Sunday, May 01, 2011

UFC 129 Thoughts

One of the great cliches in the sports world is the discussion of how someone has the "heart of a champion". In the two title matches last night at UFC 129, we saw examples of this cliche coming true, as well as an example of someone demonstrating the opposite.

Jose Aldo came into his fight with Mark Hominick looking poorly. The day before, Aldo had to leave a special "seven champions" Q&A because he was lightheaded. Many people noted how bad Aldo looked. And when we entered the second round of the actual fight, Aldo was breathing through his mouth, which is a sign that Aldo was excessively tired. Inspite of this though, Aldo powered through and dominated the third and fourth rounds, which gave him the scoring edge going into the final round.

Mark Hominick had a great story going into his fight. He was fighting within an hour of his hometown for the world featherweight title. His wife was pregnant and due to deliver a daughter at any time. It was set up to be a great story that everybody would love. But during the fight, Aldo was definitely winning. In the third round, Aldo opened a cut under Hominick's eye, which also caused swelling. And in the fourth, Aldo landed a vicious short elbow which caused a large hemotoma to form on Hominick's head. The hemotoma was so large that the referee, John McCarthy, stopped the fight so a doctor could check Hominick and determine whether he could continue. This was then repeated after the end of the fourth round. Things did not look good for Hominick.

Hominick was not to be deterred though. He came out in the fifth round and dominated Aldo, rocking Aldo with ground strikes and bringing the crowd to its feet. It was an incredible final round - Hominick rising to meet the enduring performance of Aldo and for five minutes giving the crowd an ending they could be satisfied with. It was an ending which harkened back to the ending of the original Rocky movie, with the only difference being that Hominick apologized to his wife for possibly causing her to go into labour.

Georges St. Pierre is considered to be (with due respect to Anderson Silva) the pre-eminant fighter in all of MMA. The allure of GSP is that you are getting to watch a great fighter demonstrate elite skills with an elite game plan in the octagon. On this night though, the Georges St. Pierre that we saw was a mortal one.

In the second round of his fight, Jake Shields hit St. Pierre with a jab that struck St. Pierre in the eye. St. Pierre's vision went blurry, and by the end of the third round St. Pierre was panicked about his vision out of that eye. He had two rounds left to face Jake Shields, who was described by St. Pierre as the "most dangerous fighter" St. Pierre had ever faced. St. Pierre had to still spend two rounds fighting this man and still press the issue, as there was a chance that he was only winning two of the three rounds on the scorecards.

Cue Round four. St. Pierre landed a head kick that knocked Shields down and all but cemented the victory on the score card for GSP. The only thing left for him to do was to ensure that Shields never put him in a dangerous position. Luckily for him, Jake Shields was willing to play along and never threaten GSP.

Shields' performance was frustrating. As I mentioned before, GSP looked mortal. He was panicked. And yet, Jake Shields refused to put an extra effort into his fight. He fought timidly and without passion. Shields decided not to take any chances in the fight, seemingly content to let his opportunity to pass without even trying to win. When held to the standards the other three fighter set, it was an embarassing effort that indicated that Shields should not be considered among the elite fighters in MMA.
***
Going into last night's fight, Dana White expressed doubt that this would be Randy Couture's last fight. Unfortunately, Lyoto Machida made sure to guarantee it to be Couture's last fight.

In the fight, Randy looked slow, and frankly, old. As much as he felt that he knew how to stop Machida, it was clear that Randy no longer had the physical skills to implement that strategy. The spectacular knockout using a leaping front kick only emphasized this.

It's always difficult when an all time legend decides to retire. It's normally under two circumstances: Either the legend is going out on top of the game, or the legend is retiring when it is clear that their skills have diminished to a point that they can no longer compete at a level that we will remember them for. In the former, the fan is left feeling robbed, wanting to see more of this special competitor. But the later might be even more sad - your final memory being the athlete failing and looking human. In Randy's case, it is definitely the latter. The one bright side to this is that Randy went out in front of such a large crowd that it did feel a bit like closure; starting as the sport began its rise to prominence, and ending as the sport reached the peak of its ascention, with the largest show it has ever held.

The story's ending would have been better if Randy had won, but it was still a satisfying ending to a legendary career.
***
Overall, my predictions were 7-5, and my bets broke even. On the year, I am 34-22-2, with a net profit of $7.90.

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