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Post-UFC 84 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - BJ Penn’s spectacular technical knockout win over Sean Sherk last Saturday night elevated his career into rarified air, making him only the second fighter in UFC history to win championships in two divisions. Granted, he technically accomplished that feat back in January when he dominated Joe Stevenson at the Metro Radio Arena in England. But there were plenty of critics discrediting his reign with an asterisk after the Stevenson bout since he hadn’t defeated a champion to become a champion. Penn forever quieted those naysayers with his emphatic win over Sherk.
By Michael DiSanto

Penn solidifies place in history, is GSP next?

BJ Penn’s spectacular technical knockout win over Sean Sherk last Saturday night elevated his career into rarified air, making him only the second fighter in UFC history to win championships in two divisions. Granted, he technically accomplished that feat back in January when he dominated Joe Stevenson at the Metro Radio Arena in England. But there were plenty of critics discrediting his reign with an asterisk after the Stevenson bout since he hadn’t defeated a champion to become a champion. Penn forever quieted those naysayers with his emphatic win over Sherk.

The win basically solidifies Penn’s future induction into the UFC Hall of Fame. So, the question is what is next for Hilo, Hawaii’s favorite son? As with all things Penn, the future is tough to predict.

One option is to remain at lightweight for the foreseeable future and try to put together a record-setting run of consecutive title defenses. Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz currently co-hold the record at five.

Although anything can happen inside the Octagon, it is difficult to imagine any lightweight beating Penn anytime soon, assuming he remains committed to training. The problem, however, is that Penn is a guy who thrives off challenges. He knows that he is far and away the best lightweight in the world, so it isn’t a stretch to believe that he will quickly become bored with the prospects of beating lightweight after lightweight for the next several years.

A return to welterweight is a much bigger challenge for Penn, and thus seems like the more likely path. Plus, he wasted no time mentioning Georges St-Pierre during his post-fight interview. A rematch with his former conqueror would be both a huge event and a tremendous challenge – the sort of challenge that would focus Penn like no lightweight opponent possibly could.

Take Notice: The Axe Murderer Lives!

When Wanderlei Silva stepped onto the scales at the MGM Grand for the pre-fight weigh-in wearing his t-shirt and a backward ball cap, he looked more like fan waiting for the event to begin than a man a little over 24-hours away from the most important fight of his career. Approaching the scales, he was almost giddy with smiles, waving to the crowd and soaking in the aura of the event. He didn’t even seem particularly intense during the post-weigh-in fighter pose.

In sum, he did not come even remotely close to resembling the guy who ruled PRIDE’s 205-lb division with equal parts intimidation and violence. And he certainly wasn’t the guy who viewed opponents in Japan with indignation for daring to think that they could legitimately challenge his reign.

Basically, I’d written off Silva’s chances the moment I saw him step onto the scales.

Whoops.

The moment Silva stepped inside the Octagon it was clear that he wasn’t just showing up for a paycheck. Everything was reminiscent of his days in PRIDE, from the shaved head to the palpable anticipation during the in-cage staredown. Silva looked like a savage predator ready to attack some unsuspecting prey as he bounced back and forth in front of his foe. It wasn’t manufactured tough guy stuff. It was very real. Silva couldn’t wait to get his hands on Jardine – a scary looking fellow in his own right. You know, Jardine looks like an enforcer for the Hells Angels. But I digress.

Once the fight began, there was no doubt that the Silva of old showed up at the arena. He planted his feet and engaged in an all-out war, just like he used to do in PRIDE. Jardine came ultra close to dropping him with that right hand scud missile that barely missed its mark in the opening seconds. Had that blow landed, Jardine would probably be in negotiations right about now to face the winner of Rampage-Griffin. But the blow didn’t find its mark, and that was the only opening that Silva needed.

The Brazilian attacked with unabashed ferocity, dropping Jardine with a beautiful left hook to the jaw after a wild combination. Smelling blood, Silva went in for the kill. Forget technique. Forget sports. Silva pounced on his fallen foe like a guy fighting for his life in a prison yard, grabbed Jardine and fired a series of right hands laced with bad intentions that quickly separated Jardine from consciousness.

Thirty-six seconds after it started the fight was over. But more importantly, during those 36 seconds, the Axe Murderer was reborn.

Rampage had better take notice.

Machida makes case for title shot

Lyoto Machida remains perfect in his five-year mixed martial arts career, including five wins inside the Octagon. His win over former light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz was a brilliant display of technique and game plan. In fact, Machida completely outclassed his foe from the opening bell until the action reached its conclusion. But the fact remains that Machida’s defense-first, chess-match style, while amazingly effective, is less than thrilling at times.

Machida circled continuously throughout the fight, landing effective kicks seemingly at will. Yet, he refused to stand his ground or take any real risks in search of a spectacular ending. Ortiz showed his frustration by repeatedly inviting his opponent to plant his feet and go to war. Those invitations fell on deaf ears, as Machida continued picking apart Ortiz on the outside.

Lyoto could have stopped Ortiz. He proved that by manhandling the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” at the end of the first round. When the fight hit the ground, Machida attacked like there was no tomorrow. Fans love that. But the Brazilian needs to fight with that sense of urgency earlier in the bout because the fact remains that while the UFC is a sport, it is also a business – the spectator sport business – and fans thirst for knockout or submission wins.

Moreover, it is very dangerous to allow an opponent to hang around during a fight. The athletes in the UFC are so skilled that they can end a fight in the blink of an eye, like Ortiz demonstrated at the end of the bout when he almost caught Machida in a triangle choke. If Machida wants to continue his winning ways and evolve into a champion, he would be well served to put opponents away as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught with a desperate submission attempt or wild haymaker late in a fight.

Machida’s flawless chess match win over Ortiz certainly justifies a title shot. The only question is when he will get his opportunity.

The “other” Silva continues to dominate in relative obscurity

Lyoto Machida isn’t the only undefeated contender in the 205-lb division. American Top Team’s Thiago Silva also sports a 13-0 record. But unlike his fellow countryman, only one of Silva’s 13 career fights has lasted until the final bell. Eleven ended from punches and one from an ankle lock. His list of victims includes dangerous strikers James Irvin and Houston Alexander. There is little doubt that he now ranks among the top 10 light heavies in the UFC, possibly higher. Nevertheless, few casual fans recognize the name Thiago Silva. That will change soon enough if the brawling Muay Thai expert continues his run of dominant, crowd-pleasing wins like Saturday’s victory over Antonio Mendes.

Palhares impresses

For the sixth consecutive fight, Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares defeated his opponent in the first round. But for the first time in his career, he beat a legitimate A-list fighter, making it look just as easy as it was for him competing against nameless foes in the sport’s minor leagues. There is no reason to anoint him as a top middleweight just yet, but walking through a very tough, skilled Ivan Salaverry is a great first step in that direction.

Clementi is making very real noise at lightweight

It wasn’t that long ago that I listed Rich Clementi as a 170-lb gatekeeper. You know, the kind of guy who top fighters should handle comfortably but one who would quickly expose pretenders. His hard-fought unanimous decision win over Terry Etim gives him three consecutive UFC wins at lightweight. Because the other two names are Sam Stout and Melvin Guillard, it is difficult to argue that Clementi is undeserving of a top 10 ranking. It’s time for Clementi to test himself against one of the division’s big dogs, such as Roger Huerta, Kenny Florian, Joe Stevenson, Sean Sherk or Tyson Griffin. Two years ago, I would have scoffed at his chances against any of those fighters. Today, I’m not so sure.
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