All of Canada seemed to be abuzz as UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre stepped into the cage for the first time in 17 months to do battle with interim champion Carlos Condit.
The questions were legion.
Could St-Pierre recover from a knee injury that almost cost him his career?
Why did Condit seem so darn confident?
Some of the questions will have to wait until the pay-per-view numbers come back, and we see if GSP still has the Midas touch at the box office. But some can be answered right away. GSP is back and as good as ever.
Of course, this wasn't a one-man card. There were 12 fights on the show, leading to 12 winners and 12 losers. But, sometimes, the written result doesn't tell the whole story.
Sometimes a fighter can lose a fight, and still, ultimately, win, whether it's respect from the fans or a post-bout bonus check from the UFC brass. Other times, a winner in the Octagon can hurt himself badly in the court of public opinion with a disinterested or plain boring performance.
So, who were the real winners and losers at UFC 154? Let's have a look.
What can you say about the greatest welterweight fighter of all time that hasn't already been said?
St-Pierre dominated Carlos Condit over the course of five rounds, winning almost every minute of the fight. Of course, it was that one minute he wasn't completely in control that was the most exciting.
I may have screamed like a girl when Condit landed a left high kick in the third round. St-Pierre hit the mat, and Carlos pounced. But it was in adversity that St-Pierre showed his true mettle, fighting back to top position and finishing the round in firm control of the bout.
After the fight, Anderson Silva failed to materialize as promised to challenge GSP to a superfight. If that fight never happens, and I hope it doesn't, both men have plenty of challengers in their natural weight classes.
Chris Weidman lurks at middleweight, and on the undercard, Johny Hendricks announced his presence as an elite welterweight. If Silva and St-Pierre never step into the cage together, I hope Hendricks is next in line for a shot at the champ.
Johny Hendricks is a wrestler. He's a four-time All-American and was twice an NCAA champion at Oklahoma State. When it comes to takedowns, few in MMA are better.
Someone needs to tell his left hand. It thinks it's attached to Mike Tyson or Manny Pacquiao.
That left hand, the same one that finished Jon Fitch in just 12 seconds, dropped Martin Kampmann like a ton of bricks 46 seconds into their fight, shutting off the young Dane's brain and leaving Hendricks on the short list for a shot at the welterweight title.
After an epic weigh-in that featured his best Shockmaster impression, Tom Lawlor totally blew all of his collected good will inside the cage against Francis Carmont. Lawlor took a chance, employing what he knew would be an unpopular style, in hopes of pulling off the upset.
Instead, it was a lose-lose. All his ugly clinching and lay and pray was for naught as Lawlor dropped a decision and stunk out the joint. Although many on Twitter were upset that Carmont had his hand raised, UFC President Dana White expressed my sentiments perfectly:
Who cares! They both lost that fight.— Dana White (@danawhite) November 18, 2012
There's one moment, for every major UFC fighter at least, when they first announce themselves to the world—not just as fighters who are "fun" to watch or guys who are up for a good scrap. I'm talking about announcing themselves to the sport as legitimate title prospects.
Rafael dos Anjos did exactly that against Mark Bocek. Not only did he batter Bocek from bell to bell, but he made it look easy. On the feet on the ground and for all of 15 minutes, dos Anjos showed himself to be in a completely different class than the game Bocek.
With this win under his belt, his third in row, look for dos Anjos to step up yet another level of competition and fight a bona fide title contender in his next bout.
Sometimes a cutman's life is pretty sweet. He gets front-row seats to the fights, and if no one gets cut, he basically gets paid to carry a bucket around.
That luck doesn't hold when you find yourself in Mark Hominick's corner. His skin is made of tissue paper, and bleeding is pretty much a given. Against Pablo Garza, Hominick was his typically bloody mess, eventually dropping a unanimous decision.
Hominick looks like he won a no handed cherry pie eating contest at a local Canadian farmers market if the pie had razor blades in it.— Ryan Loco (@RyanLoco) November 18, 2012
As my pal Ryan Loco put it on Twitter, "Hominick looks like he won a no handed cherry pie eating contest at a local Canadian farmers market...if the pie had razor blades in it."
So true Ryan Loco, so true.
Controversy reigned after Sakara finished Cote off with what looked like illegal punches to the back of the head. Eventually, the fight was declared a disqualification and given to Cote, despite referee Dan Miragliotta standing right there and seemingly making no move to warn Sakara or prevent the illegal blows.
It was a confusing finish to a fun and action-packed fight. Before the bizarre finish, the two had an old-fashioned donnybrook, with Sakara eating some hard Cote punches and answering back with still harder elbows. It was the kind of slugfest I can get behind, and I hope a promised rematch materializes soon.
No, Chad Griggs didn't win his fight with Cyrille Diabate.
Yes, it was a one-sided beating.
But did he look good taking that beating or what?
Sporting the "Martin Van Buren," Griggs looked every bit the long-haul trucker. His failure as a fighter was offset by spectacular sartorial splendor.
Rodrigo Damm is probably remembering the good old days. You know, every day before he stepped into the cage with Antonio Carvahlo.
Back then, Damm's leg was normal looking, not swollen and bruised and Barney purple. After what felt like 600 leg kicks, normal won't be in Damm's future for days, if not weeks.
Carvahlo's pinpoint attack was the difference in the fight, earning the veteran a split decision and Damm an extended date with an ice pack.
I'll confess: For me, many of the undercard fights are kind of background filler. I don't know as much about the fighters, and they don't have the same emotional impact.
The fighters aren't like members of the family. They are simply musclebound, tattooed avatars doing each other untold physical harm.
Sometimes, I'm entertained. Other times, not. But rarely do I care.
Fantasy MMA changes all that. I was cheering at the top of my lungs for Darren Elkins because I had him on my Kountermove team. Ditto John Makdessi. Finally, I had a rooting interest—and it made the undercard a lot more fun.
Matt Riddle is a guy whom the UFC likes to tell us has grown up right before our very eyes. Every professional fight has been in the Octagon, each one in front of thousands and thousands of fans.
Unfortunately, Riddle has grown from an undisciplined brawler—but grown into the kind of plodding and average fighter whose sole purpose is to fill up undercards.
His fight with John Maguire was the definition of awful. Riddle won a unanimous decision, but there were no winners in that fight.
It was bad enough that the young Russian lost to a brutal armbar, courtesy of veteran Ivan Menjivar. His arm bent at an ugly angle as Ivan went belly down to finish the bout. Gashimov, who was controlling the action early with a strong top game, didn't tap quite soon enough, and poor Menjivar looked upset afterward at having injured his opponent.
Adding insult to injury, however, was UFC announcer Mike Goldberg. Good old Goldie called Gashimov by at least seven different names over the course of the evening. Brutalized and disrespected? This was not Mr. Gashimov's night.