03 April 2010

UFC 111

Every time I write on the UFC, I preface it by saying it's been ages since the last time I did so, and let's see if I can get back into the habit of it. So let's pretend I've said it just now, rather than saying I usually say it. What a catchy lead-in! Okay, let's try again...

Despite valiant Dan Hardy's best efforts, he was unable to prevent Georges St-Pierre from leaving the Octagon, once more, as reigning welterweight champion. I knew going in that Hardy wasn't going to stand much of a chance. When asked my prediction for this one, I said GSP would 'eat Hardy alive'. I actually thought this fight would represent GSP's first stoppage win over a full-time welterweight in two years (that would be his revenge fight against Matt Serra, at UFC 83; BJ Penn, at UFC 94, was game, but clearly made for 155lbs). Credit, then, to Hardy for weathering the storm for five gruelling rounds.

What's stunning about GSP's clear dominance of the 170lb division is the fact that 'weathering the storm' is all his opponents can realistically hope to achieve. Whenever a challlenger emerges who everyone else allegedly fears, or who represents GSP's sternest challenge yet, they are lucky not to be pummelled into stoppage.

Witness Jon Fitch (UFC 87): he was a welterweight bogeyman, along with his team mate Josh Koscheck (dismantled by GSP at UFC 74). But he died numerous deaths when he faced GSP. I was blown away by Fitch's resistance in the face of unceasing adversity; he should have folded on at least two clear occasions, but he battled on. Ditto Thiago Alves (UFC 100): he'd been on a run through such leading 170lb lights as Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Koscheck.

In both cases, predator became prey. Victory was not an option; surviving five rounds became a moral victory. And so it was here. Despite some (notably Koscheck, less notably me) thinking Hardy wasn't ready for such a fight quite yet, I was impressed at his refusal to submit to a variety of excruciating-looking arm submission attempts. At no point was Hardy on the offensive, nor did he so much as postpone any of St-Pierre's takedowns, but he survived. And that, in the face of a machine such as GSP, is commendable.

As aforementioned, St-Pierre hasn't stopped a 'proper' welterweight since April 2008 (and if you're one of these viewers stuck in the past, who views Serra as a fat lightweight, that'll take it back to the December 2007 dismantling of former 170lb king Matt Hughes). Some might think, albeit foolishly, that this represents an inability on GSP's part to stop his opponents. I wouldn't suggest that and, to be fair, I've not seen anyone suggest as much, but hey: he's winning a lot of decisions of late.

This one wasn't a stoppage simply because GSP wanted to submit Hardy, who was commendably resistant. Had the French-Canadian decided he wanted to stay in Hardy's guard (as his corner increasingly recommended), he should have been able to gain the early victory via ground and pound. Had he wanted to stand and strike with the Thai-trained Nottingham fighter, proceedings would have been more competitive, but one could easily have seen GSP wearing Hardy down by the fourth round; especially after a few rounds of takedowns and top-dominance.

Elsewhere, Shane Carwin made his name in a big way by demolishing former champion (and seeming automatic 'interim champion' whenever injury or contract dispute waylay the genuine article) Frank Mir. When predicting this one, I went for Carwin by KO, so go me. Mir's stand-up striking has come on in leaps and bounds since embarrassing performances against Wes Sims (UFC 46), evinced in fights with Cheick Kongo (UFC 107) and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 92).

This will have given him the confidence to strike with heavy-hitting Carwin, or perhaps he felt needs must on that front. While Mir's guard is something to be feared, he'd have a job getting the fight to the ground if Carwin didn't want it there. And, once there, would he want Carwin on top of him? This was a question that didn't need answering, as Carwin stuffed Mir up against the Octagon wall until he was able to knock the consciousness out of the former champ's cranium. Very impressive first round knockout win for Carwin, even if referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight only after Mir had taken way too many strikes.

If GSP isn't coming in for any flak for not finishing opponents, welterweight peer Jon Fitch certainly is. Making like a lighter Matt Lindland in terms of elite, grinding, competitors who get mysteriously under-rated, Fitch absolutely dominated lanky Ben Saunders en route to a clear decision win. Apparently boring according to what commentator Joe Rogan accurately terms 'the meathead factor', due to not engaging in dumb brawls, Fitch's complete shutdown of the much taller opponent was actually pretty scintillating. Only once or twice in the fifteen minutes did Saunders mount any sort of offence, as Fitch controlled and battered him constantly.

Brilliant performance from Fitch, whose win brings us to an interesting point in the welterweight division. It has been an unwritten MMA rule that team-mates do not fight each other. However, when you have both Fitch and Josh Koscheck on the same team and in the top five, overwhelming most foes, but dominated by GSP, it seems the two should fight. UFC president Dana White apparently put Fitch on the spot about this one, at the UFC 111 press conference. Fitch and Kos have been known as gamers so tough that it's hard to find opposition for them: dare they fight each other? If they do, it should be an exhibition of awesome wrestling and cardio, at the very least.

And in a round-up of other stuff I saw: Nate Diaz continues to impress, this time with an easy win over Rory Markham, halfway through the first round. Jim Miller snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in an absolutely thrilling tilt with Mark Bocek that you should really try to see. Picked both of them to win. Two fights I didn't make picks for, but would have got right, were both Rousimar Palhares and Ricardo Almeida submitting their opponents Tomasz Drwal and Matt Brown, respectively. Zhoo zhit soo!

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