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10 Miscellaneous Musings in the immediate aftermath of UFC 129

1.       WOW is all that needs to be said regarding the landmark event itself (if Brock was judging the event on his poultry-based scale of chicken salad-chicken shit, this was definitely a large bowl of Chicken Caesar salad, consisting of organic free-range chicken, extra croutons and a shit load of dressing). Dana said it best in his vlog when he stated that the Rogers Centre looked “like the Dallas Cowboys stadium on steroids" given the sheer quantity of screens on display. It is oft-declared that the UFC is the Superbowl of MMA, but this was the UFC’s first ever veritable Superbowl, when the organisation truly reached that much-vaunted upper echelon. And I speak as someone who witnessed 129 approximately 3,500 miles away from Ontario in sunny Manchester, England (I actually scribed these musings down at 9am on the Sunday morning in England, a few hours after the fights, having not yet hit the hay). Joe Rogan affirmed that his goosebumps had effectively ceased to function, as was the power of being in attendance. It is verisimilar that having tested the waters and fixed the benchmark, the UFC will host two or three stadium shows per annum, with progressively larger numbers (it’s only a matter of time before the UFC surpasses the 90,000 attendance record set by Pride in Japan).

 

2.       Dana White is a hard man to gratify. In the extensive build-up to Saturday night’s unprecedented festivities, Dana White seemed his customary chirpy self, eagerly anticipating this landmark occasion and busting everyone’s chops in his vlogs. “Business as usual” you might say. However, he appeared decidedly uptight at the post-fight presser (perhaps Dana was exhausted and had suffered an adrenaline-dump post-event, or maybe he had not consumed one of his beloved “Pink Berry” yoghurts and his blood sugar had crashed. This is all of course, pure conjecture). This was somewhat baffling, given that he had just witnessed a seminal moment for the enterprise/sport that he has so vigorously nurtured, and one which he confirmed to be the highlight of his own personal MMA odyssey. Overall, and very much befitting of the occasion, the event proved a resounding success, with most MMA reporters taking to Twitter to delight over the firework-packed undercard (including one breath-taking spinning back-fist knockout and one elbow-induced nose-shattering TKO), and the highly-enthralling main card (which included amongst others a barnstormer of a fight of the night between Aldo and Hominick and a Mr.Miyagi-/Steven Seagal-inspired crane kick from Lyoto Machida that supercedes the previous effort of middleweight phenomenon Anderson Silva). In fact, the sole mediocre bout of the action-packed soiree was ironically the main event, and this particular disappointment was accentuated by the bona fide quality of the preceding fights. So, following logic, this could be the only feasible source of Dana’s displeasure? One could sense a slight note of disappointment during Dana’s habitual post-fight interview with Ariel when discussing Georges’ apparent lack of ability to provide highlight reel moments parallel to those of an Anderson or Machida, though he defended St. Pierre’s performance pointing to the calibre of opposition and Shields’ resilience. Whatever the source of Dana’s downturn in mood, he will soon rejoice over the event.

 

3.       Irrespective of promises to deliver a spectacular performance, GSP is still GSP, in the sense that recently he tends to win decisively whilst lacking that much-publicised killer instinct. On this occasion, Georges was so desperate to silence his disparagers with a finish that maybe he was culpable of forcing the issue with his excessive headhunting, as underscored by his repeated utilisation of the overhand right (referred to by Dana himself as a “weird punch that I didn’t understand” and even Greg Jackson has since confessed that it was overemployed). Georges has become such a commodity in his own right that he is almost unwilling to engage with reckless abandon through fear that it might tarnish his brand and legacy as a martial artist (losses could hinder Georges’ endorsement deals, so from his own personal financial and health standpoint a more reserved approach is understandable, though others would contend that he is gradually losing his box-office appeal). He is so focussed on being a self-proclaimed “efficient fighter” that he compromises entertaining the fans to ensure the W (“efficient”, as we all know, may also be synonymous with “boring” in the context of fighting). The bulk of initial reaction to Georges’ performance was inevitably negative (even certain sections of the Ontario faithful were apparently raining down boos during the fight, indicative of the disappointment felt by his adoring Canadian public- I wonder if Wayne Gretzky ever received boos for failing to woo a Canadian crowd, maybe that’s one for Dana White to address given his penchant for comparing the two), though it may be construed conversely. After all, he comfortably (48-47 was a preposterous adjudication in my humble opinion) beat a man in Jake Shields that had not lost for six years, with the expert grappler unable to take GSP to the mat on a single occasion. However, fans tend to judge those heralded as P4P greats more critically, harbouring insanely high expectations of the chosen few that ever grace this list or enter into its vicinity. To those that incessantly lambast the Canadian superstar, Dana will undoubtedly respond “if you don’t want to watch him, don’t buy the fu*k1ng PPV”. One implication of GSP’s performance is that perhaps Anderson will feel extremely confident about the idea of a superfight between the two respective champions. Conversely, maybe Georges’ doubts regarding the proposed bout will have been compounded by his own display against Shields. Another glaring question is whether Nick Diaz remains one of the only welterweights that can elicit the very best of GSP? Now more than ever, GSP needs his fighting and personality antithesis Nick Diaz, to rekindle what some fans are labelling a predictable career. This dream matchup between the UFC and Strikeforce WW champions gives rise to another important issue for fight fans: Can Zuffa make Strikeforce/UFC superfights happen? Dana appears to contradict himself by intimating that the fight may be arranged, claiming that he can act as he pleases, but then stating that he must honour the Strikeforce deals under the Showtime contract. However, it is worth remembering at this juncture that Dana invariably gets what he wants.

 

4.       It was a decidedly mixed evening’s work for “Scarface”; on the one hand, Aldo endured a battle that reminded us that this previously-perceived demigod is actually a mortal homo sapiens after all (akin to the impact of the Sonnen and Bigfoot fights on Anderson and Fedor respectively). He also failed to showcase, from both top and bottom position, his world-class level BJJ which has rendered him a 4-time Brazilian and World Champion in the noble art (Aldo has perhaps neglected his BJJ training in favour of enhancing his stand-up game, something which he will have to address for his forthcoming opponent Chad Mendes, a standout wrestler who will surely take Aldo to the ground). On the other, it manifestly illustrated that Aldo possesses not only the skills but the heart of a champion, a prerequisite for any martial artist that aspires to acquire and retain the UFC gold strap. In what proved his toughest test to date, Aldo demonstrated an entirely different facet of his comprehensive armoury, his determination. As a direct result of a difficult weight cut, Aldo didn’t appear to enter the Octagon in optimal condition (this was merely alluded to but not utilised as an excuse by Aldo, who didn’t want to detract from the performance of his worthy adversary, another hallmark of a true champion). A day earlier at the Champions Q&A, Aldo barely seemed able to negotiate his way onto the stage, feeling light-headed, and was forced to leave the session early (subsequently we have discovered that Jose might have been ill due to his post-fight comments to his corner men about requiring antibiotics). He noticeably tired during the early stages of the fight, and for large portions Hominick appeared to be winning the standup battle forcing Aldo to take the fight to the ground. No small feat against a consensus p4p top 3 contender and one of the most explosive strikers in the MMA. Nevertheless, Aldo demonstrated courage and his gamut of skills (including his previously unseen wrestling) to carve out victory in the face of adversity, and this does not bode well for his prospective competitors that face a fully-fit version of “Scarface”. The sole reservation over Aldo’s tenacious performance would be his apparent tampering with the cut under Hominick’s eye whilst on top position, constituting dirty play reminiscent of the infamous Arona vs Sakuraba incident back in 2005 (was I the only that spotted this, or was I hallucinating due to the fact that in England the bout aired at 4a.m. by which point I was feeling rather deprived of slumber).

 

5.       Scarface vs Bulgehead: Once again MMA stars showcase heart and determination that is sometimes lacking in certain elite boxers these days (a case that sticks in the mind, though there have been several recently in boxing, would be the keenly awaited Bradley-Alexander bout, in which Alexander seemingly took the easy way out due to a relatively innocuous cut) . One analyst commented, “Aldo took home the belt, whilst Hominick took home another head”, whilst another suggested that Hominick wanted to give birth at the same time as his pregnant missus, alluding to the rather sizeable swelling that developed on his forehead during the fourth round. Either way, when his newborn looks back at the baby photos in a decade’s time, she will forever be reminded of her father’s gruesome bulge, and consequently will always remember the name Jose Aldo. Hominick also proved that a fighter can earn more in defeat, than he can in victory, as evidenced when one juxtaposes the resulting rising stock of Hominick with the diminished cachet of GSP for example. What does appear slightly unjust however is the lack of sympathy afforded to GSP for the eye injury he sustained during his fight, which effectively rendered him blind out of his left eye for the majority of his duel and which, according to his mater-strategist coach Greg Jackson, played a significant role by adversely affecting Georges’ depth perception. Unfortunately for Georges, people’s perceptions are formulated by directly contrasting his latent cornea injury with the very salient protuberance boasted by Hominick, which only served as a catalyst for Hominick to produce his best round of the bout.

 

6.       Could Steven Seagal be legit?...It’s very easy to be sceptical as to Steven Seagal’s substantive input into the training of top level MMA fighters. It’s fair to say that following Anderson’s front-kick clinic on Vitor Belfort, most questioned whether Seagal had actually contributed to this violent yet highly-technical masterpiece, despite Anderson’s assertion in favour of the pony-tailed assassin. I decided to conduct a little reconnaissance on the “Under Siege” protagonist, and discovered that he was once classed the highest ranked Western martial artist in Japan. Sufficient credentials to impress me at least. Even Ariel Helwani, during his post-fight interview with Seagal, began to attach credence to Seagal’s proclamations, and accordingly addressed him as “Master Seagal”. Once may be a coincidence, but twice is beginning to seem rather convincing, vindicating his contribution. Either Seagal is a lucky charm, or he is paying these UFC luminaries to claim that he is instructing them, maybe with a view to resurrecting his acting career (just a conspiracy theory). What is certain is that Machida’s kick, akin to Anderson’s, was not telegraphed in the slightest, and was reminiscent of Daniel’s crane kick at the finale of Karate Kid 1. During their brief post-fight conversation, Dana noticed that Randy’s tooth fell out, though he informed everybody at the post-fight presser that he knows a good dentist in Las Vegas, so at least we may rest assured that Randy will retain his “Hollywood smile”.

 

7.       Despite Dana’s concerted efforts to convince us otherwise, Randy Couture may no longer be considered a top ten LHW (nor was he before the Machida fight). The basis for Dana’s claim, which he voiced recurrently throughout the week leading up to the event, was most tenuous. Granted, he was riding a three-fight winning streak, but the calibre of adversary has to be taken into consideration; a one-dimensional, uneducated martial artist (though I use the term loosely) in James Toney, an aging (over-the-hill) Mark Coleman, and the perennial underachiever in Brandon Vera (unintentional rhyme). Couture himself labelled the former two as “novelty” fights, whilst the general consensus was that he lost unanimously to Vera. This is not to detract from the legend that is Couture, but just to regain some sense of perspective on Dana’s tendency to overhype certain fighters.

 

8.       Canadian MMA appears to be in pretty decent shape, attested to by the fact that the Canadians prevailed in six out of the ten bouts in which they were involved, a significant improvement from the last time Canadians were pitted against their US counterparts at UFC 58 (only won three out of eight on that specific evening). In particular, much credit must go to Firas Zahabi, who marshalled four of his five Canadian fighters (that all train at the acclaimed Tristar gym, Montreal) to victory. All the Tristar Canadians boasted aesthetically-pleasing stand-up skills, including a spinning back-fist KO and my personal favourite of MacDonald tossing around Diaz like the proverbial pancake.

 

9.       Whilst nobody was blatantly robbed of a decision on Saturday evening, the inaugural provision of cage-side screens for the judges didn’t necessarily seem to enhance their capacity for scoring fights. The two scores of 48-47 in the main event were questionable. The issue with judging was never that the arbiters had restricted vision, but rather that they are not adequately educated in the sport of MMA in order to be accurately scoring fights. And besides, judging will forever be subjective, screens or no screens.

 

10.   As an aside, kudos to Britain’s principal MMA journalistic representative, Gareth A Davis, who was sat cage-side to witness the action unfold. Gareth is becoming a prominent fixture and increasingly recognisable face at UFC events, which can only serve to be beneficial for British MMA (obviously I'm a Brit so had to get that in there, cheers).

 

By Jonathan Shrager (follow me on Twitter @jonathanshrager)

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