“Lesser-Known” brawlers stole the show, delivering multiple “Fight of the Year” candidates at UFC 124. The crowd in Montreal had plenty to cheer about even aside from the victory party initiated inside the Octagon for its hometown French Canadian hero.
Georges St. Pierre retained his belt in a suspenseful enough fight that was actually never really in doubt. Mega props to Josh Koscheck for gutting it out while put in the unenviable position of fighting “with one eye tied behind his back.”
The outcome, though, was never seriously in doubt from the moment (likely months ago) that St. Pierre's striking coach Phil Nurse noticed a significant weakness in Koscheck’s right side defense. We'll leave it to other hacks to analyze the particular failings of Koscheck’s guard, and instead we’ll take a quick sniff around the rest of the card delivered on Saturday, noting what stood out to us.
The night felt oddly normal, quiet if you will, for lack of any controversy and also for a very noticeable lack of the seemingly inevitable “dud”. There's been too much of that plague lately, not only in the UFC and its recently consumed lightweight cousin (WEC), but at StrikeForce and other pro events also. Early stoppages, bad decisions, lackluster matchups, and even a few very late stoppages (which are as a rule ignored) have been a bit too commonplace in 2010.
Saturday in Montreal was a different story. A smoother card (for what was on the menu) could not have materialized even if the UFC had played it safe…that is, played it the way fans are always grumbling for. The safe play was for the UFC to stuff at least one more top-tier "name" bout in the lineup.
There has been growing discontent with fans in that, the UFC seems to be in a loftier position of strength than at any time previous, and the perception is that the stable of high quality names and the bankroll to salary them is such that big names have been suspiciously insufficient in numbers on nearly half of the fight cards since last spring.
To be blunt, the number of times I've personally heard the phrase "Oh, it's a shitty card isn't it?" in the lead-ups over the past little while is a bit of a red flag and a real concern. Saturday in Montreal certainly flies in the face of that opinion, and Joe Silva (whom Dana White seems almost blindly devoted to) was sufficiently redeemed by last night’s PPV action (action being the keyword).
The few big names on display last night were mostly starring in the main event, but we may have missed some incredible wars had Dana White and Joe Silva "stacked the card." It remains to be seen if the strategy of more cards per year and less stars on parade at each event will continue to pay off.
The gamble worked in front an appreciative crowd in Montreal Saturday, where locals were treated with some amazing brawls from rising stars like Sean Pierson and Matt Riddle, Stefan Struve and Sean McCorkle (a real odd pairing for the co-main event) and against the trend, the deservedly well-known Thiago Alvez.
Throw in a dazzling Ali-esque six inch “anchor punch” KO from Mac Danzig at the expense of the now perennial “B–lister” Joe Stephenson, and you have a serious collection of memorable bouts from deep within the organization's roster.
Did I forget to mention the first big time knee bar in what seems like ages turned in by Jim Miller over Charles Oliviera? It would certainly have been a shame to have missed Pierson vs. Riddle on the main card tonight as it was an enthralling war, an instant classic.
Whether it is wise for the UFC brass to continue to gamble on developing talent in prime time slots rather than safely going with more familiar names is very much open to debate. No doubt that debate will continue to rage in the underground. The debate's balance, however, may have swung significantly against its previous momentum at UFC 124.