A record-setting crowd. Two great champions survive adversity. The last look at a living legend. And more than half-a-million in “of the night” bonuses.
I’d say UFC 129 was a smashing success.
YOU TELL ME WHAT HE SHOULD DO NEXT
Georges St-Pierre did something that I thought was next to impossible on Saturday night. He made Jake Shields appear fairly ordinary as a fighter. Make no mistake about it. Shields is far from ordinary, which demonstrates just how great GSP really is at this point in his career.
I honestly cannot think of a single welterweight in the world, whether inside or outside of the UFC, that makes for an interesting matchup with GSP. Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz is certainly a marketable opponent, one that GSP would take very seriously as a credible threat. Nonetheless, the Canadian superstar would enter that bout as the overwhelming favorite because, on paper, at least, GSP has the perfect blend of calm, technical striking and dominant wrestling ability to give Diaz fits.
There is literally nobody else in the division that is likely to get GSP’s attention as an opponent. Josh Koscheck. Jon Fitch. BJ Penn. Matt Hughes. Thiago Alves. Dan Hardy. And now, Jake Shields. Been there done that. None of them were close enough to defeating the champion (excluding Hughes-GSP I, of course) to warrant another turn on the dance floor. Carlos Condit is probably the most deserving of a title shot, assuming he gets past Dong Hyun Kim in July. Jake Ellenberger probably stands next in line after Condit if he keeps winning.
Does anyone believe that either Condit or Ellenberger have better than a long shot chance at dethroning the most successful welterweight champion of all time? No disrespect to either man because both certainly have the tools to unseat the champion if he is at less than his very best. Still, they will be very healthy underdogs, if they ever get a shot at GSP.
After Condit and Ellenberger? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Martin Kampmann or Mike Swick will put together a nice winning streak and earn a shot at gold. Maybe there is someone else out there who will materialize out of thin air. But I cannot think of a single fighter that I would label as anywhere close to a “pick’em” opponent for GSP.
It seems to me that GSP will hold the welterweight championship for as long as he wants, assuming he remains motivated and properly prepares for each fight. Anything can happen on any given Saturday in the UFC, but GSP seems like a lock to run his number of successful title defenses into the teens or better, if he remains focused.
The question, of course, is whether GSP should remain content to hammer out successful title defense after successful title defense in the welterweight division now that it is clear that he is the most dominant welterweight fighter to ever step into the Octagon. Or, should GSP seek to push himself to the limit by moving up in weight to take on bigger and more dangerous foes, namely fellow pound-for-pound czar Anderson Silva.
There are unique risks and rewards to each scenario. I will delve deeply into those soon enough. Right now, I’m more interested in learning what the UFC.com readers think GSP should do.
SHIELDS PROVES HIS METTLE
I am obviously a bit surprised that Shields was not able to score a single takedown during the five-round fight with GSP. But I am more surprised that he was able to win two out of five rounds, according to two of the judges, doing nothing more than boxing.
For the record, I scored the fight 50-45 for GSP. No matter. Two judges saw it differently, so Shields becomes the first fighter since August 25, 2007 to get the better of the champion during a five-minute stretch of competition. And he did it with what is unquestionably the weakest part of his game.
Sure, GSP was fighting most of the fight with one eye. That is the sort of handicap that lesser men could not overcome. But Shields found success nonetheless.
Shields’ effort, though coming up short, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is among the best welterweights in the world, if not the second best. Nothing about the fight warrants a quick rematch, but it does open the door for all sorts of interesting matchups for the Cesar Gracie standout. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would love to see Shields and Penn do battle. Shields-Koscheck, Shields-Alves or Shields-Fitch are all intriguing bouts.
If GSP decides to leave the comforts of the welterweight division for a run 15 pounds to the north, any of those bouts would result in a worthy contest for crowning a new king.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, CHAMP
Twenty years from now nobody will remember the crane kick. A few will remember that Randy Couture lost his final UFC bout, assuming that Saturday was, in fact, his final UFC bout. But it won’t matter. Most all-time greats leave the game on less-than-perfect terms.
The world will instead remember his five separate stints as a UFC champion. The world will remember him as the first man to ever win titles in two different UFC weight classes. The world will remember him as the first man to win a world title after turning 40. The world will remember him as a Hall of Famer, one who actually won a title after his induction.
“Captain America” helped carry the sport through its dark years. You know, back in the day when only a few thousand people showed up to watch an event. Back when bouts were not shown on cable television and the sport was banned in most states.
It is fitting that Couture chose to make his final appearance at the biggest event in the history of North America. It is equally fitting that Couture didn’t make a big deal out of his decision to retire, opting instead to step aside gracefully in the shadow of another man rewriting UFC history by setting the record for most-consecutive successful defenses of the welterweight title, Georges St-Pierre.
Maybe Couture’s modest approach was due to the fact that he retired once before. The champ called it quits after losing for a second time, both by brutal knockout, to Chuck Liddell back in early 2006. He returned just over a year later to recapture the heavyweight crown for a third time – also a current UFC record.
Something tells me that this retirement will be different. There is a sense of finality about the way Couture went about his decision to walk away from the sport. Couture will probably never fully leave, as he continues to operate his chain of training centers, Xtreme Couture, and train and corner fighters. If, indeed, Saturday was the final time that we get the privilege of watching “The Natural” compete, then I have three simple words:
Thank you, champ.
DON’T READ TOO MUCH INTO ALDO’S “PERFORMANCE”
Many fight cognoscenti consider UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo to be just a step or two behind GSP and Silva in the race for pound-for-pound supremacy. 24 hours after he survived a very game, very gritty challenger in Mark Hominick, those same individuals are claiming Aldo might not be as good as previously thought.
This is the sort of thing that really irks me. Think of how disrespectful it is to Hominick to suggest that Aldo’s greatness is affected by the fact that Hominick survived five rounds, even dominating the last of those five.
Aldo is the same 145-pound beast that he was a week ago. Hominick is just better than most realize, and he matches up very well with the Brazilian. Remember that styles make fights. That is why the fight was so difficult for Aldo, not some crazy notion that his skills are slipping or that he was previously overrated.
TAKING RISKS LEADS TO MAJOR REWARDS
Pablo Garza and Lyoto Machida are two very different fighters. But the pair shared one commonality on Saturday night. Each man took a calculated gamble by attempting a flashy high risk and high reward maneuver, and it paid off athletically and financially.
Garza was getting soundly beaten through the first several minutes of his bout. Yves Jabouin had his number on the feet. Garza, undeterred, continued searching for a way to win, and as soon as he was able to secure some semblance of a Thai plumb, he uncorked a flying triangle choke that brought the bout to a rapid close.
The move had to be perfectly executed. If not, Garza would have found himself on his back getting punched in the face. That is an almost surefire way to meet defeat against a puncher like Jabouin.
Machida appeared to be comfortably winning his fight with Couture through the first round. Yet, he opted to fire a crane kick reminiscent of the decades old movie “The Karate Kid.” Like with Garza, Machida had to perfectly execute the strike. If not, the door would have been wide open for Couture to score a takedown, which was his only true way to win the fight. Machida has a very effective guard, but would anyone actually bet against Couture winning if he put the Brazilian on his back?
Those calculated risks paid off big time for both Garza and Machida. In addition to bringing an end to the fight, the flashy moves earned each man a whopping $129,000 bonus check. Hopefully that will make other fighters stand up and take notice because the financial reward for a spectacular finish is worth risking the outcome of the fight for all but the sport’s biggest stars.