(Demian Maia attempts to engage the man who wasn’t there.)
UFC 112 marked the first time that the promotion staged an event in the Middle East, the first time that they held an event outdoors, the first time BJ Penn lost at Lightweight since 2002 and the first time that pound-for-pound kingpin Anderson Silva was threatened with a point deduction in the Octagon for lack of engagement. WTF did I just watch? I’d suggest getting your bucket list out and start checking ‘em off one by one because this could be a sign that Armageddon is upon us.
BJ Penn hadn’t been taken down by a lightweight in six years and hadn’t lost at 155 in eight. Frankie Edgar ended both streaks with a unanimous decision victory that gave him a belt that he had to drape over his shoulder because it didn’t fit around his waist. “Maybe I am a 145-pounder” the new champ joked. But it was that very lack of size that may have been the key to Edgar’s victory. Frankie used an obvious speed advantage to get inside, land a punch or a kick, get back out and continually circle away from BJ. He also made sure to circle in different directions, making it that much harder for Penn to time him. While he did score two takedowns in the fight, they were meaningless except for breaking BJ’s streak of flawless takedown defense. Make no mistake about it…Edgar now wears gold thanks to speed, conditioning and crisp striking. BJ landed some strikes throughout the fight but never hurt Edgar and was consistently unsuccessful in closing the distance and turning up the heat. He slowed a bit in the later rounds, but the most surprising thing to me is that he never changed his gameplan and looked to exploit a significant submission advantage once it became apparent that the stand up wasn’t going as planned. His corner told him after the third round to take the fight to the ground, but BJ never even attempted to do so. Kenny Florian may be the happiest guy in the UFC not named Frankie Edgar.
Anderson Silva retained the Middleweight belt with a bizarre, frustrating and utterly disrespectful performance that booed by the fans. UFC President Dana White was livid. “Believe me, I’ll answer the questions of what a disgrace the main event was. To end it the way that we did was an embarrassment for me, the UFC, the Fertittas and the UAE. If you’re that talented, be Mike Tyson. Go in there and finish. I’m so blown away and disgusted and saddened.” In fact, Yahoo! Sports Kevin Iole reported that White threw Silva’s belt down at the feet of his manager, Ed Soares, and went backstage after the fourth round.
It was clear from the opening moments of the fight that Maia offered no threat to Silva in the fight. Early in the fight, Anderson was masterful and entertaining as he toyed with Demian for the first 7 ½ minutes. Then Anderson turned heel, taunting Maia, yelling at him, disrespecting and clowning him for the remainder of the round. In the third, he continued to dominate a bloody, battered Maia and did little in the last two rounds en route to a unanimous decision. By the middle of the third, the crowd’s chants of “Silva” were replaced with “Maia” and “G-S-P” and cheers turned to loudening boos as the fight wore on. It was hard to watch the fight and not feel that Silva could have called his shot and finished Maia on-demand in any of the five rounds. And that’s where the frustration set in for anyone watching. If Anderson wants to taunt an opponent and destroy him mentally, fine. But to not finish an overly matched opponent and stop engaging makes no sense to me.
Unless Anderson is a marketing genius.
He has said that he wants to go down to 170 and fight St-Pierre since the welterweight champ won’t come up and fight him. Everyone knows that fights and movies both sell when there is a good guy and a bad guy. GSP will always wear the white hat and the thing that Anderson successfully did tonight was turn himself into the villain if that fight should happen. Do I really think he had that master plan in mind? Not for a minute, but when things make no sense at all, you grasp for any reason you can come up with that might explain it.
For those that will say that this was yet another example of Anderson’s refusal to put away inferior opponents, similar to his lackluster wins over Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, this was both different and worse. Let me preface this by saying that I defended Anderson after both of those fights. Cote’s knee went out in the third and Silva often feels guys out for a bit before going for the kill. As for Leites, he flopped to his back repeatedly to avoid standing with Anderson. BJJ phenom Maia, however, was there for the taking from bell to bell, standing with the champ, almost begging to be finished. What the three fights share is that they are lackluster title defenses and if there is any message to be taken from them it is that Anderson must be challenged to be interested and to put his best feet, knees and punches forward, as he did with Forrest Griffin. Right, wrong or otherwise, it is what it is and it’s up to the UFC to challenge its best fighter going forward or millions of dollars and plenty of fans will be lost.
• Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie turned into the classic striking match that often results when two grapplers meet. Renzo got the better of Hughes in the first round, but a series of unchecked leg kicks and a lack of gas got the better of Renzo by the third. Hughes was able to finish the submission specialist by TKO due to strikes with just 20 seconds left in the fight.
• Thank God for the first three televised fights on the Pay Per View! Kendall Grove put the “mixed” in mixed martial arts dominating Mark Munoz in the first round of their Fight of the Night only to have the “Philippine Wrecking Machine” put the “pound” in ground & pound and finish Grove in the second. Munoz showed tremendous heart and some holes in his game as he continued to climb the 185 pound ladder.
• Rafael Dos Anjos looked fantastic in finishing tough Terry Etim for his third straight win in the Octagon and the Submission of the Night bonus for a fight-ending armbar in the second round. Dos Anjos is going to be a factor at 155 forward with solid technical striking and a great ground game.
• Phil Davis showed he’s still “Mr. Wonderful” by choking out Alexander Gustafsson with five seconds left in the first round. Gustafsson showed surprising takedown defense against the NCAA standout, but Phil showed good composure and advancements in his game by locking in the Anaconda choke as the round came to a close.
• Closing Shot Closing Comment…As I watched the first three fights of the night I couldn’t help but feel that they were all great displays of the diversity that makes mixed martial arts so entertaining and perfect for a debut event in a new country. Ironically, the final three high-profile fights were more like kickboxing matches with no finishes and not as fan-friendly. Well, one of them could have had a big finish. Maybe next time.