UFC 167 aired live last night from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The night marked the 20th anniversary of the first UFC event on November 13, 1993. I remember watching that tournament (and the next five or so) with my dad in our living room. I was 13 years old at the time, and in the 8th grade. It was amazing to see Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and all the original fighters match their skills against each other in a mixed martial arts tournament. Watching UFC 167 last night with Joon and the roommates, we reminisced about the evolution of the sport, its current state, and the future.
The Undercard Fights
I didn't bother with the Fox 1 prelims -- I only jumped in to watch the main card. The round of the night easily goes to Josh Koscheck's humiliating loss to Tyrone Woodley in the first round. Koscheck (who, himself is a great boxer and wrestler) was getting rocked early on. He kept going in and backing out. The first time he did it, Woodley connected with a right hook and cut open Koscheck's left ear. Koscheck ended up on his back, but pulled himself into full guard to recover and stand back up -- where he pulled the same move, and Woodley connected with the same right hook, this time capitalizing and gaining the KO over Koscheck.
Rashad Evans also put on a great show in his bout against Chael Sonnen. Sonnen is by no means a scrub or some anonymous hack, but Evans dominated him throughout the fight, nonetheless. Within minutes, Evans had Sonnen on the ground and was pounding on his head like a drummer on an orchestral timpani. Although the fight between these two light heavyweights wasn't very technical, it's the type of action fans have come to expect from the sport -- the type of brawling action that guys like Tank Abbot and Chuck Liddell (who was in attendance) brought to the sport.
The Ultimate Fighter
Both Koscheck and Evans are veterans of the UFC reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, from the Spike TV days. It's funny to see how saturated the UFC is with Ultimate fighters. When the show began, it was nothing more than an experiment. Both the WWE and UFC were searching for ways to break new stars. Whereas the Vince McMahon's reality ventures fizzled, Dana White's first season culminated in one of the top 10 fights in MMA history.
Stephen Bonnar and Forrest Griffin put on a show nobody expected. These men stepped into the octagon and fought like gladiators. They reinvigorated a sport that was struggling to find venues and maintain a quality product for their fans. Although Bonnar got tied up in a drug scandal (likely because he wouldn't play the game, because let's face it - all professional athletes do drugs) and Griffin shied away from lasting greatness, these two men will forever remain legends in the UFC simply for their contributions to the sport as a whole.
You Down with GSP? Yeah, You Know Me...
The main event of UFC 167 was the Welterweight Championship fight between champion, and Canada's most popular athlete, Georges "Rush" St-Pierre and hipster American challenger Johny Hendricks. Throughout the first two rounds, Hendricks countered GSP's game plan in a way I've never seen happen to him. Hendricks landed shot after shot on St-Pierre from every position. When the champ grabbed Hendricks' leg to attempt a takedown, the challenger not only maintained his balance, but continued to land powerful shots on St-Pierre's head. Hendricks matched the champion's every move during the early rounds in which St-Pierre chose to battle his challenger in his own game -- a point anyone who scored this fight for Hendricks doesn't understand.
GSP plays chess. When Hendricks wouldn't allow himself to be taken down in Round 1, St-Pierre changed his game up and boxed him. He allowed Hendricks to land some hits, but protected himself from the powerful southpaw shots. Hendricks started to slow down, and it wasn't until the championship rounds where St-Pierre started to really pick apart how to take Hendricks down. The challenger was difficult to keep down, but so was St-Pierre in the early rounds. GSP was clearly adjusting his fighting style and dissecting the defenses of his opponent, and, after easily winning the final 2 rounds, Georges St-Pierre won the decision, as he should have.
The Aftermath and Eventual Rematch
The next time Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks fight will be a good one. St-Pierre will pick apart Hendricks as systematically as he does everyone else. The fight itself will be amazing, but before we can watch it, we have to sit through all the WWE-style drama Dana White insists on injecting into the UFC brand...
St-Pierre didn't like that he only won because he's the champion. He then begins to announce his retirement in order to abandon the belt (similar to the Matt Hughes-BJ Penn-St-Pierre drama) but hesitates. Joe Rogan then pushes St-Pierre to go through with the announcement he agreed to, even though he clearly doesn't want to do it. Then the mics go to Hendricks for his trash-talking segment to really rub it in GSP's face. The event ends with Joe Rogan and the other guy breaking down all sorts of analysis while clearly dancing around as many legalities as they're prompted to.
Overall UFC was a great success. The fighters are gaining more NASCAR-level brands (I loved seeing Hendricks sporting Bass Pro Shops and Alienware) instead of the malt liquor and Condom Depot tramp stamps in the most hilarious spot possible (hint: on the back of everyone's trunks). There's still more talk than action, but the card was solid, the camera angles and editing were superb, everyone on the crew was on point, and the drama was acceptable. We all like a little WWE in our lives. I can't wait to see the Christmas Day Grudge Match...
Brian Penny is a former analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, Anonymous supporter, consultant, and freelance writer.