Sunday, February 27, 2011

UFC 127: A night of upsets and disappointments

After much anticipation and expected outcomes, last night's UFC 127 from Sydney, Australia, turned out to be a night of upsets and disappointments. Upsets are what make the sport of mixed martial arts so great because of its unpredictability. The disappointments come from unfinished business, which we had, in two different forms in both featured bouts last night.

In the main event between welterweights (170 lbs.) B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch, the outcome was as even as the stare down between the two at the weigh-ins (pictured above). In a fight full of twists and turns, ebbs and flows, or whatever other term you want to use, Fitch closed the show in dominating fashion, which we now know served as his saving grace. The smaller Penn had a game plan that appeared to be working until Fitch caught onto it and did the same to Penn, only worse.

Penn's game plan was simple, take down the much larger wrestler first and work his superior jiu -jitsu, before the wrestler took him down. In the first two rounds it seemed to be working as in both rounds Penn secured impressive takedowns and then worked his way to Fitch's back. It was there that it appeared Penn, on a few occasions was going to secure a rear naked choke on Fitch and end the fight. However, as I predicted, three rounds were just not enough as Fitch was able to avoid the choke attempts and inevitably reverse position on Penn, where he would work some ground & pound for the last minute of each of the first two rounds.

This is where things get tricky. Do you score the first two rounds for Penn, where he secured takedowns and had Fitch in serious trouble with possible submission attempts or do you score it for Fitch based on escapes, reversals and strong finishes? In his mind, Fitch was taking no chances as in round three he immediately took Penn down and with over four minutes left, he pounded on Penn unmercifully, giving him no room to breath, let alone escape. As soon as the round was over I turned to my buddy and said, "I would not be surprised if this fight is scored a draw, if Fitch's third round was scored a 10-8 based on his dominance."

I only wish my predictability was this good the rest of the night as the scores read 29-28 Fitch and 28-28 on the other two judge's scorecards for a majority draw. When asked after the fight if he think he won, a humble honest Penn told Joe Rogan, "no." "In the first two rounds, I was able to secure dominant position, but in round three Fitch kicked my a**," Penn said. With champion Georges St. Pierre tied up with a title defense in April and then a possible showdown with middleweight (185 lbs.) champion Anderson Silva, I wouldn't be surprised if a rematch is imminent. When asked about it, Penn said, "if Fitch wants to do it again, I'm down."

That wasn't the only letdown of the night as in the co-main event where an absolute war was expected between middleweights Michael Bisping and Jorge Rivera, we got what we wanted, I think. Bisping won via TKO due to a second round ref stoppage after pummeling Rivera to the ground with punches in bunches, but was it fair? Everything about the decision to stop the fight was without question, except was it a round too late?

In round one, when both fighters were measuring each other and trading back and forth an incident occurred during a scramble that changed the complexion of the whole fight. During a sequence that found Rivera on the ground underneath Bisping, he was able to work his way back to his hands and knees and looked like he was about to get up. That is when Bisping, while Rivera was clearly on both knees, leveled a knee of his own to the face of Rivera. Under U.S. MMA rules, you cannot kick or knee a downed opponent to the head and in this case Rivera was clearly down. The question is, was the blow from Bisping blatant or in the heat of action?

According to the ref, it was the latter and only enough to warrant a point deduction and warning to Bisping. Now the other question, should Rivera have been allowed to continue? After a grace period allowed recovering, he chose to continue. However, he was obviously not the same after that and it showed in his performance the rest of the way. Some knowledgeable people I know suggested he should have stayed down and got the disqualification win. However, my response is, while that seems logical, in the heat of the moment it's not plausible.

If he stayed down people would have accused him of faking it and taking the easy way out. He chose to stand and continue and we see what outcome that got him; Rivera was in a no win situation. In that moment, a true fighter will always continue because his heart will not allow him to think rationally. Pride is a great thing, but it can also be your worst enemy and in Rivera's case, it appears it may have been just that. Alas, another disappointing finish.

In two other bouts, the so-called obvious wasn't so predictable. Dennis Siver, the lightweight (155 lbs.) kickboxer from Germany, spoiled the homecoming for Australian George Sotiropoulos. Siver avoided all of the Aussie's takedown attempts and won a unanimous decision, thus snapping Sotiropoulos's eight-fight win streak. In the process, he also took away a possible shot Sotiropoulos had at the winner of Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard III.

In other welterweight action, Chris Lytle, who was riding a four-fight win streak of his own, lost an unexpected decision to last minute replacement Brian Ebersole. Ebersole, a veteran of over 60 fights, finally got his chance in the octagon and did he ever make the most of it. Over three rounds, he outgunned and outlasted the veteran Lytle, even surviving numerous submission attempts. UFC 127 was definitely a night of upsets and disappointments.

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