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?