Sunday, July 6, 2014

Young and in charge

On Sunday night at The Ultimate Fighter finale, legendary BJ Penn will take on Frankie Edgar for a third time. UFC President Dana White is on record as saying that if Penn loses, he will urge him to retire.

One would think a fight promoter would love to keep a fan favorite like Penn on their roster; win or lose Penn is always going to be a draw. However, in the fast growing world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) it's all about making new stars. White has been successful at doing just that and two of his brightest are current UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion Chris Weidman and women's bantamweight (135 lbs.) champion Ronda Rousey.

On Saturday night both successfully defended their titles while looking impressive in doing so, but took totally different routes. Weidman (12-0, 5 KO's 3 subs) went the championship distance of five rounds for the first time in his career against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (21-5, 8 KO's 2 subs). Meanwhile, Rousey (10-0, 2 KO's 8 subs), who's had nine first round finishes in her 10 wins, seven in under a minute, took only 16 seconds to dispatch of Alexis Davis (16-6, 2 KO's 7 subs).

Weidman's performance against a more experienced former champion like Machida, answered a lot of questions and shut the mouths of many doubters who claimed his two wins against former champion Anderson Silva were both flukes. He's never gotten the credit for those victories because many people believe that Silva did not take him seriously the first fight and of course suffered an unfortunate leg break the second. At UFC 175, Weidman made a believer out of many by taking it to Machida early and then weathering a storm late to win.

His dominance over Machida in the first three rounds was unexpected. He clearly lost the fourth as Machida finally found his range and Weidman's chin many times in the process. It looked as though inexperience in going the five round distance might hurt the young champion, but it didn't. Not only did he show the heart of a champion, he came back in the middle of the final round, where he was getting worked again, and did his own work after utilizing his superior wrestling game.

Rousey meanwhile continues to dominate her opponents in a manner that is somewhat embarrassing. Besides her incredible Judo game, which she displayed again on Saturday, she is continuing to show her evolution with strikes. In the co-main event she traded with Davis in the center of the ring and worked her way in close enough to grab her opponent's neck. What happened next was a thing of beauty.

In a matter of a split second, she wrapped he left arm around Davis's neck in a head lock manner and immediately used a hip toss throw and sent her flying to the ground. She instantly got side mount, while still holding on to Davis's neck, and then proceeded to punch her defenseless face with seven to eight unanswered punches till Davis went limp.

Referee Yves Lavigne, who was on top of the action, stepped in and ended the assault. Davis was so out of it, her instincts had her trying to defend against Lavigne for more than just a few seconds after. What happened to her was so fast, she never knew what hit her. This wasn't a case of Davis's ineptness, but rather a case of Rousey's masterful technique; what she did in those 16 seconds was calculated and destructive.

Weidman, who just turned 30 two weeks ago, and Rousey, who is 27 years old, are parts of the new guard in the UFC. Their biggest star light heavyweight (205 lbs.) champ Jon Jones is only 26, while their newest champion at bantamweight (135 lbs.) T.J. Dillashaw is 28. Lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Anthony Pettis is just 27 and their now longest tenured champion, featherweight (145 lbs.) Jose Aldo is also only 27; flyweight (125 lbs.) champ Demetrious Johnson is in the 27-year-old club as well.

Hard to believe but guys like BJ Penn are considered dinosaurs; artifacts of a once great era gone by. I used to worry what would happen when guys like Penn would be forced to retire ala Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and many others. However, it's evident the UFC and MMA in general are doing quite well with a new generation of stars that are now young and in charge.

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