UFC 87 Musings
GSP scored the victory by using a great blend of crisp, sharp standup and perfectly executed takedowns. But his celebration was short lived.
GSP WINS; PENN SHOULD BE NEXT
Georges St-Pierre erased all doubt on Saturday night as to who is the best welterweight in the world by handing top-rated challenger Jon Fitch a one-sided beating in front of 15,082 rabid mixed martial arts fans in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
GSP scored the victory by using a great blend of crisp, sharp standup and perfectly executed takedowns. But his celebration was short lived. Moments after ring announcer Bruce Buffer informed the world of the obvious – that GSP won a landslide judges’ decision – the Canadian was given the opportunity to take his career to the next level.
Possibly the most impressive entry on GSP’s resume is that he owns a win over every man he has ever faced in his career. But there is an asterisk by one of those names – B.J. Penn.
When the pair squared off at UFC 58, they fought to a disputed decision. Many, including this writer, felt that Penn won the bout. But the judges, and my esteemed editor, Thomas Gerbasi, gave the nod to GSP. The fight began with Penn bludgeoning his taller foe with right hands down the middle, forcing GSP to dig deep and rely on his heart and courage for the first time in his amazing career as one of the greatest fighters in the world, pound for pound, attacked mercilessly.
Many would have crumbled in that situation. Not GSP.
He rallied in the second and third rounds by scoring takedown after takedown against Penn and keeping the fight on the ground for long periods of time. Penn made the inexcusable decision to rest while on the ground, allowing GSP to begin scoring points with the judges, despite not being able to inflict much, if any, damage on Penn during those ground stints. Nonetheless, in rounds two and three, the action unfolded on the ground or up against the cage more than in the center of the ring, and it was GSP’s Octagon control that carried the day on the cards.
There is no way that GSP is satisfied with his performance at the Mandalay Bay Events Center back in 2006. It has to eat at him that Penn walks around claiming that he was robbed by the judges. It has to be unsettling to his ego that Penn desperately wants to fight him again because ‘The Prodigy’ has no doubt that he will be successful the second time around. And it had to feel like a punch in the gut when Penn jumped into the Octagon to challenge the champion before GSP had an opportunity to bask in glory of his huge win over Fitch.
Nothing is official yet, and I’m convinced that Penn wasn’t in GSP’s immediate plans, but I would be shocked if UFC president Dana White doesn’t announce in the coming weeks that GSP-Penn II will take place before the end of the year. It is a fight Penn desperately wants, and it is a fight of potential historic proportions, as ‘The Prodigy’ will try to become the first fighter in UFC history to hold championships in two divisions simultaneously. That will be tremendously motivating for Penn, but rest assured that GSP erasing the doubt surrounding his first win will be equally motivating.
LESNAR PROVES HE IS MORE THAN A CARTOON CHARACTER
Nobody entered the Octagon at UFC 87 with a heavier weight hanging around his neck than Brock Lesnar. The ridiculous pressure to perform had nothing to do with the fact that he was fighting in front of his hometown. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was competing in the co-main event.
Instead, it had everything to do with the fact that he is one of the most recognizable names in the UFC. Yet, he is promotion’s most inexperienced competitor.
Lesnar certainly doesn’t fight for the money; he is already a multi-millionaire after his days as the poster boy for the WWE. He doesn’t fight for fame; those WWE days made him much more of a household name than anyone competing in the UFC today. He fights for the purity of the sport. He fights to challenge himself. He fights because he wants to be a champion.
The problem, however, is that Lesnar is too big of a star for the UFC to risk him losing to a no-name opponent. As a result, he was forced to face a legitimate title contender at UFC 87. And Lesnar, who is such a large human that he seems more like a cartoon character than an athlete, not only stepped up to the challenge, he far exceeded all expectations by completely dominating one of the toughest, most experienced heavyweights in the sport.
Some will chalk up Lesnar’s win to a case of styles make fights, since Jake O’Brien was able to have similar success taking down Herring and grinding out a unanimous decision win. But O’Brien did little more than ride Herring like a merry-go-round in that fight, causing virtually no damage to his foe in the process. Lesnar, by contrast, handed the ‘Texas Crazy Horse’ a beating, rendering his face a bloodied and swollen mess after three vicious rounds.
If Lesnar continues to work hard in the gym and remain completely dedicated to the sport, then the sky is the limit for this guy. Few heavyweights in the world, inside or outside the UFC, possess the same blend of size, speed and pure athleticism as Lesnar. Sure, he looked confused at times, unsure of how to put away Herring. But he utterly dominated the bout nonetheless. And that speaks louder than the naysayers who are looking for any reason to criticize the nascent mixed martial artist.
Take heed of these words: Brock Lesnar is for real, and he is going to be a factor in the heavyweight division before the end of 2009.
BJJ ROUND OF THE YEAR
It didn’t take long for Demian Maia to show the world why his is a multiple time world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Twenty-three seconds into the first round, Maia took advantage of a clinch initiated by Jason MacDonald to pull guard and lock in what appeared to be an extremely deep triangle choke.
Maia eventually submitted his slippery, cagey opponent, but not with that triangle, and not before some of the most thrilling displays of transition jiu-jitsu in the history of the Octagon.
MacDonald remained calm while stuck in the triangle and continued moving his head ever so slightly to make sure and relieve pressure on his carotid artery so that blood would continue to flow to his brain, thus ensuring consciousness. Surviving a deep triangle from a BJJ world champion was impressive enough, but it paled in comparison to MacDonald doing a somersault to escape the triangle and then squirming around and taking Maia’s back.
Maia used his elite jiu-jitsu skills to spin ‘The Athlete’ off his back, but found himself stuck in a deep, deep guillotine choke. Unfazed facing what seemed like certain defeat, the Brazilian somehow snaked out of the guillotine to take MacDonald’s back and sink ina very clean rear naked choke.
Equally unfazed, MacDonald defended the choke expertly, preventing the elite submission artist from finishing the fight. When the round ended moments later, the pair had just completed what was undoubtedly the most impressive round of two-way transition jiu-jitsu of 2008, if not in the history of the Octagon.
The win propels Maia into the realm of legitimate middleweight contenders, as only former champion Rich Franklin and the highly rated Yushin Okami can also boast wins over MacDonald. For his part, MacDonald loses nothing in defeat. If anything, he put the entire division on notice that he has elevated his ground game to a level that all should respect, making him an even more formidable foe than he was prior to this fight.
FLORIAN SHOULD SIT BACK AND WAIT
Everyone who steps into the Octagon against Kenny Florian is convinced that they will defeat the lanky, unassuming lightweight. Fan favorite Roger Huerta was no different.
Boy was he wrong.
Both found moments of success, but they were much more frequent for Florian, who was able to rely on his more refined MMA game to outpoint an aggressive, game Huerta, winning all three rounds on each of the judge’s cards.
Florian’s victory over Huerta firmly established him as the division’s top contender. But I’m not so sure that an immediate challenge for BJ Penn’s title is the best move for the Boston resident. If Florian is unsuccessful in a bout with Penn, he will find himself in an abyss of sorts. He becomes a guy that generates no interest as a championship challenger, yet he remains too dangerous for the UFC to put him in with other top lightweights for fear that he will ruin future title bouts. Thus, it will become tougher and tougher for Florian to get big fights.
Florian may be better served, therefore, biding his time for the next six months. He should focus on stringing together two or three more wins while Penn looks to return to the welterweight division to challenge for the title he once held. That might not be in the too distant future, considering that Penn wasted no time jumping into the Octagon to challenge GSP moments after the affable Canadian successfully defended his welterweight crown against Fitch.
If I managed Florian, I would sit back and let Penn first challenge GSP before making any noise about challenging for the lightweight title After all, Penn, who hates cutting weight, may decide to stay at 170 lbs if he is successful in that challenge. And that would be the best possible turn of events for Florian’s UFC title dreams.
KONGO SHOWS CONTINUED GROWTH; ONE FIGHT AWAY FROM A TITLE SHOT?
Cheick Kongo proved that he is one of the division’s most fearsome strikers when he handed Mirko Cro Cop a methodical three-round beating last September. At the time, however, many felt that the former kickboxing champion was a bit one dimensional, possessing an impressive standup game with little else.
Kongo responded to the criticism by showing the world that he was much more than just a kickboxer against Heath Herring last March. After getting rocked with the first punch of the fight, Kongo shifted gears and employed a ground-focused attack instead of standing toe to toe with Herring, who is an accomplished kickboxer in his own right. The Frenchman showed excellent takedown and scrambling skills that night, but he didn’t offer up much in the way of finishing ability once the fight hit the mat.
Nevertheless, the growth he displayed in his arsenal impressed everyone, including Herring, who seemed dumbfounded that Kongo was able to take him down and control him through much of the fight. Kongo continued his growth as a fighter at UFC 87 in an exciting first-round technical knockout win over Dan Evensen.
Unlike in the Herring fight, where Kongo seemed unsure of himself at times from the top position, the Frenchman seemed very comfortable with his ground-and-pound attack against Evensen. He remained patient while controlling his foe, careful not to over commit on strikes so that he could maintain his hips and control the position. Then, once he had Evensen rocked from a beautiful counter right hand, Kongo opened up the throttle and unloaded punches in a vicious display of ground and pound that forced the referee to waive off the action.
After the fight, Kongo boldly proclaimed that “Everyone knows I deserve a title shot.” To some, that may have seemed like a bit of a cocky statement, particularly since Kongo suffered losses in two of his previous five bouts. But his losses to Herring and Carmelo Marrero were both razor-thin split decisions that could have gone either way. Overall, he is 5-2 inside the Octagon, and in a relatively thin heavyweight division, that record places him at the head of the list of deserving title challengers.
Of course, Kongo will have to wait until former champion Frank Mir takes a crack at regaining the belt. Mir will face interim champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira after the pair finish their stint as coaches on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter. That fight could take place at the UFC’s year-end event in late December, which means Kongo may not be able to get a crack at the title until February 2009 or later. That gives him plenty of time to take one more fight in an attempt to continue improving his overall game before possibly taking the sport’s ultimate test.