In the brief history of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), there have been several brilliant fights, great matches and bouts that went down in history for various reasons. Dan Severn / Ken Shamrock was historically bad, for example, but there aren't too many main events even close to that caliber of stink.
More often than not, the big fight of the night was important for various reasons, namely, it was a title defense or a bout to choose the next contender for the belt.
Some fights are glorious because of what went down inside the cage. In the build up to Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua, most fans and pundits were looking forward to a nice little slugfest between two legends of the sport. What we got was the unexpected fight of the decade.
Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier was supposed to be a cool scrap between the rising hot prospect and a fun fighter who'd become a crowd favorite because of his seven-second knockout of Mark Hominick and first ever twister win over Leonard Garcia (and his other fight with Leonard). What we got was probably fight of the year and more "THAT WAS AWESOME!" moments than Mike Schiavello on commentary.
Other fights are iconic because of the build up, who the fighters are and what the fight means for the history of the sport and the legacies of the fighters. Rashad Evans vs. Jon Jones was a great build up fight, and it was incredibly important for the pedigrees of everyone concerned, but that wasn't even fight of the night (that went to Eddie Yagin's win over Hominick), much less a highlight reel fight for years to come.
One that falls in between the two is the second matchup between B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre. You had the lightweight champion and the welterweight champion. Penn felt he won that first fight (he won the first round of it, certainly), and was coming "to the death, George."
It was, in the words of Dana White at the UFC 94 press conference:
"I've been saying the whole time you're lucky if in your lifetime you get to see three or four of these types of fights. Two guys in their prime, both hungry, both champions, and both going into the fight wanting to finish each other.... This is Hagler (vs.) Hearns. This is Hagler (vs. Sugar Ray) Leonard. This is one of those types of fights. And I truly believe the guy that wins this fight on Saturday night walks out there a huge superstar and is on his way to going down in the history books as one of the great fighters to ever live."
It didn't matter back at UFC 94 that the lightweight strap was on hold with Kenny Florian holding onto his No. 1 contender status and having been promised a shot. It didn't matter that Thiago Alves was told he would have his shot at the welterweight strap.
Both would eventually get their crack (UFC's 100 and 101), and both would go on to lose to the legends.
It was the most anticipated fight of the year; Inside MMA (the show hosted by Kenny Rice and Bas Rutten) ran a poll and viewers gave it an outright majority over Fedor Emelianenko vs. Andrei Arlovski, Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson and Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson. NBC's MMA section described it as one of the most anticipated fights in mixed martial arts (MMA) history.
Here are the words of Dave Meltzer (then writing for Yahoo! Sports):
"In the fight game, you get used to hype: The biggest this. The biggest that. After a while, it rolls off your back. But Saturday night is different. You can make a good case that the Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn battle for the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight championship is, from an all-around standpoint, one of the true epic matches in the history of the sport."
When I stated earlier that it was a bit of both, it's because the fight itself was a bit of a letdown in a way. It was amazing to see the dominance of St. Pierre against another legend of the sport, but much like "Bones" vs. "Suga," it was a dominant one-sided affair that would have gone to a lop-sided decision had "The Prodigy" and his corner not thrown in the towel after the fourth round.
But, as far as history is concerned, the fight of the night was B.J. Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre. No one cares about Howard and Wilson. Hell, I'd be impressed if you could tell me anything about Wilson without looking it up! The legends are what matters. The legends help grow the sport to new heights and are what people talk about in bars, barbershops, social media and at the proverbial water cooler at work.
We can't control what happens inside the cage. Sometimes you get greatness, sometimes you get dominance, and sometimes you get drek. Sometimes those fights go down in the annals as the best out there, most of the times they don't. The big name fights, the real big ones, they get talked about forever. Ortiz and Shamrock, Fedor and Cro Cop, Rampage and Wanderlei, Mir and Lesnar, BJ and GSP...
And so would the "Spider," Anderson Silva, the most dominant middleweight champion in the history of the sport, the man who hasn't lost to his opponent's actions in eight years, against "Rush," Georges St. Pierre, the most dominant welterweight champion in the history of the sport (sorry, Hughes), the man who hasn't lost in more than five years.
St. Pierre vs Johny Hendricks is a nice match up. And there's nothing wrong with a nice match up. Hendricks has probably earned his shot. On a strategic level, I don't think he does anything to St. Pierre, as evidenced by the second fight the Canadian had with Josh Koscheck. "Bigg Rigg's" striking is powerful, but still somewhat unrefined. There have been quite a few instances where he's been unable to land that big blow and struggled in close fights (and even a loss) -- see Rick Story, Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce.
Against someone with the footwork and striking acumen of St. Pierre, I would assume the fight plays out much like his second fight with Koscheck did -- just him circling the other way out of the range of the powerful left.
Again, there's nothing wrong with a nice match up. But, it isn't legendary. It won't be the most anticipated fight of the year. Why settle for nice when you can have legendary?