I think everybody can agree that Saturday night’s UFC 139 was historic. Not only was the card stacked from head to toe on paper, but the night delivered from start to finish. As a recovering Pride fanboy, I couldn’t have been happier watching three household names from that Japanese era go into the Octagon to perform on what has become possibly the best event of the year.
We still have three more cards before 2011 closes.
UFC 139 in San Jose was so memorable, I nearly forgot about all the non-Zuffa MMA action going down this weekend. Longtime Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez misplaced his title strap around the waist of Michael Chandler, ending a two-year reign, and let's not forget that one Russian guy, who topped many peoples’ pound-for-pound list just a few years ago. He laid waste to Jeff Monson Sunday morning in Moscow under the M-1 Global banner.
Needless to say, those events are headline worth under normal circumstances. I feel sorry for those knucklehead writers venturing outside the UFC 139 realm the day after—ballsy but futile. Listen up fight fans: after last night, there's no turning back. Particularly after this successful year, it’s a UFC world and we’re just living in it.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m all for the idea of competition between promotions, battling it out for their slice of the market pie, putting on the best fights in order to attract the most eyeballs. It even gives fighters more leverage and options when fishing around for the best contractual deals.
But, after the year the UFC is having, don’t expect the current Zuffa-dominated landscape to change anytime soon. Frankly, they deserve it. UFC 139, as a whole, really reflects the marque matchmaking Joe Silva puts together, the unmatched leadership by Dana White and the financial commitment to production value and fighter salaries by the Fertittas.
In particular, the headlining fight between legendary warriors Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua really put the UFC’s success into perspective.
Last night’s main event was one of many amazing top billings from 2011—arguably one of the greatest, period.
As the year stands right now, with three more events waiting to unfold, what are the top five main-event bouts from 2011 thus far?
Let’s attempt to answer that question in the next five slides.
Event: UFC Live Kongo vs. Barry
Date: June 26th
Location: Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Overview: In what appeared as a rather underwhelming event for the UFC’s fourth production on Versus, we were treated to possibly the greatest comeback of the year in a surprisingly entertaining fight between two overrated heavyweights.
Honestly, leading up to this fight, these two heavyweights were given the benefit of the doubt too often and saved from the dreaded pink-slip shuffle in order to fill those mid-level voids in a rather swallow division. But, on this night, Kongo and Barry styles matched up perfectly in this kickboxing roller-coaster of a match.
Highlight: All the action occurred in the first round. Barry had Kongo brushed up against the cage when he unloaded a huge overhand right precisely on the temple, dropping the big Parisian to his knees.
As Barry swarmed, the ref nearly called it right before Kongo managed to return to his feet—still dazed and confused—bounced off the cage and landed his own right, followed by an uppercut that put Barry to sleep. This fight goes down as the best UFC comeback win of the year.
Event: UFC Live Sanchez vs. Kampmann
Date: March 3rd
Location: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky
Overview: This was a dog fight, plain and simple. I’m sure Michael Vick was smiling somewhere when this welterweight clash popped off. Sanchez barely won a controversial decision, getting the 29-28 nod from all three judges, mainly for appearing to be the aggressor for three rounds.
While these two were exchanging blows on the feet, Sanchez went 1-10 in takedowns and got his face shredded by Kampmann’s more accurate striking. Where’s the effectiveness in Sanchez’ bulldog aggression?
Regardless of where you landed after the final bell, this non-pay-per-view main event dazzled and awed.
Highlight: During the second round, Kampmann powered out of another failed takedown attempt by Sanchez, who followed it up with a mean barrage of punches. At that point, caution had already ridden the wind straight to the exit as both guys anchored into the pocket for a frenzied exchange.
Kampmann got cut over the eye, and Sanchez ate two hard punches, ending the round trading leather. This main event goes down as the UFC’s bloodiest robbery of the year.
Event: UFC 125
Date: January 1st
Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada
Overview: This was a rematch very few people were paying attention to leading up to the fight. Naturally, the storylines wrote themselves thanks to the shared history these two lightweight juggernauts experienced during their fight throwdown.
Back in 2010, Frankie Edgar slipped past Gray Maynard in the contention line, upset the world by defeating then champion BJ Penn not once but twice. All that was left for Edgar was to avenge the one loss he suffered from Maynard.
Who would have thought the very first main event of the new year would end up being a fight of the year candidate? Despite the heartbreaking draw decision—the first UFC championship bout to end in that fashion—both guys put on an incredible fight, a genuine display of how to overcome adversity in trying times.
Highlight: The action petered off towards the end of the fight, but those first two rounds echoed some real-life Rocky Balboa moments. The champ spent the majority of the first round skating around on “Jimmy-legs” after getting cracked by a murderous Maynard right, trying to his best to navigate to safety on autopilot.
Maynard desperately chased Edgar around the Octagon like a bloodhound nipping at the tail of a fox, swinging for that one last bomb to make him the new lightweight champion. It never happened; Edgar withstood the additional shots he took and managed to survive long enough to get back to his corner.
I’ve never seen a fighter so close to defeat. Somebody should have told Maynard what he was working with; Edgar’s survival mode was set to zombie apocalypse that night.
Amazingly enough, the minute of corner time in between rounds was all Edgar needed to shake the cobwebs. Once the second round started, Edgar stumbled across his reserves, while Maynard was running on fumes after gassing out his arms in the first.
During the most momentous moment in the fight, Edgar scoped his opponent up off the ground and dumped him straight into the mat—clearly winning the round. “Tankie” Edgar proved, without a doubt, that he possesses scary T-1000 resiliency. This main event goes down as the most exciting way to start off the new year.
Event: UFC 137
Date: October 29th
Location: Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada
Overview: This was enigmatic MMA “bad boy” Nick Diaz’ homecoming back to the octagon after spending the last five years losing only once—due to a cut against KJ Noons—and defending the Stikeforce welterweight championship three consecutive times to add to his overall 10-fight winning streak leading up to BJ Penn.
The Stockton Slap is now in full force with both Diaz brothers raging havoc in their respective divisions.
The road to squaring off against Penn was a twisted and turbulent one. Originally, Nick was scheduled for an immediate title fight with Georges St-Pierre in a classic billing of “champ vs. champ” until Diaz pulled a no-show at a pre-fight presser in Toronto weeks prior to the actual fight. Clearly his absence pushed Dana White over the edge, who responded by cutting Diaz out of the title and the card all together.
Then, welterweight contender Carlos Condit got promoted to main event, which left Penn with no opponent. Reluctantly, White filled that co-main event slot with Diaz. Once St-Pierre suffered a minor knee injury, the title fight was scrapped completely, leaving Diaz vs. Penn as the headliner.
Everything seems to happen for a reason; luckily for fans, this fight happened. Unfortunately for Penn’s face and possible future, this fight happened.
Highlight: Hopefully, this doesn’t come to a surprise to all of you, but the way Diaz and Penn rolled in and out of scrambles on the ground in the first round shares the highlight honors with the third round (could include the second as well) boxing clinic Diaz put on BJ.
Stylistically, both these guys matched up very well on the feet and ground. Of course in hindsight, one could make the argument that Diaz now has the superior hands, but going into the fight, most people would have given that edge to Penn.
Diaz' awkwardly tweaked boxing style is some of the best in the business, flanking critics’ disbelief that it’s no more than slapping or “paddy-cake” punching. Certainly, elite strikers like Paul Daley, KJ Noons, Marius Zaromskis, Takanori Gomi, and now, BJ Penn would all disagree.
It would have been fun to watch these two highly ranked submission specialists battle it out on the ground for more than a half round, but Diaz outboxing Penn, will remain a memorable bullet point when fans look back at this fight for years to come. This main event marks the greatest welcome back to the UFC fight of the year (maybe ever).
Event: UFC 139
Date: November 19th
Location: HP Pavilion in San Jose, California
Overview: At the height of Japanese dominance over MMA, Pride always did an exceptional job pitting their best talent together, in many cases more than once. Somehow over the years, with both Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua at the pinnacle of their Pride careers, neither ended up locking horns in the ring.
This was the fight between two Pride legends that never happened. Then again, had Hendo and Shogun fought like they did at UFC 139 numerous times before in Pride, the odds would have been against both of them making this far to begin with.
Now with the fight over, it's safe to say that history will be more than kind to both fighters long after they're gone. This main event was not only the most epic of the year, but rightfully competes as one of the greatest fights of all time. Don’t expect main events to ever return to the three round era of yesteryear.
Highlight: Hendo’s age-resistant skill and Shogun’s bushido-style heart takes it all in this war. At numerous times during the fight, each man was equally tired, equally finished, equally winning, and equally indestructible. Considering Hendo’s actual age and the fact that Shogun fights with a pair of 40-year-old legs, the amount of punishment and power they each went through seems unreal.
Honestly, all these main events are worth watching, especially if you’re new to the sport, but if there's one fight from 2011 (even from the last five years) that encompasses why so many people get hooked to mixed martial arts, it’s this one. Shogun vs. Henderson is a converter fight for anybody who shows even a tiny bit of interest in the sport.
My words can’t do this fight proper justice with this format. The best thing to do is go and watch it. The article is over; now go find that fight!!