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UFC 83: Fight Critic Recap

icfc.jpgGeorges St. Pierre’s dominating performance over Matt Serra last night was the exact fight so many of us expected last April at UFC 69. It was such a commanding performance that I can’t help but feel it took away from the credibility of Serra’s dramatic upset over St. Pierre last year in Houston. Serra is a tremendous fighter worthy of respect, but I couldn’t prevent the word “fluke” from ringing inside of my head while watching St. Pierre’s dismantling of the Long Island native.

Since losing to Serra last year, St. Pierre has now recorded three dominating performances against three top fighters in his weight class. Neither Serra, Josh Koscheck, or Matt Hughes were able put St. Pierre in any kind of serious jeopardy in their fights. As such, I feel validated in my decision to proclaim GSP my number one pound-for-pound fighter ahead of UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

St. Pierre was composed the entire time during the fight and displayed a good tactical game plan. He relied on his wrestling to control the fight in order to limit Serra’s opportunities to land the same big overhand right that floored GSP in their first encounter. When the fight went to the ground, St. Pierre widely avoided a jiu-jitsu showdown with the highly-regarded Renzo Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt. That aspect of his game plan was never more obvious then at the conclusion of the fight when St. Pierre chose not to take Serra’s back and instead chose to finish him with brutal knees to the body.

While the main event was terribly one-sided, it was still entertaining. And overall, I enjoyed last night’s show. In fact, last night’s UFC 83 show was much more enjoyable than that of the Ring Magazine light heavyweight title fight between Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe, which I viewed early Sunday morning on HBO during a replay. Being a Philadelphia native, I’ve always supported Hopkins so I was more interested in last night’s bout than I normally am when it comes to boxing these days. But as much as I enjoy watching Hopkins, last night’s bout was not easy to watch.

I find it comical when Jim Lampley climbs a top his soap box to extol the virtues of the “sweet science” of boxing, seemingly making the implication that every boxing match every held is a thing of beauty. There was nothing sweet or scientific about the early rounds of last night’s fight, as the first three rounds resembled a hockey fight. The fight improved once Calzaghe found his rhythm but there was too much clutching and grabbing for my taste.

And I still don’t get the hype surrounding Calzaghe. He’s a good fighter but I don’t see how anyone can consider him great. Outside of Hopkins and Jeff Lacy, who has this guy really fought? Is a victory over a 43-year old Hopkins supposed to validate him? While I believe that Adelaide Byrd dropped the ball and that the win should have been unanimous for Calzaghe, he was unable to dominate Hopkins. If he had fought a 38-year Hopkins or even a 40-year old Hopkins, I don’t think he wins the fight.

Again, I think Calzaghe is good. But great? No way. Fight some more fights outside of the U.K. against some top contenders and maybe I’ll change my opinion.

While GSP delivered in the main event, undercard performers Charles McCarthy, Kalib Starnes, and Travis Lutter all came up short in their respective fights. In light of the rumors that the UFC is planning on scaling back their roster of fighters from 200 to somewhere in the 130-160 range, if I were the manager for either of the three fighters, I’d be expecting a call from UFC Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva informing me that my client was no longer property of the UFC.

It’s hard to fault McCarthy too much because it was his first fight back in quite some time after a serious knee injury. However, he was simply over-matched by Michael Bisping, who looked like a completely different fighter competing at 185 lbs. instead of 205 lbs. Bisping looked focused and in incredible shape. It’s amazing how much his physique has changed and his addition to the UFC’s middleweight division is a welcome one.

Bisping looked outstanding in throwing his combinations last night, striking a slight resemblance to Silva in how fluid he was from transitioning from knees and kicks to punches and vice versa. There was just a natural flow to his strikes and he displayed a sweet science of MMA that Lampley selectively ignores. The only issue I saw with Bisping’s performance was a potential lack of power. The operative word is potential, because perhaps McCarthy has an awazing chin? I was just a little surprised that Bisping didn’t put him away sooner.

It should be clear to anyone following last night’s performance that Bisping is on a collision course with Silva. It’s not a question of if, only when. Despite the fact that there really aren’t any obvious money matchups immediately available for Silva, it might be wise for him to fight Yushin Okami next so that Bisping can get at least one-to-two more wins at 185 lbs. under his belt so that a Silva vs. Bisping showdown can be built up properly. You’d have to think that a Silva vs. Bisping title match would do huge business in the U.K.

Lutter managed to disappoint yet again. Just like his non-title fight vs. Silva at UFC 67 last February, Lutter achieved the mount position against his opponent but was unable to finish him. After that, it was the beginning of the end for Lutter, who looked heavily fatigued in the second round. It’s possible Lutter was in tremendous cardio condition coming into the fight and only looked gassed because he was absorbing tremendous knees to the body as well as some stiff punches to the face, but even the normally reserved Franklin felt it necessary to point out after the fight that Lutter is known for his lack of conditioning.

Lutter has all the talent in the world; great jiu-jitsu, better than average wrestling, and underrated punching power. His potential is why the UFC continually has given him chances but he has failed to deliver and I would suspect there’s a good chance that the promotion could be nearing a point where it is prepared to cut the cord.

While Franklin was not completely dominant during the fight, he was still impressive. To be honest, I was surprised he looked as sharp as he did. Prior to the fight, I was wondering how he would be able to motivate himself for Lutter having lost a second time to Silva this past October. There just doesn’t appear to be much upward mobility in the UFC’s middleweight division right now for Franklin. But he prepared for the fight vs. Lutter as if it was a title fight. Franklin also overcame the sudden loss of his father several months ago as well as knee surgery earlier this year. The man is a class act and a consumate professional and it’s a damn shame he’s stuck behind Silva.

What to do next with Franklin isn’t all that obvious. He’s in a holding pattern as long as Silva holds the UFC’s middleweight title. One match I’d love to see is a fight between Franklin and Dan Henderson. It would be a unique match because even though it would feature the second and third best middleweights in the UFC, it would not be a fight to determine a number one contender to Silva’s title. However, it would be a fight to determine who truly is the second best middleweight behind Silva, and possibly the number one contender to the title in the event he ever loses it.

Furthermore, a Franklin vs. Henderson fight might be the only non-title middleweight in the UFC that could headline a UFC pay-per-view event.

Starnes’ performance last night vs. Nate Quarry will possibly go down as one of the poorest historical showings to take place on a major televised MMA card. My wife remarked early on that it looked like a glorified sparring match and that he simply looked like he was trying to survive. Soon after my wife’s remark, the announcers on the broadcast, Mike Goldberg and Kenny Florian, echoed the same sentiments. The blunt assessment of Starnes’ performance was initially surprising to me as the UFC controls its own production but in hindsight, his unwillingness to fight was so blatant that it had to be addressed.

The strange thing was that Starnes appeared to be more feisty after the bout had concluded than he had during the entire 15 minutes of the fight. At one point Starnes challenged one of Quarry’s cornermen, and even resorted to using homosexual slurs on mic. Perhaps if he had shown some of the same aggressive nature during the fight that he exhibited after it, then he might not have been booed out of the building by a crowd that was initially eating out of his hand.

Perhaps Starnes was injured going into the fight but that still makes it tough to overlook the fact that he was literally running away from Quarry during the first round. And even if he was injured, it does not excuse the fact that he made no attempt to win the fight in the third round when it was abundantly clear that he was behind on points. I’ve heard that Starnes is a nice guy and I really do respect his ability as a fighter, but unless he has a valid explanation for his tactics last night, I don’t see how the UFC can justify bringing him back.

While the tape-delayed fight between Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Jonathan Goulet won fight of the night honors, according to UFC President Dana White during the post-fight press conference (best submission went to Demian Maia while best knockout went to Jason MacDonald… and unless I heard incorrectly, it sounded as though White said during the post-fight presser that the bonuses were $75,000), my personal fight of the night was Mac Danzig vs. Mark Bocek (I didn’t see Hironaka vs. Goulet because I had to get to work on my writeup of the show).

Bocek’s overall MMA skills improve each time out and there were a lot of great back-and-forth exchanges between he and Danzig. The ground fighting was especially high-level and the win has to be considered a strong one for Danzig even though Bocek doesn’t have the biggest name in the sport right now.

The outstanding performances turned in during last night’s card weren’t just exclusive to the fighters that competed. Last night marked the first time Florian provided color commentary for an entire UFC show. Pinch hitting for an absent Joe Rogan, Florian got the job done.

One thing that I think stood out was Florian’s keen insight. He was really on top of pointing out insightful observations (such as Quarry’s improved body movement) and I felt he stole a lot of thunder in what I intended to point out in this writeup. It didn’t seem like Florian missed anything during the fight. Florian was by no means perfect, but he was outstanding for someone in their first full broadcast and clearly has a future as a color commentator if he wants it.

I was also surprised by the performance of Goldberg. I think this was his best effort in a long-time. There are just times where I feel like he’s winging. I don’t know whether that’s truly the case, but that is just how he comes off to me at times. However, he was very sharp last night and it almost seemed like he felt like he needed to step up in Rogan’s absence because he was working with a rookie commentator in Florian. Is it just me, or does it seem like Goldberg relies on Rogan too much as a safety net? I’d like to see him come out with the same authoritative approach he used last night for all of the telecasts that he does.

My only real production-related issue last night was the extended duration between bouts, something that has become a staple of UFC telecasts. I paid more attention to the lags between fights and determined it is because they dedicate too much time to promotion and filler. Yes, a broadcast needs to have those elements but the amount viewers are subjected to by Zuffa is borderline gratuitous. The problem is easily correctable by streamlining and economizing the vignettes that are shown between the fights. I don’t think we needed to see that extended vignette promoting the St. Pierre and Serra fight right before they went on when they had been teasing the main event all night long.

In closing, I’d like to send out a big f— you to DirecTV. For reasons that are still unknown, I lost reception on my HD receiver. After ordering the HD broadcast I called DirecTV at 9:30 p.m. ET and was unable to get the problem resolved. I was subjected to a ridiculously configured automated menu clearly designed to limit access to live representatives (which is bullshit considering the amount of money I pay them each month).

After 25 minutes of waiting on hold, I was then promptly placed on hold again after explaining my problem. At 10:05 p.m. ET, I finally gave up and thankfully had decided to order the standard definition broadcast at 9:55 p.m. ET (if I had waited until 10:00 p.m. ET, I would not have been able to order because DirecTV inexplicably does not allow you to order a live event even a minute after it has started). I was able to watch the SD broadcast on an older TV but am now faced with the task of calling in again today to demand a refund of the HD telecast when they claim orders are non-refundable. The non-service I received last night is unacceptable.