For the second time in less then a year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is set to come north of the border to the “Mecca” of Mixed Martial Arts—at least until the Octagon hits Toronto, that is.
Montreal, Quebec Canada plays host to UFC 124: St. Pierre vs. Koscheck 2. With a hometown hero, a highly anticipated rematch and months of reality TV drama all riding into the evening's main event, the card already has Canadian fans shaking in anticipation.
Which is good, because it's frickin' freezing up here and any movement is good movement.
Putting on a major MMA event in fight-hungry Canada is a guaranteed sellout, and any PPV headlined by GSP is bound to get MMA fans—and their girlfriends, sisters, mothers and grandmothers—to tune in. If you’re an MMA fan, chances are you don’t have to be “sold” on this card.
But just how strong a card is it? I break down the good and bad of the UFC’s latest Montreal offering to see what’s in store for fight fans come December 11.
The Good: Here’s What Fight Fans in Le Belle Province Have To Look Forward To
GSP Comes Home Again: Simply put, there’s nothing like watching a GSP fight live in Montreal.
My first-ever event was UFC 83 featuring the St. Pierre vs. Serra rematch, and I have never before or since had a crowd experience that intense. 22,000 fans amped to the eyeballs, a defeaning chant of “GSP! GSP!” echoing forth all night like we were some sort of massive, satanic cult trying to summon a demon or something. Then finally he appears, set to devour the poor sacrifice standing alone in the centre of the Octagon. Roooaaarrrrr!!!!
A whole bunch of “Ole, Ole-Ole-Ole!” chants later, and the ritual is over, the sacrifice consumed, the demon now smiling and breakdancing to the delight of his ravenous zealots.
Yeah, it was that crazy. I had a Bell Centre security guard tell me he’d never heard so loud a crowd, not even for the Canadiens hockey team, which is practically the official religion in Montreal. Fans attending the event live are in for a real treat, assuming St. Pierre doesn’t get “Serra’d” again. Then fans might be in for a good old fashioned street riot (more on that later).
BJJ on Display: When looking over this card one thing about it jumps right out: from a grappling perspective, this card is absolutely stacked.
Now that may not be your cup of tea, I grant, but I’m also willing to bet this is the card that changes your mind.
Charles Oliveria vs. Jim Miller is a clash of two top level grapplers, both riding a wave of hype in the lightweight division. A highlight reel submission is almost guaranteed. Joe Stevenson and Mac Danzig are both extremely well-rounded but boast submission skills as their primary calling cards. Again, a submission is likely in this one.
Mark Bocek and TJ Grant are two of the most accomplished Canadian grapplers in MMA, and both are on this card and matched with world class BJJ’ers in Dustin Hazelett and Ricardo Almeida, respectively. Toss in Joe Doerkson taking on another Miller brother, Dan, and you have a ready made night of twisted limbs and choked airways.
Or a whole bunch of terrible kickboxing. I’m choosing to remain optimistic, however. Fans of "The Gentle Art," take notice.
Alves vs. Howard: I know that nothing is certain in MMA, but I’d still bet dollars to donuts that Dana White already has two “KO of the Night” bonus cheques ready: one with "Howard," the other with “Alves” written on it.
This fight has all the right ingredients to be a classic. Both men are accomplished strikers who combine power and technique. Both men are big, athletic welterweights who have no reservations about staying in the pocket and trading. Both men are coming off losses and are in a “must-win” situation. That all screams fireworks to me and UFC brass as well, who have elected to open the show with this explosive welterweight clash.
The Bad: Wet Blanket Time. Here’s Some of the Wrinkles in the UFC 124 Card
Struve vs. McCorkle co-main event: The UFC must be supremely confident in GSP’s ability to headline, because they’ve given him absolutely no help anywhere else on the card -particularly in the usually coveted “co-main event” slot.
Now don’t get me wrong, Stefan Struve and Sean McCorkle are both exciting, talented prospects meeting in what should be a fun heavyweight tilt. But my Lord, this has to be one of the worst co-main events in terms of star power the UFC has ever put on.
Neither of these guys is more then a blip on casual fan radars at the moment. Struve is mostly remembered for being lanky as all hell, or for being on the wrong end of a Roy Nelson KO. And unless they’ve been on the MMA forum The Underground before (or managed to catch his sweet prelim submission of Mark Hunt) I’m guessing no one knows who Sean McCorkle is.
Is the UFC hoping to build a star here? Perhaps. Are they seeking to test GSPs drawing power withour a Lesnar, Lidell or Mir to support him? Again, its possible. All I know is you’d have a hard time selling this fight to casuals as the co-main event of a “Fight Night” card, let alone one of the biggest PPVs of the year.
Canadians Buried on the Prelims: With one glaring exception, Canadian talent is entirely absent from UFC 124′s main card.
Now I know this event is pretty much the GSP show, but the lack of any other Canadian fighters on the PPV card strikes me as odd. When the UFC does an event in the UK, the main card is always stacked with British talent. When they head to Australia, names like George Sotiropolous and even journeymen like Anthony Perosh dot the main card. You don’t do a UFC event in Germany without continental talent like Dennis Siver or Mirko “Cro Cop” on the PPV. Its just smart business.
Now I don’t think the booking of this event reflects bad business decisions on the UFC’s part as much as a troubling trend for Canadian MMA in general. Outside of GSP, it hasn’t been a stellar year for fighters from the great white north.
Touted prospects like Rory MacDonald, Mike Ricci and Chris Horodecki stumbled on the world stage, as have old veterans like Johnathan Goulet and Jason MacDonald. The last time the UFC came to Montreal in May, every Canadian on the card lost save for Joe Doerkson, who is still coasting on that win today. Tough as it may be to hear, there may not be Canuck worthy of a main card spot who doesn’t have his own Gatorade commercial and 12-month calendar.
Here’s hoping one of the Canadian stars on the undercard wins it big, makes the PPV broadcast and gives a much needed boost to what should be a charged and exciting Canadian MMA talent pool.
Josh Koscheck Will Be There: Now before I get started on this one, I promise I won’t bore you with talk of Kos’s personality or “antics” or any of the reality TV histrionics that the sport passes off as “really getting to know” a fighter.
No, Josh Koscheck is a check in the “bad” category simply because he’s not Matt Serra. The “bad blood” between Serra and the Montreal crowd in 2008 was largely a product of the UFC hype machine (trust me, telling a Canadian to “drink red wine and watch a hockey game” isn't an insult, it's a Thursday night). Kos didn’t need any help from the marketing machine this time around. He openly insulted the crowd last time he was here, and genuine bad feelings have developed on both sides.
Koscheck is not Matt Serra, meaning he actually has a reasonable shot at winning his clash with GSP. Not to disrespect Serra here, but even his most ardent supporters had to admit that his chances coming into the rematch wern’t exactly stellar, and the oddsmaking pre-fight reflected that. So you have a legitimate crowd beef against a contender with a real shot at victory.
Assuming Kos pulls it off, expect a Montreal rage riot to equal the Metallica/Guns and Roses fiasco of 1999. Fun for some, but not exactly good press for the UFC.