Sunday, January 02, 2011

The high and low of UFC 125

Going into UFC 125, there were two big strikes against it being a highly purchased PPV: It was held on New Year's Day, traditionally a day when people recover from partying on the night before; and it had no stars of note to draw in a larger than normal PPV crowd. One would expect that UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar would be that PPV draw, especially after defeating BJ Penn twice. However, his method of victory (decision by using technique to win each round) did not end up making him an elite fighter in the eyes of the casual MMA fan. Instead it made him champion, but one that might not be the best in his division or an exciting fighter.

Tonight, Frankie Edgar gave a performance in non-victory that elevated him to being a fighter that people will pay to see. In a scene reminiscent of the Brock Lesnar/Shane Carwin fight from UFC 116, Edgar survived a first round beating from Gray Maynard, and came back to fight a great fight (including a dominant second round performance) and end up with a well earned draw. Fans were amazed by Edgar's fighting spirit, his ability to rise to the occasion with his back against the wall. And in contrast to Lesnar, Edgar's opponent did not run out of gas after the first round. Maynard stood his ground and was willing to press the action. He was just unable to break Edgar's will and ended up not winning the title.

The decision leaves Joe Silva and Dana White in an awkward position. Surely an Edgar/Maynard rematch would do great business, and is likely needed to resolve who is the better fighter. However, Anthony Pettis has been promised the next title shot to unify the WEC and UFC Lightweight titles. An Edgar/Pettis match might catch lightning with Pettis' highlight reel kick helping to hype a fight, but that leaves Maynard on the sidelines waiting for the winner and could kill any momentum an Edgar/Maynard rematch would have. And if Pettis wins? So it's no surprise that we are going to get an Edgar/Maynard rematch. It will be interesting to see what they will do with Pettis in the meantime.

(Ironically, this might be one time when an injury to the champion would help UFC. Edgar being on the shelf for any period of time would allow UFC to make a Maynard/Pettis fight for an interim title (which is essentially what the WEC Lightweight title is), and would help build up an eventual Edgar title defense against the winner.)

In any event, Frankie Edgar had a star making performance tonight. We will see if he can follow it up by finally defeating Gray Maynard.
Tonight was likely the end of the road for 3 familiar faces. Phil Baroni, Marcus Davis and Brandon Vera all suffered humiliating defeats and are likely to be cut from their UFC contracts. while Baroni and Davis took their knockouts as the disappointments they are, Vera for whatever reason seemed unconcerned about his defeat. That confuses me.

Baroni and Davis could at least attempt to rationalize their losses away; they got caught by a great punch which caused their defeat. Avoid the punch and the fight could have gone differently. Vera, OTOH, was so utterly dominated by Thiago Silva that Silva resorted to slapping and spanking him while he had Vera's back in the third round. vera exited the third round with one the worst broken noses I have ever seen. And yet, instead of looking slightly disappointed at how badly he performed in his fight, Vera took pleasure in mugging for the camera, showing off his broken nose to amuse the crowd. while the crowd enjoyed it, Vera still came across as a man who had been handily defeated, someone who did not belong in a UFC Octagon. If you are unconcerned about your performance in what was a one-sided fight where you showed no will to even fight when you knew you had to, why should I care about you?

Vera would do well to go back to the other organizations and dedicate himself to improving. While he's at it, he should drop any talk about being lightheavyweight and heavyweight champion at the same time; he was dominated by a fighter who's essentially a heavyweight in Silva so why would that change with actual heavyweights?

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