UFC 129: ST-PIERRE VS. SHIELDS Recap & Results

UFC 129 Post-Fight Press Conference: http://www.ufc.tv/ufc/video/ufc-129-post-fight-press-conference/459

The biggest live UFC event took place last night at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, in front of a reported 55,724 fans for a gate of $12.075 million. The show featured a stacked card of competitive title challenges (Georges St-Pierre defending against Jake Shields and Jose Aldo defending against Mark Hominick) and imaginative marquee matches (Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture).

By the end of the night, however, the lay of the MMA landscape was largely the same, and anti-climactically so. St-Pierre kept his UFC welterweight title and Jose Aldo kept his UFC featherweight title. Nobody distinguished themselves as title challengers on the rise. Lyoto Machida may have produced the most memorable (and bittersweet) moment on the show in knocking out Randy Couture, who’d declared this to be his retirement match regardless the outcome, with a front kick out of nowhere in round two.

However, even the innovation of that kick is shortchanged, as Black House MMA teammate Anderson Silva finished Vitor Belfort with almost the same strike three months earlier. In fact, Machida’s front kick may be overshadowed by the sad fact that it marked the official end to Randy Couture, MMA’s great folk hero, as an active fighter.

Couture retired once before, in February 2006, after his KO loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 57. By that point, people were saying that ‘The Natural’ was too old to stay competitive at the top level (much like people said that Ric Flair, whose 2008 retirement match at WrestleMania 24 was the top draw of that show, was too old to draw in 1991). Couture’s first retirement only lasted a year, when he returned to win the UFC heavyweight title from Tim Sylvia at UFC 68. Couture built a 5-3 record in his second UFC tenure.

This time, however, I believe the retirement to stick. Couture and the sport are at different, more established places in their lives than they were in 2006. At that point, Couture was going through a messy divorce, and didn’t have either the Xtreme Couture clothing / fight team franchise nor the acting career that he has now. He’s also older, and by even his own accounts, his reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Likewise, MMA was less evolved and established in the mainstream than it is now. Stars were needed, especially great ambassadors to the sport like Couture. In 2011, however, the Natural has other projects to move onto, and MMA has a new generation of fighters ready to take the sport to the next level.

Excellent homage to ‘The Natural’: Randy Retires

Despite St-Pierre winning by unanimous decision, the victory continues his streak of one-sided performances which I personally think risks triggering an unfortunate backlash against him. Both fans and many in the sport have expressed frustration over GSP’s matches as champion, labeling his fights as boring, and accusing him of fighting to avoid losing, as opposed to trying to finish his challengers. GSP’s last four title defenses were dominant decision wins that nobody questioned. He outwrestled Dan Hardy at UfC 111 and jabbed Josh Koscheck (UFC 124) and Shields (UFC 129) with expert precision after that. Prior to Hardy, GSP went five rounds with Jon Fitch (UFC 87), who never was close to threatening, and before that muted any offense that BJ Penn could think of before doctors ended the match in round four due to a cut on Penn (UFC 94).

Perhaps just as relevant as St-Pierre’s non-finishes is whether any criticism of him is justified. In six title defenses since 2008, GSP has proven to be an indisputable champion. Presumably, all of his challengers want to beat him and are trying their best during the match. And it being a title match, presumably these challengers are very good, such that perhaps GSP is good enough to beat them, but not finish them. If GSP’s challengers are unable to get control or impose their will over the champ isn’t his fault. He’s doing his job in preventing them from doing so. That’s one reality.

The other reality could be that St-Pierre and his camp value not losing the UFC title more than risking potential loss in order to finish their opponents decisively. For any MMA team at the level of GSP and Jackson’s MMA / Tri-Star Gym, mixed martial arts is a business that rewards owning and maintaining championship titles. By definition, sports and competition is about winning and losing, and in striving for the former, most competitors get farther in implementing strategy into their game plan in addition to simply doing that sport better than their opponents. For better or worse, GSP and their team put together successful strategies that have continuously led to victory.

All this said, the only thing that fans of a defending champion want to see more than their fighter retaining the title is him / her finishing their opponent, which is something St-Pierre hasn’t done since the second Penn fight (or winning the title back from Matt Serra at UFC 69, depending on how you look at it). For whatever reason, St-Pierre chooses to not risk ending up in a dangerous position for the sake of catching and finishing his opponent. This approach has often cause fans to turn withdraw their loyalty and fanfare from other fighters, such as Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping. Of course, GSP has a babyface persona and charm which is equally as effective as his fighting skills, but whether right or not, it’s been proven time and again that it’s better to lose an exciting fight than win a boring one.

Here’s Dana’s opinion about it:

Hosting the UFC in T-Dot for the first time, Canadians can stand proud in going 6-4 over the ten matches in which the were represented. John Makdessi, Jason and Rory MacDonald (no relation), Ivan Menjivar, Claude Patrick, and St-Pierre all emerged victorious. For statistics nerds, it was their best showing on a Canadian event since UFC 97 (Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites) and UFC 83 (St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra II), respectively, when Canadians went 4-2 over the six matches in which they were represented on each of those cards.

Canadian Jason MacDonald talks about fighting among his countrymen:

Likewise, featherweight challenger Mark Hominick did his countrymen proud in going the distance with champion Jose Aldo. In Aldo’s nine UFC / WEC matches since 2007, the only other person to hang with Aldo to the finish line was Urijah Faber at WEC 48 last year. Hominick, whose wife is due with their first baby in the days after the fight, won a $129,000 Fight of the Night bonus for his efforts.

Bonuses of the same amount also went to Aldo (Fight of the Night), Pablo Garza (Submission of the Night) and Lyoto Machida (Knockout of the Night).

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for Event:

145 lbs. – Yves Jaboin (Canadian) x Pablo Garza:
Prediction: Garza via submission (round three)
Result: Garcia via submission (round one)

155 lbs. – John Makdessi (Canadian) x Kyle Watson:
Prediction:  Makdessi via TKO (round one)
Result: Makdessi via KO (round three)

185 lbs. – Jason MacDonald (Canadian) x Ryan Jensen:
Prediction: MacDonald via TKO (round two)
Result: McDonald via submission (round one)

135 lbs. – Charlie Valencia x Ivan Menjivar (Canadian):
Prediction: Valencia via split decision
Result: Menjivar via TKO (round one)

170 lbs. – Daniel Roberts x Claude Patrick (Canadian):
Prediction: Roberts via unanimous decision
Result: Patrick via unanimous decision

170 lbs. – Jake Ellenberger x Sean Pierson (Canadian):
Prediction: Foster via TKO (round one) – EDITORIAL FUCKUP
Result: Ellenberger via KO (round one)

170 lbs. – Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald (Canadian):
Prediction:  Diaz via submission (round one or two)
Result: MacDonald via unanimous decision

155 lbs. – Ben Henderson x Marc Bocek (Canadian):
Prediction: Henderson via unanimous decision
Result: Henderson via unanimous decision

205 lbs. – Randy Couture x Lyoto Machida:
Prediction: Couture via TKO (round three) or unanimous decision
Result: Machida via KO (round two)

205 lbs. – Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz:
Prediction: Matyushenko via unanimous decision
Result: Matyushenko via KO (round one)

145 lbs. UFC Featherweight Title– Jose Aldo x Mark Hominick (Canadian):
Prediction: Aldo via TKO (round one)
Result: Aldo via unanimous decision

170 lbs. UFC Welterweight Title – Georges St-Pierre (Canadian) x Jake Shields:
Prediction: St-Pierre via unanimous decision
Result: St-Pierre via unanimous decision

The Finish

In a sport where the unexpected often happens, huge landmark victories and all-time classic matches can’t be relied upon to show up for key events like this. Walking away from UFC 129, I felt like the event played out like an average show, and that the most significant memories are the huge gate and Couture’s retirement, both announced before the show itself. Credit is due to Mark Hominick, whose stalwart performance to the end, despite a giant lump on his right forehead the size of a baseball, was rewarded with a nice hefty bonus from which to base his impending newborn’s college tuition. However, in the grand scheme of things, the biggest winner of UFC 129 is Zuffa’s bottom line, with everybody else a far distant second.

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