Las Vegas – If I view thing’s from strictly a fan’s perspective, I have to admit that B.J. Penn is one of my favorite fighters of all-time. I am in complete awe of his ability to master both the standup element of MMA as well as jiu-jitsu.
I also have a great deal of respect for his brother, J.D. Penn, as well as his entire family. However, I’ve got to call it like I see it and Penn simply did not bring his A-game last night.
To be completely candid, I was kind of disappointed by what I saw from him. I don’t know what it was but Penn looked like he was sleep walking at times. I don’t think he fought poorly, but he simply was no match for St. Pierre. To put it plainly, Penn is a much better fighter than what he showed and I am perplexed as to why he wasn’t able to fight up to his ability during the biggest fight of his life. St. Pierre clearly had no problems delivering when it mattered the most.
From my vantage point, Penn did not look like he was suffering from any conditioning issues. But at the same time, St. Pierre appeared as though he was fighting with much more gas in the tank. He applied a great amount of pressure on Penn and used his takedowns to prevent the native Hawaiian from getting into any kind of rhythm with his standup game.
Once he was on his back, Penn’s renowned guard did very little from preventing St. Pierre from landing strikes to his head and body. As Penn took more and more damage, he became more and more discouraged. Yes, the latter statement is speculation on my part but it was an observation that was also noted by UFC color commentator Joe Rogan during the night’s telecast.
Coming into the fight, I expected a lot more from Penn, as I think many of his fans did as well. While most of them hung in there, I saw a fair amount of spectators wearing Penn shirts head for the aisle after the fourth round before referee Herb Dean had waved off the fight.
Perhaps his supporters were going to get some refreshments, but I think the more likely scenario was that they elected to leave early. The scene reminded me of a football game where the home team is down by 21 points with five minutes left and people begin to leave in order to beat traffic.
On the way out, the mighty legion of St. Pierre fans that made the trek from Canada were eager to bask in the glory of their hero’s big victory. I could hear multiple GSP fans angrily mock Penn by reciting lines that he uttered during UFC Primetime.
“Who’s the quitter now!?” one fan asked rhetorically at the top of his lungs while within earshot of an exiting fan that was wearing a Penn shirt. Minutes later, another GSP supporter could be heard screaming, “Who’s the one who got killed tonight?”
From a live perspective, UFC 94 was a tremendous event. It felt epic in nature and the energy from the crowd was tremendous. Usually there is a strong local flavor when you attend a UFC event in Vegas but on Saturday night it felt as if every fan was either from Hawaii or Canada. Fans were not only wearing shirts in order to declare their allegiance but there were a great deal of Canadian flags as well as Hawaiian state flags on display.
Some of the fights on the show weren’t the most exciting and the lack of finishes took away from my enjoyment but I still really enjoyed the Jon Jones vs. Stephan Bonnar, John Howard vs. Chris Wilson, Clay Guida vs. Nate Diaz, and St. Pierre vs. Penn fights.
A total of eight of ten fights went to decision with the show running long as a result. I couldn’t help but notice that as a result of all the decisions, only Guida and St. Pierre from main card were interviewed and I don’t recall anyone from the undercard being handed an open mic. Post-fight interviews generally add very little but for some reason I really missed not hearing from the winners last night.
The UFC also deserves props for its use of “Fight Link,” which is a short-wave radio device available during major events in Las Vegas. For $10 I was able to buy a disposable radio that allowed me to listen to Rogan and Mike Goldberg’s commentary of the event. “Fight Link” is another example of how the UFC has mastered the art of live event production. While Affliction makes its live crowd secondary during weigh-ins to accommodate an HDNet telecast and fails miserably in trying to emulate PRIDE with a pre-fight parade of fighters, the UFC is taking its game to a whole new level.
In addition to my general thoughts, I also wanted to present my fight-by-fight impressions:
– Dan Cramer defeats Matt Arroyo via split decision – Arroyo has a lot of potential but could be on the endangered species list. He now has back-to-back losses at a time when the UFC is planning on bringing multiple welterweights over from the WEC. Losing to Matt Brown this past June was one thing but losing to a guy making his pro debut is another. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed by Cramer and was extremely disappointed that he didn’t do more to try and pass Arroyo’s guard. Arroyo is dangerous off his back but if you’re going to repeatedly take someone down, I believe you should try to advance your position. Rogan eschewed the same sentiments during the fight and brought up how Tito Ortiz could be the best ever when inflicting damage inside of someone’s guard. However, Cramer has got a long way to go until that point and his fighting style made for a pretty boring contest. I was also surprised to hear that Rogan felt Arroyo won round one even though he spent most of it on his back. Apparently he wasn’t alone in that position, as one of the judges scored the fight in Arroyo’s favor.
– Jake O’Brien defeats Christian Wellisch by unanimous decision – O’Brien looked like a completely different fighter. His physique has been completely re-made and he showed a willingness to box during the early duration of the fight. However, both fighters were cutting to light heavyweight for the first time and ran out of gas mid-way through the second. O’Brien appeared to be the more tired of the two and went back to his wrestling in order to eat up clock. While in top position, O’Brien did not inflict much damage and this fight became a very boring one to watch. Wellisch is a part of the AKA and Zinkin faction that drew the ire of White last year and like Jon Fitch, he was fired for a day. He was brought back but could be let go again because it’s unclear if there’s a place for him in the UFC’s stacked light heavyweight division.
– John Howard defeats Chris Wilson by split decision – Kind of strange to see the first three fights be decided by a split decision. This was an entertaining fight but I don’t really understand how it earned “Fight of the Night” honors. I consider the outcome to be a considerable upset because while Howard is a strong prospect, this fight was set up for Wilson to win. Wilson is an impressive striker and someone that the promotion likely thinks highly of. However, Howard provided additional ammunition in my never-ending argument that the East Coast is the most overlooked fighting region in the country. Howard showed tremendous poise for a guy fighting inside of the Octagon for the first time and he looked extremely explosive. It will be interesting to see how he fares against a step up in competition.
Thiago Tavares defeats Manny Gamburyan via unanimous decision – Tavares was just too much for Gamburyan, as he not only had a reach advantage but had an advantage both with his boxing and his jiu-jitsu. Not a particularly exciting fight and I was surprised that Tavares wasn’t able to finish Gamburyan. But a win is a win after coming into the fight with consecutiveve losses, I don’t think Tavares could have survived a third straight loss. As for Gamburyan, I believe he’s listed as 5’6’’ but that could be his basketball height. I think he’s probably more like 5’4’’. I also think a drop down to the WEC’s featherweight division would be a wise move for him.
– Jon Fitch defeats Akihiro Gono by unanimous decision – I had mixed emotions about Gono’s incredible entrance. He made his walk down to the cage in a shiny silver dress while wearing a wig. He was accompanied by two corner men wearing the same outfit and the three took multiple pauses during their entrance to go through what appeared to be a choreographed dance routine. I found the entrance to quite possibly be the greatest in the history of MMA but it was also disturbing… no, not because Gono was cross dressing but because it appeared as though he put a lot of time into the routine. Any time you see a fighter put so much time into something as trivial as a cage walk it makes you wonder where his priorities are? It was quite a contrast to a guy like Fitch, who is no-nonsense and one of the hardest working fighters you will see.
The highlight of the fight was the entrance. Gono hit a few nice jump knees but the fight as well Fitch. As big of a Fitch supporter as I am and as much as I whined that he had been relegated to the non-televised undercard, Joe Silva deserves all the credit in the world for making the call because this was an incredibly dull fight. Despite having trained in Thailand for a month late last year, Fitch didn’t use his striking much and relied heavily on his superb ground game. But when Fitch takes his opponents down, he’s not always the most active and that again was the case here.
It should also be noted that Fitch got a strong reaction during weigh-ins and again during the pre-fight intros. I think the masses are finally starting to recognize him as a star.
– Clay Guida defeats Nate Diaz via split decision – This was the most I’ve seen of Diaz’s standup in a fight and he was a spitting image of his brother. Diaz does not throw very many power shots and instead was peppering Guida with jabs and short crosses. For the most part, Guida showed a good chin, as he absorbed a lot of punches because he just doesn’t have very good head movement. At one point in the third, I really thought Diaz was on the verge of finishing him but Guida is almost impossible to finish. This was a good win for Guida and not a bad loss for Diaz. It was excellent match making and definitely deserve co-“Fight of the Night” honors.
– Karo Parisyan defeats Dong Hyun Kim via split decision – A lot of fans booed the decision but I had to give it to Karo, which says a lot considering I had action on Kim. Kim really hurt himself because he didn’t really do anything in the third round and was content just to stand there and survive. Karo didn’t do much either in the final round but at least he tried to work hard. Aside from a couple of Judo throws this was not an exciting fight and neither fighter looked impressive to me.
– Jon Jones defeats Stephan Bonnar via unanimous decision – Can someone please explain to me how Howard vs. Wilson got a $65,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus instead of Jones vs. Bonnar? I mean, I thought this was an awesome fight. Jones is so exciting to watch and is now 8-0 despite the fact that he hasn’t even been fighting for a year. Joe Silva deserves major credit for adding Jones to the UFC’s roster because he’s going to be a star. The crowd had no idea who he was but by the end of the fight, they were solidly behind him.
Bonnar is such an underachiever. He is a former golden gloves boxer, has good kicks, solid submissions, and possesses great size for the division. However, injuries and a steroid suspension have really set him back. Hopefully he will fight every three months and get into a groove. But his reputation as a strong fighter makes this a meaningful win for Jones, who recorded a strong win during his UFC debut in August against Andre Gusmao. Being just 21-years old and taking out solid vets such as Bonnar and Gusmao during your rookie year speaks volumes in my mind.
Jones is just an amazing athlete with dynamic striking ability and incredible wrestling takedowns and Judo throws. At one point he hit a German suplex on Bonnar. He can just pick guys up and throw them within seconds. I just can’t get over how explosive this kid is. I can’t wait to watch him fight next.
– Lyoto Machida defeats Thiago Silva via first round KO – Both fighters received a strong reaction and the UFC did a good job from a live aspect of presenting these two as stars. Both had an elaborate lighting scheme during their entrances and there was a dramatic pre-fight package that played up the fact that both fighters were undefeated coming into the bout.
I don’t think I could have been more impressed with Machida. Once one of his biggest critics, I am quickly becoming a fan. He was anything but boring last night and the work he’s put into becoming a more aggressiveve fighter is really starting to show. His defensive prowess is just amazing, as it’s almost impossible to hurt the guy. He’s also extremely poised and focused. Silva tried to get into his head during weigh-ins and during the pre-fight staredown and Machida acted completely indifferent towards his presence.
I also have a new found respect for Machida’s deceptive punching power. I’ve seen him floor both Sokoudjou and Silva in person now. He closes the distance and rushes in with a quick combination that doesn’t appear to be overly powerful. But he ends up dropping guys. I think that a big part of Machida’s ability to knock opponents down with his punches stems from the fact that he’s so accurate. It seems to me that his fists make impact with the worst possible places to get hit.
I’m not only on the Machida bandwagon, but I am on it in a big way. If Machida gets his title shot then you are looking at the new UFC light heavyweight champion. I don’t care who the opponent is; Machida will beat them. Furthermore, I think a year from now we might be talking about him as the pound-for-pound best in the world.
– Georges St. Pierre defeats B.J. Penn via fourth round TKO – I enjoyed this fight from a live perspective because the energy in the crowd was amazing. There were dueling “GSP” and “B.J. Penn” chants throughout the night and their respective fans really got into the fight. Little sequences that normally would not get a reaction in most fights were reacted to as if they were a dramatic knockout.
But on TV, I’m not sure if this fight came off well because it was pretty much all GSP. I was really looking forward to a back and forth war between the two and I feel like we were deprived of that. As I stated earlier, Penn just didn’t have his A-game. He also was able to get in almost no offense as St. Pierre kept his jab in check by using frequent takedowns. In hindsight, Sean Sherk’s strategy against Penn was completely wrong. St. Pierre is a better wrestler than Sherk at this point but Sherk’s best attribute is his wrestling and grounding Penn would have made more sense instead of allowing himself to get smashed by his jab all night long.
I also don’t get all of the anti-B.J. sentiment by GSP’s fans. I don’t see why so many people take B.J.’s comments so literal. The guy is a tremendous fighter but also knows how to sell a fight. You’ve got to take a lot of what he says when he’s promoting a fight with a grain of salt because he’s just trying to add to the drama.