Going into UFC 129 there were many stories to be told. First was the ascension of a sport that once was taboo and struggled to fill smaller 2,000 – 5,000 capacity venues to it’s biggest stage in front of a live crowd of over 55,000. Then there was the showcase of the stars of tomorrow as two WEC standouts in Ben Henderson and the featherweight champion Jose Aldo would make their official UFC debuts. Of course you also had the final chapter in the historic career of Randy Couture, who win lose or draw vowed to walk away from the sport he loved following Saturday’s event. Last but not least you had the main event featuring a champion who hadn’t lost a round in four years battling an opponent on a 15 fight win streak whom hadn’t lost in six years. Something simply had to give.
Going into this event I bought into the hype and was more pumped than usual for the card. Not to say that I didn’t think the matches would deliver but something told me that the performers would bring their all in front of the largest live crowd in UFC history and the night would produce some great fights. After watching the fights transpire last night I can definitely said I wasn’t disappointed.
The under card produced some quality fights with some highlight reel finishes. Pablo Garza’s comeback towards the end of the first round to land a flying triangle for not only the win but a finish that would end in submission of the night. Veteran Jason MacDonald not only got his UFC career back on track but also managed to secure the quick submission victory in front of the home crowd. Ivan Menjivar landed a huge short forearm breaking Charlie Valencia’s nose and sending him to the mat where the action was promptly stopped. In the other two Spike tv aired Preliminaries Jake Ellenberger delivered a huge first round knockout and Canadian Rory MacDonald delivered some tremendous slams on opponent Nate Diaz en route to a one sided decision victory.
The main card kicked off with former WEC Lightweight champion Ben “Smooth” Henderson making his UFC debut against crafty veteran and submission specialist Mark Bocek. For me this fight was more about Henderson making his debut and starting to climb the ladder in what is an incredibly deep division. No disrespect to Bocek who is always a threat, but Bocek’s strengths in my opinion didn’t match up well with Henderson. Mark’s submission skills would be offset by Henderson’s insane pain threshold and ability to escape even the deepest submissions have been well documented in his short career.
The fight would play out much as expected with Henderson winning the striking exchanges and being able to stuff the vast majority of Bocek’s takedowns while also surviving Mark’s submission attempts. Bocek is tough though and despite some wicked shots from “Smooth” and a nasty gash on the top of his head he refused to be finished. While Henderson may have won the decision you can’t question the heart of Bocek and his will to keep threatening.
For me the surprise of the night would come in the next fight though, Jason Brilz facing Vladimir Matyushenko. Vlad is a legend in the sport and has been around for well over a decade but I honestly thought his time had come and gone and Jason Brilz would squeak out a decision with his wrestling ability. Then Matyushenko showed how he earned his nickname of “the Janitor” as he mopped the floor with Brilz. Actually I guess that isn’t a fair assessment either since mopping generally takes longer than 20 seconds. Brilz may have protested the stoppage but replays clearly showed him going limp following being dropped.
I love Randy Couture, and the allure of seeing his last fight was enticing enough in itself to order the event. Even though he was fighting a man in Machida whom I knew would be dangerous following a very close decision loss and an urging from his camp to “not leave it up to the judges”. My only hope going into the fight would be that Randy not get dominated and show that he can hang with top tier talent. In the first round he was able to do just that. Each fighter was able to land their own big shots and keep either from fully implementing their game plan. The second round….well all I can say is Steven Seagal is the greatest MMA adviser of all time. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration you can’t deny the results. First their was the vicious Anderson Silva front kick KO of Vitor Belfort that he credited cornerman Steven Seagal with and last night Machida credited his front kick KO of Randy to Seagal as well (who was in the Brazilian’s corner). While it sucks that the KO had to come at the cost of a legend it’s definitely one that will dominate the highlight reels for some time. In essence Machida won with the crane kick ala The Karate Kid. Not the best way to ride off in the sunset but after a legendary career he has nothing to be ashamed of.
I can’t help but feel that I owe Mark Hominick an apology. I knew he’d be competitive in his title fight with featherweight champion Jose Aldo but I still figured he’d be finished by the 3rd round at best. While Jose dominated the judges scores they don’t tell the real story. Sure Hominick lost the vast majority of the exchanges and got taken down at will the toughness he displayed despite having a lump on his head nearly the size of a softball and a nasty cut under his eye, and being dropped numerous times he refused to quit. In fact despite one judge’s score it is unquestionable that Mark Hominick dominated Jose Aldo for the entire final five minutes of the fight. So I have to take my hat off to the guy, a lot of people wouldn’t have survived the onslaught but Hominick not only survived but he showed that he had a lot left in his tank.
Let me preface my thoughts on the main event by saying this: I’m not a fan of either Shields or GSP. I respect GSP’s talent though don’t care for him much and Shields has honestly never impressed me. I know that’s odd to say about someone coming in on a 15 fight win streak but it is what it is (I refuse to go off on a tangent). My main issue with GSP on the other hand is that I think he doesn’t fight to his full potential (scary to think about) instead opting to play it smart and safe. Nothing wrong with fighting smart but there are still ways to fight smart and also finish your opponent.
Going into the main event my only hope really was to see a competitive fight and hopefully a finish, something I didn’t really think we’d get. The bout itself once again featured a dominant GSP completely nullifying the strength of his opponent. What caught me off guard though was GSP’s lack of desire to change game plans following an eye injury that caused him to lose vision in his left eye for the final three rounds. The result was a weak striker being able to do more damage to GSP than we’ve seen since the first BJ Penn fight. Obviously GSP knew he was winning the fight and winning the bulk of the striking exchanges but as the judges’ scores reflected it was closer than he thought. I believe it was the second round in which he implemented the strategy of going for the late takedown and it’s something I’m surprised we didn’t see more of. You’d figure being unable to see out of one eye and being more susceptible to your opponents strikes you would go for takedowns at the end of the round. Timed correctly you score big for the round while also not leaving Shields’ time to threaten from the bottom. Instead GSP choose to stand for the duration of the final three rounds and even in a unanimous decision end of looking as if he got beaten down for five rounds; which wasn’t the case.
In the end the UFC were able to deliver one hell of card from top to bottom and live up to the hype.
- Champ Georges St-Pierre def. jake Shields via unanimous decision (welterweight title)
- Champ Jose Aldo def. Mark Hominick via unanimous decision (featherweight title)
- Lyoto Machida def. Randy Couture via knockout Round 2, 1:09
- Vladimir Matyushenko def. Jason Brilz via knockout Round 1, 0:20
- Ben Henderson def. Mark Bocek via unanimous decision
- Rory MacDonald def. Nate Diaz via unanimous decision
- Jake Ellenberger def. Sean Pierson via knockout Round 1, 2:22
- Claude Patrick def. Daniel Roberts via unanimous decision
- Ivan Menjivar def. Charlie Valencia via TKO Round 1, 1:30
- Jason MacDonald def. Ryan Jensen via submission (Round 1, 1:37
- John Makdessi def. Kyle Watson via knockout Round 3, 1:27
- Pablo Garza def. Yves Jabouin via submission Round 1, 4:31