My favourite movie of all time is "Memento," an early film from Christopher Nolan starring Guy Pierce as a man with short term memory loss. Every so often, his mind "blanks" to a certain point, leaving our hero utterly confused. Where am I? What was I doing? What is going on right now?
It's a condition MMA fans are more than familiar with.
For me, the most shocking moment at UFC 129 didn't come during any of the fights. Instead, it came at the conclusion of the GSP vs. Shields main event, as 55,000 fans booed, jeered and hurled abuse at the man they had just a short while ago welcomed to the Rogers Centre like the second coming. It was a surreal, shocking, and downright ugly moment for not just the UFC, but for all of Canada, which, let's face it, doesn't exactly have a long list of combat sports heroes.
What bothered me wasn't the scorn. If you found the fight boring, you found it boring. That's your opinion, and it's a perfectly valid one. And not to toot my own horn (OK, totally to toot my own horn), but I totally called this sh*t a few weeks ago.
No, what bothers me is the complete lack of context, of history, of the basic facts of MMA being displayed by the crowd in the so-called "Mecca" of mixed martial arts.
I remember being in Montreal's Bell Centre for UFC 97, and watching in stunned/drunken disbelief as Anderson Silva danced around Thales Leites for 25 straight minutes. Man, that crowd was livid. Booing, hissing and, oh yeah, chanting "GSP! GSP!" throughout. I remember many a fan saying that St. Pierre would show Anderson "how to put on a real fight".
Cut to this past Saturday night, and the roles have been suddenly, inexplicably reversed. People sitting all around me were trying to get a "Silva" chant going, and talking about how Anderson would "have knocked this fool [Shields] out!"
Yeah, because Anderson Silva has never been in a boring fight with a Jiu-Jitsu master before.
Nope, never happened.
And that's what gets me most in the crowd reaction and in the backlash to GSP/Shields in general. It's the complete lack of proper context that crosses the line from reasonable dissatisfaction in a main event to borderline incomprehensible nonsense. It's hard to imagine that any of the people watching live, let alone any of the people railing on websites and blogs the world over, have watched MMA for more than a few months. Yet I know that's not the case.
Fun fact: Jake Shields has lost by TKO just once in his career, and it was 11 years ago. Just in case you were skimming, that's 11 years. Bill Clinton was president when Jake Shields last lost via TKO. He's been punched in the face by Dan Henderson and Paul Daley, two of the hardest hitters in MMA, and not only did he live to tell about it, he actually won those fights.
Yet GSP was supposed to be the guy to KO him? Even though he's never been known as a knockout artist, pre- or post-Matt Serra loss? Is training jabs with Freddie Roach supposed to turn Georges into "Rampage" all of a sudden?
Also, let's not bring up the fact that GSP dropped Jake with strikes not once, but twice. But because he didn't follow that up by charging forward with his eyes closed and windmilling punches Wanderlei Silva-style, it's like it never happened, right?
It was even more impressive when you consider he was fighting blind for nearly 20 minutes—or as fans are calling it, "the latest GSP injury we don't care about, or even really believe in for that matter." This isn't a post-Serra phenomenon, either. He faced the exact same measure of scorn and disbelief when BJ Penn gouged his eye in their first fight, as well.
Who cares if he's blinking blood out of his eyes? I want a finish, dammit! Long-term health be damned!
This is just another example of the strange double-standard that GSP alone, among the UFC champions, gets held to.
Let me give you an example: last night, a man considered the best striker in his weight class and top-five P4P went 25 minutes with a guy who was bloody, swollen and had an alien life form sprouting from his forehead. Not only could he not finish him, but he came a hair's breath from giving the fight away in the last round!
Yes, I'm referring to Jose Aldo, who's received nothing but praise and bonus cheques for his fight with Mark Hominick, and barely any scorn and fan anger.
What gives? Where is the criticism over Aldo letting Urijah Faber—who's been KO'ed clean before—and Mark Hominick—who looked like he'd been run over by a herd of bison after the first round—go to a decision?
Where is the criticism over the supposed BJJ phenom getting shut down and, in the last round, utterly dominated on the ground by a guy who was once tapped by Josh Grispi?
Instead, we get a few sentences about Aldo being sick, then high fives and free passes all around. Who cares if you don't finish a fight as long as you make sure to get your butt kicked in the last round to keep things interesting?
And while we're at it, where is the scorn for Mr. Shields, who vowed repeatedly to take down St. Pierre and submit him, only to fail on every single takedown attempt?
Why is Anderson Silva allowed to catch the beating of his lifetime, pull a miracle submission out of his ass, and get praised for it? Why is Frankie Edgar allowed to get upper cutted out of his shoes, scratch and claw his way to a draw, and get praised for it? Why is GSP alone expected to be both technically perfect and finish every fight with a "Showtime kick"?
Speaking of which, Anthony Pettis was on his way to possibly losing a decision before he pulled off that kick. I doubt MMA fans remember that, however.
In fact, I'm starting to wonder if MMA fans remember anything or if, like the protagonist of "Memento", they go into each fight a blank slate, ignorant of the past, unaware of context, expecting nothing—and everything.