The UFC’s first venture into the "City of Brotherly Love" was a successful one, with Philly fight fans coming together at the Wachovia Center to watch the highlights of UFC 101: "Declaration" — namely the lightweight title fight between champion B.J. Penn and number one contender Kenny Florian, and the light heavyweight pairing of Forrest Griffin and middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who moved up in weight for the second time in his UFC career.
The main event title fight between Penn and Florian saw "KenFlo" looking to finally earn that victory in a major fight — something he was unable to do in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 1 Finale against Diego Sanchez and again a year and a half later against Sean Sherk at UFC 64 for the vacant lightweight strap.
Penn looked to bounce back from his welterweight loss to division kingpin Georges St. Pierre and came in with something to prove to the lightweight division players.
Showing the balance that he is known for, Penn refused to give Florian a takedown in the entire fight and largely controlled each round. With about 12 seconds left in the opening frame, Penn rocked Florian, but time expired before he could finish the fight.
The second round saw Florian continue to press Penn up against the cage, but again, the Hawaiian lightweight refused to go down, demonstrating why he is one of the hardest fighters to earn a takedown against. With a minute remaining in the round, Penn landed a series of uppercuts that had to have scored well with the judges.
Florian again pressed the action against the cage in the third round, but aside from an elbow or two, caused little damage to the champion. With 30 seconds remaining in the third, Penn transitioned out and landed several clean strikes that seemed to sum up the fight well: Penn is the better fighter at avoiding damage, and when his opponent is least expecting it, he turns the tables on you.
Despite being criticized for gassing early, between the third and fourth rounds, Penn stood in his corner, breathing calmly through his nose. He looked like a true champion in the moment.
A minute 15 into the fourth round, Penn earned a takedown of his own. Finally the Philly fans could see two well-versed jiu-jitsu fighters at their best. Penn transitioned to full mount and eventually took Florian’s back, securing a rear naked choke with 1:06 remaining in the fourth round. It was a dominant performance against arguably one of the best lightweight fighters in the world.
And Penn leaves Philly a true champion.
The co-main event featured UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva — one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world — taking on the former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. And what a strange fight it was.
The two legends in the sport circled one another for the first minute, before Silva seemed to flip a switch and show that he had absolutely nothing to fear from his much larger opponent. After dodging several punches from Griffin, Silva stood still and called TUF Season 1 light heavyweight winner in to stand and trade with him.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Griffin could have made was to oblige, which he did. Silva was simply much too fast for his opponent and reacted as if he knew what Griffin was about to throw seconds before even he did.
After rocking Griffin with a right hook, Silva knocked down his opponent, who quickly got back to his feet with a smile on his face. But you could tell it hurt him … badly.
Seconds later it was much of the same, but from a straight left from the middleweight champion. Silva seemed to know the end was very near. So too did Griffin.
But yet, almost knowing he was making a mistake but too frustrated to do anything differently, Griffin came at Silva guns blazing — the same way Chris Leben did in Silva’s UFC debut, right before getting knocked out. It was a classic blunder.
Griffin threw a right and a left, running straight at Silva, who calmly dodged the shots and then landed a … bitch slap? It certainly didn’t look like a power punch, but it knocked Griffin to the ground, who sprawled out lazily, as if he was in a sparring session with a training partner.
As Silva stepped in to finish it, Griffin waived him off, which prompted the referee to step end and call the fight.
Equally as strange was the former light heavyweight champion’s exit. Almost immediately after the fight was stopped, Griffin jumped to his feet and headed quickly for the exit of the Octagon. When a UFC official tried to stop him, he was almost shoved to the ground by Griffin, who acted as if he wanted to be as far from the crowd as possible, seemingly from embarrassment.
I hate to say it about such a revered fighter, but it certainly seemed that way. Very, very bizarre ending.
Regardless, you can’t take anything away from Silva. The man seemed virtually invincible — it’s gotta be frustrating as hell to fight him. Let the pound-for-pound discussions begin! Silva is right back on top.
UFC 101 marked the long-awaited return of TUF 7 winner Amir Sadollah, who has been on the shelf from multiple injuries and hasn’t fought since June 2008. Perhaps it was cage rust — or perhaps referee Dan Miragliotta, who has a history of controversial early stoppages, struck again.
Either way, undefeated up-and-comer Johny Hendricks took advantage of the opportunity to fight a bigger name. Just 25 seconds into the fight, the two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion landed an overhand left that set up a series of uppercuts that dropped Sadollah.
As Hendricks began to rain down punches, Miragliotta stepped in just as it appeared Sadollah had started to recover and was attempting to get back to his feet. The crowd booed the early stoppage to the point that Hendricks’ post-fight interview with Joe Rogan could hardly be heard.
While the stoppage might have been early, it shouldn’t take anything away from the former Oklahoma State University wrestler and 4-time All American. Now 6-0, Hendricks will certainly look to ride this momentum into the UFC’s stacked welterweight division.
Speaking of early stoppages, lightweights Shane Nelson and Aaron Riley had their chance at a rematch from their first meeting at UFC 96: "Jackson vs. Jardine" back in March, which ended in controversy just 44 seconds into the first frame. In fact, their first fight — which Nelson won via TKO — has been called one of the worst stoppages in mixed martial arts history, which prompted UFC president Dana White to call for an immediate rematch.
While the rematch was slated for the preliminary portion of the UFC 101, thanks to time restrictions, the fight was bumped to the main card. Unfortunately, it was an uneventful affair that saw Riley secure the victory via unanimous decision (30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards) thanks to some head kicks and better wrestling.
Ironically, most of the crowd’s cheers during the fight came in the third round when another fight — this one in the stands — broke out involving multiple people, at least one of which was a woman. All in a day’s work in the City of Brotherly Love.
In what is expected to be his last fight at middleweight before dropping to the 170 pound division, Ricardo Almeida took on Hawaiian fighter and TUF 3 winner Kendall Grove.
A third degree blackbelt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Almeida pressed Grove up against the cage early, looking to take the fight to the ground as quickly as possible. Earning two takedowns and a solid overhand right in the first round, Almeida continued pouring on the assault throughout the second round.
But "Big Dog’s" eagerness nearly got the best of him in the second, when Grove came close to finishing the fight with a deep armbar. Later in the round, Grove landed a solid uppercut, but Almeida pushed through.
Despite showing some wear and tear in the third round — no doubt from being outsized by the 6’6" Grove — Almeida continued to earn takedowns. The "Big Dog" looked to have the bigger heart than "Da Spyda", avoiding most of the Muay Thai striker’s knees to earn the unanimous decision (30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards) and end Grove’s two-fight win streak.
The UFC 101 main card got underway with a lightweight scrap between Kurt Pellegrino and Josh Neer. Pellegrino used his wrestling to secure the early takedown and stay on top of Neer for the entire opening frame. But "The Dentist" stayed busy from the bottom. Mid-way through the round, Neer secured an armbar, but "Batman" picked up his opponent and dropped him right back down on his head for what was probably the highlight of the opening frame.
The second and third rounds were much of the same, with Pellegrino securing top position and raining down strikes, and Neer throwing up submission attempts from the bottom. With a minute left in the second, "Batman" earned mount, which he transitioned into taking Neer’s back, but wasn’t able to finish.
As the fight came to a close, a frustrated Neer foresaw the inevitable — that his opponent simply outworked him by maintaining dominant position throughout the fight. With all three judges scoring the bout 30-27 in favor of "Batman," Pellegrino picks up his third win in a row and is now 6-3 in the UFC.
While not every fight on the card was the most exciting fight in MMA history, Philly fans seemed to lap it up. Hopefully this marks the first in a long line of UFC events for the fight-loving town.