses, but Brown’s contract was salvaged by the UFC, no doubt due in part to his aggressive style of fighting. He recovered in 2011 with a decision victory over John Howard, but was again submitted in his follow-up fight against Seth Baczynski.

Brown entered 2012 with a 5-5 record, and although he had certainly had a productive UFC career, he was wallowing among the non-contenders at 170 pounds. The year started well for Brown, as he finished Chris Cope inside the distance. A decision win over Stephen Thompson and a TKO victory against Luiz Ramos followed, and people were once again talking about Brown as a fighter to watch. Brown validated that talk with a signature knockout of former contender Mike Swick to close out the year, catapulting him into the upper echelon of the UFC’s welterweight division.

2013 went just as well for Brown. He followed up his win over Swick with convincing victories over Jordan Mein and Mike Pyle, and he was now undeniably a title contender. Brown was on a six-fight winning streak and was supposed to get the title eliminator fight he so richly deserved against Carlos Condit in December. Unfortunately, Brown’s body did not hold up to his mind’s expectations, and he was sidelined with a back injury just days before the fight was to take place. Condit was instead assigned Tyron Woodley, against whom he would lose this past March.

So, there sat Brown, on top of one of the longest active winning streaks in the UFC and ranked seventh in the promotion’s welterweight rankings, but without an opponent.

Enter: Erick Silva.

A fellow member of the UFC’s welterweight top 20, Silva had a deceptively mediocre 4-3 record in the promotion. Although Silva certainly had his share of challenges in the Octagon, he dominated in each of his four wins, taking all of them inside the first round. While not a member of the elite group of 170-pounders that currently has the strongest claim to the division’s title, Silva was certainly not looked at as an easy opponent for the returning Brown, and he would in fact be considered a modest favorite among the Las Vegas oddsmakers.

With the fighters in place, the UFC just needed an event on which to showcase this potentially explosive battle, and since Brown is the UFC’s most famous Ohio native since Rich Franklin, it was only appropriate that the fight take place in Cincinnati. The UFC Fight Night event would be the first time the promotion would visit the Queen City since 2007, and Brown’s fight with Silva was appropriately made the night’s main event.

So, there’s the context: Matt Brown, a can’t-hate-on-him type of fighter with an exciting style in the midst of a career-saving six-fight winning streak, enters the Octagon against a guy who is ranked lower than him but still favored by the betting experts in the main event of a show in Brown’s home state with a likely title shot on the line.

Even if Brown’s fight with Silva had been a total stinker, he’d still be remembered for the things he accomplished up until Saturday night. For a guy to go from 5-5 in the UFC to 11-5 and a serious divisional contender in the course of three years is a feat to be marveled, and Brown would already have been considered one of the sport’s toughest fighters. What happened on Saturday in Cincinnati, though, will cement his legacy for years to come and, for those who were paying attention, was one of those moments not just in MMA, but in professional sports, period, that fans will remember forever.

Brown’s inspiring tale nearly came to a crashing end early in the opening frame of his fight on Saturday when Silva landed some nasty kicks to Brown’s body that sent him straight to the canvas. From there, Silva took Brown’s back and, with his black belt in jiu-jitsu, it looked like Silva might prove the spoiler.

But Brown would not be so easily defeated.

Somehow, Brown survived Silva’s dangerous ground attack and found himself on the offensive in the opening round’s latter moments. Silva’s efforts to submit Brown had clearly taken their cardiovascular toll, and when the two fighters eventually found their way back to their feet, it was clear Brown’s gas tank contained more fuel.

Silva again landed a damaging body blow in the fight’s second round, but Brown would not be denied. He nearly finished Silva after maneuvering the fight to the ground, working his way to the mount and raining down a significant number of punches and elbows from the dominant position, but an armbar attempt would again briefly place Brown at a disadvantage. He recovered from this error, however, and from that point forward the fight would belong to Brown.

The end came in the third round, when Brown again worked to a dominant position on the ground and began landing several unanswered and damaging blows to a purely defensive Silva. The referee stepped in midway through the frame, and Brown’s hand was raised for the seventh straight time.

Brown downplayed his efforts in the post-fight interview, and specifically said he didn’t think he put on that good of a performance. With all due respect to a guy with seven straight UFC wins, I must disagree wholeheartedly. Brown’s story is so compelling, and the fight itself had the cadence of the final battle in an action film—the more statistically favored fighter achieves early dominance against the hometown hero before the underdog protagonist slowly but surely fights back with courage and valor and defeats his opponent.

I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of fights in the last decade, and I’d rank Brown/Silva in the top three. Sure, spectacular knockouts will still get me raising my eyebrows and letting out an extended “woooooowwwwwwwwww,” and I’ll applaud heartily for a well-executed submission, but rarely will I move to the literal edge of my couch when watching a fight. After Brown battled his way back from what would have been certain defeat for other fighters, I found myself reflexively dodging Silva’s strikes while leaning to within inches from the television, and then throwing air punches in a childlike effort to add more power to Brown’s finishing blows. When the referee finally stopped the fight, I went full Daniel Bryan, fingers in the air yelling “YES!” as I paraded around my living room.

If Brown would have simply walked through Silva, I certainly would not have had such a strong reaction, and it probably goes without saying that I wouldn’t even be writing this if Silva had emerged victorious on Saturday, but the circumstances surrounding this fight, and everything it meant for Brown, and then the fact that he came back from serious danger to finish Silva in beautifully brutal fashion makes it one of those sports moments that will resonate for me for a long time. For me, this fight is one of those remember-where-you-were-when-you-saw-it type of moments like David Tyree’s game-saving Super Bowl catch (at a Super Bowl party with a bunch of drunk Ph.D. students), the Boston Red Sox playoff victory over the New York Yankees in 2004 (the tiny editors’ office at The Daily Cardinal) or Landon Donovan’s World Cup goal in 2010 (tying my shoes in my living room because I had to go to work pretty soon).

Paying close attention to MMA can sometimes be frustrating. Aside from the occasional snoozer of a fight or pay-per-view event that doesn’t quite seem to live up to its price tag, issues ancillary to the sport like testosterone-replacement therapy controversies, concerns surrounding the long-term brain health of MMA fighters and inconsistent rankings policies can sometimes make people wonder why they follow the sport so closely in the first place. Sure, brief moments like spectacular knockouts or technically impressive submissions help remind them that MMA is awesome, but the truly compelling stories like that of Matt Brown, especially when paired with edge-of-your-seat-quality fights, make them wonder why they ever questioned their love for the sport at all.