You could say the timing was good for Houston Alexander last Saturday night.
It was the same week Sports Illustrated put heretofore niche sport ultimate fighting on its cover. It was the same night much-fawned-over Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell took on Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the main event in front of more than 14,000 fans in Las Vegas as untold thousands watched on pay-per-view.
And it was when up-and-comer Keith Jardine was to pulverize some cupcake from Omaha on the undercard on his way to a light heavyweight title match with Liddell.
The cupcake - Alexander - had other plans.
Alexander, a part-time Omaha DJ, took apart fourth-ranked Jardine with a first-round flurry of punches. The knockout turned the division on its head, and as one TV announcer put it following Alexander's big-time debut, "Welcome to the UFC."
He meant the viewers. He also could have meant Alexander.
For the unindoctrinated, UFC is a brand of mixed martial arts, which, in the not-so-distant past was known for its no-holds-barred and bloody style. More recently, however, it has adopted a more strict set of rules and is gaining social acceptance as evidenced by mainstream media attention and a growing legion of fans.
That doesn't mean it's for the faint of heart. For instance, Alexander, who went off as a 4-1 underdog against Jardine, unleashed a ferocious series of uppercuts and knees to Jardine's face, ending the fight in 48 seconds. Brutal but efficient.
Now, just as UFC seems primed for a NASCAR-like surge into the national conscience, Alexander has announced his arrival in the new fight game's big leagues, and he's poised to take the whole state of Nebraska with him.
Reached in Omaha earlier this week, Alexander said he was ready to put Nebraska on the map for more than "football and Larry the Cable Guy." A lifetime of boxing and some "dibbling and dabbling" in wrestling gave the 35-year-old a fighting background, and he's had lots of experience fighting in the mixed martial arts minor leagues. At 6 feet, 205 pounds and chiseled by fierce training, he looks ready for prime time.
"I could have left here a long time ago," said Alexander, who went to Omaha North. "I stayed here and stayed on the front line. I'm laying the foundation. (I want to show) we have more than corn and the zoo here."
It's that sort of talk that has begun to draw a local following. After Saturday's stunner, Alexander referenced Nebraska several times in his post-fight interview.
His trainer, Mick Doyle, a local kick boxing and martial arts expert, is aware of Alexander's rising profile.
"A couple of our other fighters were in bars around here (watching on television Saturday) and when he said 'Nebraska,' they said it was as loud as when Nebraska won national championships in football," Doyle said. "He was on a world stage and took care of business."
Alexander's dismantling of Jardine has had Internet chat rooms and insiders buzzing throughout the week. Doyle said his phone has "been ringing off the hook" with endorsement opportunities and people trying to get a piece of the man who lit up the "Dean of Mean" Jardine. And according to Doyle, the attention couldn't come to a better person.