UFC 129 full recap
The Ultimate Fighting Championship made a successful debut in Ontario on Saturday night as Toronto’s Rogers Centre played host to UFC 129: St. Pierre vs. Shields, the most prominent event in the history of North American mixed martial arts.
The presentation and production quality of the show was second to none in the sports world as the event shattered UFC attendance and gate records, packing the Rogers Centre with 55,724 attendees for a $12.1 million live gate. In comparison, WWE Wrestlemania 18 in 2002, which featured Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, was held inside the same venue and drew an attendance of 68,237 for a live gate of only $3.9 million, about one third of the UFC’s inaugural offering in the province.
This number does not include the week of events leading up to UFC 129, including a packed Fan Expo, nor does it factor in the financial impact on the city as the bars, restaurants, hotels and shopping centers were busy all week.
The first stadium event in promotional history offered fans a unique experience with additional jumbo monitors scattered throughout the arena, a stellar sound system and an aesthetically pleasing lighting grid. From a distance, the sold-out crowd was an amazing sight and a true testament to how far the sport has come.
The fights also delivered as fans were treated to a little bit of everything: memorable knockouts, slick submissions and grueling decisions.
St. Pierre implements clinical strategy against Shields
In the featured attraction, UFC welterweight torchbearer Georges St. Pierre stuck to a precise game plan against No. 1 contender Jake Shields, winning a gutsy unanimous decision after substantial damage had accumulated to his left eye.
"I can’t see out of my left eye right now," St. Pierre said. "I just see a blur, and it’s very bad."
While two scores of 48-47 may lead some to believe Shields nearly claimed the title, the champion landed more powerful strikes and won the fight 50-45 on the FOXSports.com scorecard with the fifth round being the only one Shields might have won. Shields’ striking was certainly better than advertised as he effectively used his jab throughout the fight, but St. Pierre was never in any danger of losing his title. Shields did punish the French-Canadian, bloodying his face and busting up his left eye with his vastly improved hands, but Shields too did not escape unscathed.
St. Pierre’s steadfast critics are all ready to knock his performance, but the fact remains that he never deviated from a concise strategy. St. Pierre’s primary worry was Shields’ high-level submission grappling skills, and he successfully stuffed several takedown attempts, leaving little doubt as to who possessed superior wrestling skill.
The future for St. Pierre is still uncertain. Leading into the fight, rumblings about a superfight between the welterweight champion and middleweight king Anderson Silva had been brewing. However, St. Pierre stopped short of confirming a possible move up to 185 pounds.
"We’ll see. I just finished my fight," he said. "I haven’t considered that yet. Going up in weight class is a lot to consider."
But victories over Shields, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes have left few contenders at 170 pounds. Though he may not be winning every fight with a highlight reel finish, St. Pierre has run right through his opposition. The only intriguing challenger left at 170 pounds is Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz, Shields’ longtime teammate.
Diaz has gone on an impressive streak, putting on crowd-pleasing performances against the best contenders Strikeforce has to offer. At the UFC 129 post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White confirmed his interest in a fight between St. Pierre and Diaz, but there are hurdles in the way with the outspoken, Cesar Gracie-trained, BJJ black belt’s ties to Showtime and aspirations of professional boxing.
If a fight against Diaz does not become a reality in the immediate future, St. Pierre seriously should consider fighting Silva at a catchweight. If his ultimate goal is to establish an incomparable legacy in the sport, he must embrace this challenge. Stylistically, St. Pierre matches up fairly well against the Brazilian, and the fight would be a massive draw internationally.
Meanwhile, even in defeat, Shields proved his worth as one of the UFC’s best welterweights. With a plethora of fresh opponents for the Californian, he can continue fighting in the division with the aim of eventually earning another crack at the 170-pound title. Conversely, Shields already has established himself as a force at middleweight, so moving up a weight class is always an option. He already owns a victory over middleweight No. 1 contender Yushin Okami, and, like St. Pierre, his aggressive wrestling and submission game is a good stylistic match-up for Silva.
Hominick’s courageous performance vs. Aldo
In a thrilling featherweight title clash, neither Jose Aldo nor Mark Hominick escaped unscathed.
Aldo, the Brazilian champion, made solid use of his vicious leg kicks and powerful takedowns to neutralize some of Hominick’s technically proficient striking, which was a key element in his victory. Aldo’s heavy hands left an enormous hematoma on the challenger’s forehead and cuts beneath his eye, but the determined Canadian opted to fight on in hopes of fulfilling his dream and winning the UFC title in his home province.
"I was never giving up," Hominick said.
A doctor closely examined the gruesome damage on Hominick’s face before the start of the fifth and final round. Hominick came out aggressive, securing a takedown and unleashing heavy shots on top of the champion. Visibly exhausted, Aldo could not reverse the position, and he ate a steady stream of ground-and-pound from the Ontario native. The onslaught came too late, however, and Aldo came away with the unanimous decision triumph to retain his crown.
"You’ve got to take your hat off and give it up for Mark Hominick," Aldo said. "He’s a hell of a fighter."
Very few pundits gave Hominick a legitimate shot at dethroning Aldo, so his game performance will only increase his stock in the UFC. Despite losing his first fight in the promotion, the dynamic kickboxer has a bright future ahead of him. A potential rematch for the title could happen sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, Aldo was exposed to his toughest fight thus far in front of a North American audience. Nonetheless, the well-rounded Brazilian notched another spirited win by mixing up his game and outworking Hominick in his own backyard. Both fighters were rewarded for their arduous battle as they each took home $129,000 for "Fight of the Night."
According to White, unbeaten contender Chad Mendes likely will be the next fighter to challenge Aldo, a bout that could take place at UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia. Mendes is undoubtedly the best wrestler Aldo has faced, and he will be another stiff challenge for the fast-rising pound-for-pound wrecking machine.
Machida retires Couture
UFC Hall of Famer and 47-year-old Randy Couture had his last stand in the octagon, going seven minutes with former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida before succumbing to a lethal jumping front kick, shades of Anderson Silva’s knockout of Vitor Belfort this past February.
The sensational finish sent one of Couture’s front teeth flying out and earned Machida $129,000 for "Knockout of the Night."
Interestingly, actor Steven Seagal was in both Silva’s and Machida’s corners when they pulled off the unlikely front kicks. Could Seagal be a legitimate trainer after all, or are these occurrences simply a coincidence? I tend to lean toward the latter explanation, but the results are undeniable.
"I trained this kick a lot," Machida said. "My daddy taught me. Mr. Steven Seagal taught me, also."
The Brazilian was respectful of Couture in victory.
"It was a dream for me to fight this guy," he added. "He is a hero. This is the man."
In his post-fight interview, Couture confirmed his retirement after a celebrated MMA journey in which he has vanquished former world champions Vitor Belfort, Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Tim Sylvia.
"You’re not going to see me again," Couture said. "This is it. I’ve been coming to this decision for a while, and it’s a fight I’ve wanted for quite a while."
Couture was sent off to a fitting ovation, as the crowd at the Rogers Centre stood on its feet and honored the all-time great for a lifetime of achievements and contributions to the sport.
Machida rebounded from a two-fight losing skid, and he now finds himself back in the light heavyweight title picture. Former titleholder Mauricio "Shogun" Rua already has stated that he believes Machida will be the man to defeat current champion Jon Jones. With another key win, Machida very well could earn that opportunity.
Matyushenko crushes Brilz in 20 seconds
Forty-year-old MMA pioneer Vladimir Matyushenko is on a roll as he starched fellow wrestling standout Jason Brilz in just 20 seconds, connecting with a heavy combination and unloading with punches to record the stoppage, the quickest of his career.
"I’ve been working on my striking skills a lot," Matyushenko said. "I’m capable of doing much more."
There is no shortage of quality fighters in the UFC’s 205-pound division, and Matyushenko could build on his two-fight winning streak as he seeks his eighth UFC victory. On the other hand, Brilz has lost two in a row and his future in the organization is up in the air.
Henderson outworks Bocek
In his UFC debut, former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson pushed the pace against Canadian submission specialist Mark Bocek en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Bocek was competitive in defeat, pursuing takedowns and submissions throughout the fight. However, Henderson’s superior clinch work, striking and wrestling paid off as he earned 30-27 scores from all three judges.
Both fighters will stick around in the UFC’s competitive lightweight division, and Henderson could claw his way back to the title picture with a win over a top-10 fighter such as Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida or Jim Miller.
MacDonald dominant in decision over Diaz
Canadian prospect Rory MacDonald rebounded from his come-from-behind TKO loss to Carlos Condit last June with a masterful performance against cocky contender Nate Diaz.
MacDonald, 21, who trained in Montreal under Firas Zahabi and Jonathan Chaimberg, used his speed and kicks to fluster the Gracie-trained, BJJ brown belt. MacDonald picked up the pace in the third frame, suplexing Diaz three times, to the delight of the live crowd. Diaz, the durable Stockton, Calif., native, survived 15 minutes, but the convincing decision loss should make him consider dropping back down to 155 pounds.
MacDonald has one of the brightest futures of any fighter in the UFC. The British Columbia native is a remarkable athlete with constantly evolving skills and a solid group of trainers and training partners behind him. Still, MacDonald is a young fighter and he will need to get as much ring experience as possible before competing against the division’s elite.
Ellenberger crushes Pierson
Reign MMA product Jake Ellenberger spoiled Sean Pierson’s homecoming with a vicious first-round knockout.
Ellenberger, who has amassed a four-fight winning streak since a hotly contested split-decision loss to Carlos Condit in his September 2009 UFC debut, has put the division on notice. With the champion St. Pierre running out of quality contenders, Ellenberger soon could find himself at the front of the line for a title shot.
After suffering his first loss in four years, Pierson will need to rebound impressively to prove he still belongs in the UFC. The 35-year-old Toronto native was coming off the best training camp of his life under the Zahabi MMA banner in Montreal, but he was outmatched by the heavy-handed Ellenberger.
Other quick hits
• Canadian welterweight Claude Patrick outgrappled and outstruck Gracie team member Daniel Roberts to earn a unanimous decision win. Patrick is unbeaten in three UFC bouts, which should lead to a step up in competition for his next go-round. Roberts now falls to 3-2 in the UFC, and he likely will stick around to fight another day.
• El Salvador native Ivan Menjivar returned to the UFC for his first bout in the promotion since 2004, breaking the nose of fellow bantamweight Charlie Valencia before knocking him out just 90 seconds into the first round. Menjivar is a solid threat in the UFC’s 135-pound class, while this setback likely will lead to Valencia’s release from the promotion.
• Canadian middleweight Jason MacDonald’s return to the UFC was a successful one, as he submitted Greg Jackson pupil Ryan Jensen with a triangle choke at 1:37 of Round 1. MacDonald desperately needed the win to reassert himself in the UFC’s 185-pound landscape. Jensen, who has lost his second straight, could be added to the dreaded cut list.
• Quebec-based lightweight sensation John Makdessi recorded a spectacular third-round spinning back-fist knockout of Kyle Watson, improving his unbeaten record to 9-0. The Tristar Gym product is now 2-0 in the octagon with two thrilling performances, while "The Ultimate Fighter 12" veteran Watson’s five-fight winning streak was snapped.
• Academy of Combat Arts product Pablo Garza pocketed $129,000 for "Submission of the Night" as he pulled off a rare flying triangle choke on Tristar Gym member Yves Jabouin at 4:31 in the first round of their featherweight encounter. Garza has racked up consecutive first-round stoppages in the UFC, while Jabouin falls to 1-3 in his past four outings.