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UFC 87 Review and Recap: Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre dominant in decision victories

Last night’s UFC 87 event from the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. proved to be yet another strong showing from the UFC with very few negatives involved with the promotion and production of the show.

The event saw two of the promotion’s biggest stars walk away victorious in fights that went to the judges yet whose outcomes were never truly in doubt.

Lesnar, the former NCAA and WWE heavyweight champion, got off to an explosive start against Heath Herring, blasting him with an overhand right early in the fight that floored the former PRIDE veteran. Lesnar, who once spent training camp with the Minnesota Vikings, then exploded like a defensive end coming off the edge on a blitz and went in for the kill.

An over-zealous Lesnar landed out of position and was unable to finish Herring during the opening seconds of the fight. However, what proceeded was three rounds of dominance, with Lesnar showing he could take Herring down at will. When it was over, Lesnar evened his UFC record to 1-1 while improving his overall MMA record to 2-1. It is unclear who he’ll face next, but Lesnar showed all the ingredients of a future heavyweight champion during the unanimous decision victory.

While former NCAA wrestler Jon Fitch proved he was the number two ranked welterweight in the world last night with a gritty performance, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre proved there is a strong gap between number one and two. Despite having no formal wrestling background in high school or college, St. Pierre proved to be Fitch’s equal on the mat.

On the feet, Fitch was no match for St. Pierre’s superior athleticism. Despite showing a strong chin and an amazing will to fight with less than his full faculties, Fitch was out-pointed in the standup aspect for virtually the full 25-minute duration of the contest. It was St. Pierre’s utilization of a stiff left jab, reminiscent of how B.J. Penn peppered Sean Sherk during their UFC 84 title fight in May, that appeared to have done the most damage. However, the standup exchange was not one-sided, as Fitch landed his shots as well, managing to open up St. Pierre in the process. But when the bout was done, it was evident by looking at the faces of both fighters that Fitch clearly sustained the most damage.

With the win, St. Pierre further addressed critics still unable to let his April of 2007 upset loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69 go. With four consecutive dominant victories over the likes of Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Serra, and now Fitch, St. Pierre has clearly put the infamous night of 4/7/07 in the rear-view mirror and the letdown performance appears to be nothing more than an aberration. In last night’s fight with Fitch, St. Pierre showed toughness, poise, and a chin. All areas in which his harshest critics still attempt to raise questions.

Much like Lesnar, it is isn’t completely clear what is next for St. Pierre. However, current UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn entered the cage following St. Pierre’s five-round unanimous decision victory and proposed a challenge. St. Pierre verbally agreed to the bout, which has been rumored for several weeks now to be taking place on Dec. 27 in either Las Vegas or Montreal. However, nothing is definitive as UFC President Dana White was with the two men in the cage and visible on-camera yet made no attempt to address the possible rematch from their 2006 encounter at UFC 58.

Review of the Fight Card:

Demian Maia def. Jason MacDonald via submission in the third round – The opening round of this fight was very exciting. It was a great example for casual viewers that jiu-jitsu can be very exciting. Maia pulled guard early in the fight and put MacDonald in a triangle that appeared to be properly executed. MacDonald not only managed to escape but wound up taking Maia’s back in the process.

Round two was not as entertaining as round 1, but still very strong. I scored the first two rounds 10-9 in favor of Maia. It was obvious that Maia was leading the scorecards heading into round two and MacDonald’s corner pleaded with him to stop going to the ground with the jiu-jitsu black belt. Needing a finish in order to execute a rally, MacDonald did not heed his corner’s advice and eventually wound up on the ground in round three. Despite trying to put Maia away with some ground and pound, the decision to engage on the ground was ill-advised, as the percentages of MacDonald being able to finish Maia were much higher on his feet than on the floor.

While Maia’s standup has improved and he could one day challenge Anderson Silva for his middleweight title, he provided no reason in this fight to believe he has a chance to win. No one can question Maia’s overall jiu-jitsu ability, but he had trouble holding his position as times against MacDonald, which is not good considering that Silva is known for his strong sweeps and transitions. Maia also is not big for a middleweight and was giving up eight inches in reach to MacDonald. In a standup battle vs. Silva, he’d be eaten alive because the reigning top pound-for-pound fighter would have too much range on him.

Kenny Florian records unanimous decision victory over Roger Huerta –
Considering that Huerta went to college in Minnesota, I was surprised that he was introduced first. Initially, I thought it was a repraisal for his critical comments of the UFC in the August edition of FIGHT! magazine, however, after seeing Brock Lesnar introduced first, I doubt that was the case. It could have to do with the color of corner assignments or because of seniority.

I felt Joe Rogan was on his game last night and gave one of his best performances. His technical analysis during the ground fighting that took place in the Maia vs. MacDonald match was excellent. Play-by-play man Mike Goldberg was a different story. While he was solid, I had issues with him screaming into the mic before action had commenced in several bouts. It seemed like he was trying too hard to show a high-energy level and when he’d scream, it sounded like there was no load-balancing on the volume as the mic popped. I also wasn’t a fan of some of his hyperbole, most notably when he was discussing Florian’s work with a nutritionist, when he blurted out, “He’s turned eating into a science!” I know sometimes the right phrases aren’t always available in your mind when you’re trying to articulate a point, but c’mon.

I thought the fight itself was fantastic and everything we expected. Huerta proved to be the better athlete, showing more explosion and quickness. However, Florian was too technical and too poised. Huerta tried to press at multiple times but would get too wild and Florian either had a counter ready or simply got out of the way.

Both fighters deserve a tremendous amount of credit. After losing to Sean Sherk several years ago for the then-vacant UFC lightweight title, Florian has successfully worked his way back up the ladder and has earned another shot. As for Huerta, he is more than just a marketing creation. Huerta can flat out fight and is incapable of having a boring performance. The only knock against him is that he relies too much on his standup and still lacks polish despite having a great deal of fights under his belt.

It will be interesting to see what happens next for both fighters. Florian likes to stay active and he may have to risk his lightweight title shot if St. Pierre and Penn meet in December. If St. Pierre vs. Penn II becomes a reality, then March would likely be the earliest Florian could get his shot at Penn for the lightweight title. Florian may have no choice but to accept a fight in between then. There’s also the question of what happens if Penn wins the welterweight title from St. Pierre? He has said publicly he intends to compete at both lightweight and welterweight, but if Penn beats Pierre, it’s unlikely he’d go back to 155 lbs.

If Penn wins and abandons the title, might we see Florian vs. the winner of Tyson Griffin vs. Sean Sherk at UFC 90 end up competing for a vacated UFC lightweight title? The possibility of Sherk vs. Florian II is intriguing, but hardly a pay-per-view main event.

As for Huerta, he now has one fight remaining on his current contract and has ruffled the feathers of the UFC’s front office with recent comments in the media and is reportedly fair a part when it comes to money during current contract re-negotiations. If he does not re-sign, it is likely that Huerta won’t be booked for a fight up until his contract is right about to expire. And chances are, the bout will not be televised.

Robert Emerson knocks out Manvel Gamburyan at 12 seconds of round 1 – Wow, the speed of Emerson’s knockout was right there when Duane “Bang” Ludwig took out Jonathan Goulet and when James Irvin dropped Houston Alexander with that Superman punch. I had low expectations for this fight but I was wrong to question its placement on the card because the action was exciting while it lasted. It’s hard to go wrong with a fight that can be immediately replayed in its entirety at full speed.

Emerson needed the win badly and it means he’ll live in the UFC to fight another day and probably step up in class as far as competition is concerned. It was a bad loss for Gamburyan but it his first in the UFC so he’s not going anywhere. However, he might want to consider a drop to 145 lbs. and a trip to the WEC because last night’s loss could be an example of Gamburyan’s lack of range catching up to him.

It’s also important to note that the competition he’s faced in his three UFC fights since losing the TUF 5 finale after re-injuring his shoulder have come against Emerson, Jeff Cox, and Nate Mohr. The three are respectable fighters but hardly the cream of the crop. Against that lineup, a 2-1 record isn’t impressive. He should be 3-0. TUF 5 winner Nate Diaz likes to complain about the quality of competition that he’s been given, but it’s vastly superior to what Gamburyan has faced.

Cheick Kongo TKO Dan Evensen in the second round – Wow, this was one of the most bizarre entrance sequences I have ever seen. It felt like the main event of an MMA pay-per-view emanating from the Canary Islands. The entrance music from both fighters was extremely bizarre and Evensen’s body language during his cage-walk was quite unique.

And then the post-fight interview with Rogan and Kongo was even more strange. I don’t want to sound like Larry King in one of his old USA Today columns, but if I ever get to submit an interview request to the UFC, Cheick Kongo won’t be on the top of my list. He reacted to Rogan like Rogan owed him money. I realize a culture barrier could be an issue, but wasn’t Kongo’s behavior rude no matter what country you come from?

As for the fight itself, just total dominance on the part of Kongo. Evensen is a brawler and there was no way he was going to get the better of Kongo in the standup.

Did anyone also find it strange that former Quinton Jackson trainer Juanito Ibarra was cornering Kongo with Jackson clearly audible at cageside? I am curious to see how long Ibarra will be involved in MMA after getting dropped by Jackson. While fighters like Kongo and Michael Bisping worked with Ibarra as a part of Jackson’s training camps, it remains to be seen whether fighters will continue to work with Ibarra, whose credentials are pretty much purely boxing.

Ibarra really turned off a lot of people with his behavior following Jackson’s loss to Griffin at UFC 86 and he doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation following his split with Jackson. I think he could be yet another boxing figure forced out of the MMA scene due to taking the multi-faceted fight disciplines and cultures of the sport lightly. MMA fighters definitely need to become more technical boxers, but in order to be someone’s primary trainer in MMA, you need more than just a boxing background. You can be a boxing expert in MMA, but being a boxing expert does not make you an MMA expert.

Brock Lesnar defeats Heath Herring via unanimous decision – I predicted Herring to win but was happy to see Lesnar get the victory. I think Lesnar is already a star by MMA standards but has room to become the biggest thing going in the sport. Once he gets more experience under his belt, he will become unbeatable and will eventually claim the UFC heavyweight title.

I’ve been bullish on Lesnar in MMA before he even debuted against Min Soo Kim and I took a lot of heat for it. Needless to say, I feel validated. The bottom line is that his wrestling is simply too good and there is no one in the sport who can rival his athleticism. Seeing a man that big move that quickly, well, it just makes Lesnar appear as though he was genetically engineered in a laboratory.

An apparently healthy and in-shape Herring came to fight and still couldn’t keep the fight on the feet or inflict any damage on Lesnar. My only complaint is that I would have preferred to have seen Lesnar a little more active on the ground, but he had to be mindful of position in order to prevent himself from getting submitted.

Overall, watching Lesnar compete inside of an Octagon is still very surreal having watched his work in the WWE for a couple of years. Even though he was an NCAA champion, I still identify him as a pro wrestler and it’s still strange seeing a former pro wrestler come in and dominate in a legitimate sport like this. And aside from getting caught in a knee bar for a few seconds, Lesnar has been nothing but dominant in his three MMA fights.

I think in a year from now that Lesnar will be the UFC heavyweight champion and that we will no longer be talking about Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko, but instead, Lesnar vs. Fedor. When I wrote an article in FIGHT!’s debut issue titled “Five who could beat Fedor,” people scoffed at me for including Lesnar. I think a lot more people are coming around to my point of view and even more will perceive him as a legit challenger over time.

Georges St. Pierre defeats Jon Fitch via unanimous decision – Fitch deserves all the credit in the world for going the distance. After the first round, I really didn’t think it was going past three. But Fitch survived several knockdowns and never recovered from some of those strikes he took early on. Coming into the fight, I believe Fitch’s cardio was pretty strong but a lot of your stamina goes out the window after taking damage.

Had his cardio not been as good as it was he wouldn’t have been able to fight through all the punishment he took. Fitch was clearly rocked at various points and flat out refused to be broken or fall on his sword. There were a couple of times where he could have given up his back and taken the easy way out and not really been blamed for doing so. But Fitch worked hard to get his shot and wasn’t about to walk away from it. He deserves to be commended for that. Fitch is a warrior.

While St. Pierre didn’t get the finish here, against most other fighters, the bout would have been stopped much earlier. St. Pierre fought well enough to finish Fitch but Fitch brought intangibles with him to this fight that took the ability to end the fight early out of GSP’s hands.

Last night’s fight will make Fitch a bigger star despite the losing effort. This was a high-profile fight and a lot of people got to see him for the first time. When they see him again they will rember how much heart he showed vs. GSP and they will pull for him.

GSP is clearly the gold standard at 170 much like Anderson Silva is at 185 and B.J. Penn is at 155. But unlike Silva and Penn, there are some intriguing challenges that still lay ahead. A rematch vs. a fully-committed B.J. Penn is not a fight in which St. Pierre is a given to win. In fact, I can tell you I know many people inside the industry who believe Penn will win that fight. Also, the winner of Thiago Alves vs. Diego Sanchez at UFC 90 will bring an interesting challenge.

Alves might be the only 170 lbs. fighter in the UFC whose athleticism can rival St. Pierre’s. And there will be a tremendous backstory if a St. Pierre vs. Sanchez fight ever happens because Sanchez has great resentment that Greg Jackson took St. Pierre into his camp. Sanchez felt slighted that Jackson started working with St. Pierre because he didn’t understand why Jackson would want to work with someone Sanchez could possibly face down-the-line. We haven’t heard much about it lately but you better believe that the tension will be played up if St. Pierre and Sanchez ever fight.

The one thing about the St. Pierre vs. Fitch fight that seemed out of place to me were the “U-S-A!” chants at the beginning of the fight even though St. Pierre received a huge ovation. Was it a split crowd in Minneapolis? Or is St. Pierre so popular that Americans have adopted him as one of their own? Or, did “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan make an appearance at the show?

33 COMMENTS
  • DocWagner says:

    Lesnar was almost as exciting as watching Bob Sapp… and no where near as exciting as watching Mark Kerr. Blahhhhhhhhh

  • Jeremy says:

    Sam, I was there live and the only real chants for G-S-P.

    GSP got pops that were close to, or louder than, those of Lesnar. Not only were the Twin Cities folks fans of GSP, but there was a LOT of Canandians there as well.

  • Strange, I thought GSP was American.

  • stevefiji says:

    Seriously Sam, for a 3,000 word article on one event. That was as tightly written and insightful a piece as I have seen in a long, long time. Great friggin summation to match a great friggin event. Cheers!

  • Bob Boy says:

    lol.. GSP obviously is not an American, as you would tell if you ever heard him talk. And the amount of Canadians in that crowd was crazy, if the ufc goes to Montreal again in December like Dana white has stated then its going to be nuts! CANADA RULES

  • GSP #1 Welterweight in the world hands down

    KenFlo is prolly pissed that BJ is looking past him to GSP

    Brock…. For being an albino silver back, he is a monster of a man but much like Bob Sapp he needs to learn some BJJ or he is going to be a 1 trick pony.

    Great right up Sam

  • Sam Caplan says:

    Well, Mike Goldberg pointed out the “U-S-A!” chants and Mike Goldberg is never wrong. Seriously though, I swear I heard a “U-S-A!” chant at the start of the main event.

  • Adam Morgan says:

    Sam,

    There most definitely was a USA chant at the beginning of the main event.

  • matt c. says:

    Was Huerta’s gameplan really to utilize the “fake superman punch” move to beat Florian? He faked the superman punch at least 12 times. It didnt work at all and he kept going to it. Florian’s feet were to quick and he was circling and backing away whenever Huerta threw a flurry. I really was expecting Roger to take this fight to Kenny, and that really didnt happen much. Did anyone notice that in the 3rd round, Huerta seemed to mentally check out about half way through the round? For a guy with the lethal strikes he has, you’ve got to believe he can end the fight at any time, even if KenFLo was out scoring him. I was hoping this would be fight of the night but it was too one-sided.

  • darkmetal says:

    You have got to be kidding me comparing Lesnar to Bob Sapp. If you do, you might also compare him to Butterbean. Both Sapp and Butterbean move like they are carrying a refrigerator around the ring. Can the same be said of Lesnar? Obviously not. I am sure there were fighters in lighter classes going “Holy crap, that guy is FAST!”

    And lets not forget the punch that propelled Herring into a sommersault and across the ring. This was not the slow, labored punch of many the heavyweight, it was a scud missile. You have to give Herring credit for surviving it.

    Once Lesnar aquires finishing skills, he will be a wrecking machine.

  • JJ Docker says:

    Awesome piece Sam, summed things up perfectly. I too am starting to jump on the Lesnar bandwagon. He looked legit last night; he’s an absolute specimen. Florian beat a game Huerta but I don’t think its enough to earn him a shot at BJ, especially with Sherk and Griffin fighting soon.
    I think GSP would beat BJ in another FOTY candidate. BJ is awesome and I possibly like him more than GSP but think GSPs insane athleticism and how he translates this to be so mma-effective would prove too much for BJ. Firstly I believe GSP would be able to take Penn down, perhaps not everytime or with 80% accuracy as Goldberg pointed out a million times last night, but still think he would to a significant degree over the course of 5 rounds. The standups almost even but I’d give a slight edge to GSP simply due to his size combined with lethal quickness. Is GSPs jits defense good enough to stand the test of BJ? Not sure. I would say so.
    Really hope Dana lets this fight happen.

  • Mike says:

    Yeah how weird watching a former pro wrestler dominate in MMA.

    Oh, Kazushi Sakuraba says hi.

  • ACK! says:

    I thought the chanting went back and forth. Mostly you’d hear “G-S-P” while a few times you could hear “U-S-A” either in the foreground or the background. I just think the fans were having fun with eachother and trying to pump up the fighters. The crowd was largely pro-St. Pierre, but a fraction was attempting to foil their enthusiasm and pump Fitch up for a war.

    Either way, I thought it was a great night of fights–possibly the best of the year.

  • 2 other thoughts:

    -Fedor nor does anyone in the world want a piece of Brock Lesnar right now. Fedor is lucky that he is a “free-agent” with unbelievable demands to give him an excuse to not fight top opponents. Its not that Lesnar is so technicaly sound that he can beat Fedor, but he sure as hell has the tools. Really can you see Fedor knocking this man out? Lesnar also has the speed to chase down anyone who runs. I’m not saying that Lesnar will beat Fedor but the point is that he could.

    – Also, Rampage is my favorite fighter, but does anyone else think that he’s getting a pass on this whole going on a “Rampage” situation.

  • saerbarnet says:

    The Gamburyan/Parisiyan (Spelling on both?) family bonds are just so strong that they even imitate fight results now? 😉

  • mo says:

    So Sam, does GSP’s fight help his pound for pound status and is he still #1 on your rankings? It wasn’t as flashy as Silva or Fedor, but he certainly showed a lot of dominance. There isn’t the huge media buzz about it like there was for Fedor and Silva, but I think GSP certainly deserves to be in the conversation with those 2.

  • JBAR says:

    Can someone explain why only championship fights are 5 rounds? I would think that if you have 2 top 5 guys that may have a title fight in their future it should be a 5 rounder so they can find out what the later rounds are like before a belt is on the line. It would be nice to find out your cardio training will not carry you 5 rounds before you fight for the belt so you can change your training and / or develop strategies for a 5 rounder. Kenflo and Huerta would have been a good 5 rounder.

  • Mike says:

    And then what… is the decision for a 5 round fight arbitrary?

    Terrible idea.

  • JBAR says:

    Mike, All I am saying is that a #1 contender fight where the winner gets a title shot should be a 5 rounder. I wouldn’t mind a few 5 rounders with experienced fighters like the Lidell vs. W. Silva fight. Plus it is hard to prepare for 5 rounds if you have never done it.

  • Batman says:

    Jon fitch’s face looked seriously messed up after the fight. GSP gave him a beat down. Jon fitch can’t make a case as second best in the world after that fight. I think Josh Koscheck vs Jon Fitch needs to happen when Fitch is done with his plastic surgery lol.

  • Warcry says:

    Lesnar put the MMA world on notice last night. No Fedor doesn’t want any of Brock. Gsp vs Penn is what I call a Super Mega Fight. Pound 4 Pound title semi. I give the edge to Gsp with the caveat that a standup war with Penn is not a good idea. He will have to ground and pound him. When I think of this fight I just can’t help but dream of a potential matchup between Gsp and Anderson Silva. Man that would be bananas

  • Mike says:

    Silva is way to big for GSP…. GSP walks around at 190… Anderson 220….

  • Jye says:

    Anderson’s not that big. That’s almost Tito or Chuck size, he’s nowhere near that. If I was to guess I’d say he walks around 200.

  • Mike says:

    um no.. before his last fight they were saying he walks around at 220 actually…

  • Mike says:

    so we dont need your “guess’s” Jye

  • jaydog says:

    5%: Yes, Fedor would knock Brock Lesnar out on the feet. If taken down, he’d probably reverse and land on top, and from the bottom, he’d armbar Brock in his sleep. That said, Brock’s gonna damage some people en route to ever being in Fedor’s league.

    Also, Rampage isn’t getting a pass. He’s going to have his day in court, and then another, and another, and for the time being, the UFC is just saying “we support our fighter.” If you want him tried in the public’s eyes, you’ll have to wait, because the details aren’t going to come out until then, except for a few leaks here and there.

    Lastly, I agree that Huerta mentally checked out after a couple inspired flurries at the start of the third. Sad to see a heavily hyped fight between two guys not trying to finish.

  • Warcry says:

    George could move up to 185. Problem solved.

  • Mike says:

    …that doesnt solve anything..he’s still a way smaller man

  • dpk says:

    I came out of watching this card with a higher opinion of three of the fighters that lost, MacDonald, Huerta, and Fitch. They all put in great effort and left it all in the cage, but just lost to better fighters. All three can take their losses and improve.

    Before the fight, I thought UFC could strong arm Huerta out over contract issues and it wouldn’t be a loss, but now I think UFC really needs to work their differences out, because he should only get better and be a force at LW and WW for the next 5-10 years. I would expect him to get a contract similar to Sanchez and Kos, based off of how good he projects.

    Maia looked good, but also showed he is still at least 2-3 fights away from being a serious title challenger. Almedia, or the Leites/Reljic winner would be interesting fights.

  • JOe K. says:

    It was nice to see Florian take a page out of Machida’s book. It showed that true students of the craft rarely get into straight brawls or stand in the pocket. There’s no shame in avoiding strikes and picking apart your opponent. Both Florian and Machida are big fans of shoving there opponents back when they move in to clench with strikes.

  • JOe K. says:

    Also, I think it is totally unfair that BJ Penn will have the option to get two titles if he wins and Georges risks losing his only title.

    That should be a non-title fight. That BJ ego match would screw over Florian and GSP.

  • Dan says:

    JOe K: If GSP wants to move down to 155, he can fight for the LW title. As it is, BJ is moving UP to 170 so it’s for the WW title.

    I was there Saturday, and there were quite a few USA chants during the main event, and a good number of GSP chants. I was surprised how many Canadian flags were being waved. We were a couple rows behind the Jon Fitch fan club and they were chanting “Fitch Fitch Fitch” almost non-stop, even when he was getting dominated.

  • PokerFace says:

    There is only one way to solve the problem of BJ fighting GSP. Fight them at 162 or 165 and call it a light middle weight championship.

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